Are you a researching your ancestry in the United States using census records? Have you discovered that there are no census records for 1890 or only fragments?
The 1890 census was unique in that it was the first to use punch cards and Herman Hollerith’s electrical tabulation system. It also was the first time that data was gathered on a separate schedule for each family. Questions were asked about race, number of children born and living, home ownership, education, immigration, naturalization, ability to speak English, and service related to the Civil War which enumerated Union veterans and widows of Union veterans.
More than 99% of the 1890 records do not exist today. In 1896 a fire damaged some of the special schedules but it was reported that the general population schedules were safe. They were being stored on shelves in the basement of the Commerce Department in Washington, DC.
However, in 1921 smoke was detected, the fire department was called, and an enormous amount of water was poured into the basement. The following day a report said that 25% of the 1890 census was destroyed by fire with the remaining records damaged by smoke and water.
There were rumors about the incidents. Some felt each could have started from a cigarette or match while others speculated shavings in a carpenter shop or even spontaneous combustion. There were some that felt it was an attempt to erase records in order to defraud families of their estates.
A thorough investigation came up with no conclusion as to the cause of each incident. After government haggling, the damaged records were authorized by Congress to be destroyed. There are conflicting dates as to when the records were finally destroyed.
Records from only 6160 of the nearly 63 million people enumerated survived the fire. Officials found a damaged bundle of 1890 records in 1942 and then in 1953 more fragments of records were found. The surviving fragments, 1233 pages or pieces, include enumerations for just a few states and the District of Columbia.
• Alabama – Perry County
• Georgia – Muscogee County (Columbus)
• Illinois – McDonough County (Mound Township)
• Minnesota – Wright County (Rockford)
• New Jersey – Hudson County (Jersey City)
• New York – Westchester County (Eastchester), Suffok County (Brookhaven Township)
• North Carolina – Gaston County (South Point Township, Ricer Bend Township) Cleveland County (Township No. 2)
• Ohio – Hamilton County (Cincinnati), Clinton County (Wayne Township)
• South Dakota – Union County (Jefferson Township)
• Texas – Ellis County (S.P. no. 6, Mountain Peak, Ovila Precinct), Hood County (Precinct no. 5), Rusk County (Precinct no. 6, J.P. no. 7), Trinity County (Trinity Town and Precinct no. 2), Kaufman County (Kaufman)
• District of Columbia – 13th, 14th, 15th, Corcoran, Q, RQ, S, SE, and Roggs Streets, and Johnson Avenue
Census records are now maintained by the National Archives and Records Administration.
Records are kept private for 72 years to protect the privacy of respondents, however the 1950 to 2010 records can be obtained by the person named in the record or their heir.
Online subscription services are available to access the 1790–1940 census records and many public libraries provide access to these services free-of-charge.
Have you looked into your ancestry?
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