When I'm on the Census site, looking for records of the 1860 census, I click on the link for free access on NARA servers but I get transferred to an Ancestry.com login screen. Are the records truly available free of charge? And if so, where and how?

When I'm on the Census site, looking for records of the 1860 census, I click on the link for free access on NARA servers but I get transferred to an Ancestry.com login screen.  Are the records truly available free of charge?  And if so, where and how?

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    Thank you for posting your question on History Hub!

    The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) has custody of Federal Population Census records from 1790 to 1950. (More recent census records are still under privacy restrictions and remain in the custody of the U.S. Census Bureau.)

    The census records in NARA’s custody have been digitized and are available online. For information about these resources, please consult our webpage https://www.archives.gov/digitization/digitized-by-partners. Please note that researchers can access these online resources free of charge from any NARA facility. The link you are following from our website will only work on an onsite computer. If you are having trouble at a NARA facility, something has gone wrong and we recommend you check with the staff. If you are not onsite, the link will only take you to the regular subscription site. For other options (including at least one free one), please see https://www.archives.gov/research/census/online-resources Choose “1860” and follow the appropriate link.

    For more information on the census records in our custody, please visit our website at: https://www.archives.gov/research/census.

    We hope this assists you with your research!

    Sincerely,
    Archives 1 Reference Branch (RR1R)
    RR1R-24-47292-KV

  • Thank you very much for the link.  It's unfortunate that "free" access to these government data has strings attached.  I understand why, if I have to access these government data only through a private portal, that an account with that private portal is necessary.  But I do not understand why government data are available only through a private portal in the first place.  And why the government site does not make it clear up front that I have to set up an account with a private portal, free or not, to access these government data. I am, quite rightly, nervous about providing personal information to unaccountable vendors, and, when all is said and done, if I am unwilling to provide them with personal information, however little, to set up an account, then the purportedly "free" access is, in fact, no access at all.  

    I realize that you are not personally responsible for the system and policy, so Please accept my apology for venting to you about this.