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1890 Census Records Destroyed by Fire

What happened to the 1890 US Federal Census?


A fire destroyed the 1890 census but it doesn't have to destroy your genealogical research. 

According to some newspapers, it was a cigarette or lighted match that started the fire, while others believe it might have been caused by the wood shavings in the nearby carpenter shop.  Some people in Ohio thought it was a conspiracy to prevent a family from inheriting an estate because the fire destroyed every shred of evidence which could prove they were the legal heirs.

Whatever started the fire, it was a tragedy which affected the genealogical research of our ancestors who lived in the United States in 1890... FOREVER.

The 1890 US Census held important statistical records of over 6 million residents of the United States.

On January 10, 1921, the 1890 US census general population schedules were stored in an unlocked file room in the basement of the United States Commerce Department.  Even though there was a vault in the basement which was fireproof and waterproof, these 1890 census schedules were sitting in a stacked order, just OUTSIDE the vault on pine shelves.  Space constraints for the US census records was becoming apparent at this time.

The fire was first detected by the building fireman, James Foster.  Foster noticed smoke and reported it to the desk watchman who in turn notified the fire department.    Because the ceiling of the basement was made of fireproof cement, the firemen had to cut holes in the concrete floor and pour streams of water into the basement.  The fire was out by 9:45 pm that night.

The damage to 1890 census schedules was extensive.  Sam Rogers, the Census Director reported 25 percent of the population schedules were destroyed, 50 percent had smoke, water and fire damage and he thought the documents might be salvageable.  However, T. J. Fitzgerald, a clerk of the US Census Bureau, said the 1890 census records were certain to be absolutely ruined with no way to restore them.

About 10 percent of other US census schedules 1830-1910 were damaged, even though they were stored inside the vault.  It was determined that about 10 percent of those would would need to be opened up, dried and recopied.

All other census schedules 1790-1820 and 1850-1970 were stored in other floors of the building.  The fireproof ceiling of the basement kept the fire from spreading to the other floors, thereby sparing damage to these other census records.  The 1920 census population schedules, which had recently been enumerated was being stored in a temporary building.  Thank goodness for this, or we might have lost this one as well!

Unfortunately, the severely damaged 1890 census population schedules sat neglected and in ruins.  Census Director Sam Rogers recommended the 1890 census should be destroyed.  The destruction of such historical important documents was objected to by historians and genealogical organizations such as The National Genealogical Society and the Daughters of the American Revolution.

In December of 1932, the Chief Clerk of the Bureau of Census, sent a list of papers to be scheduled for destruction, to the Library of Congress.  Included on that list, was Item 22 0 Schedules, Population, 1890, Original.  The librarian at the Library of Congress, did nothing to stop the destruction of these records as the list was forwarded on to Congress, who gave their ok to destroy the listed documents on February 21, 1933.

Reports show, the 1890 census was destroyed in 1935 but there was a small handwritten note found in the files of the Census Bureau which states: "remaining schedules destroyed by Department of Commerce in 1934."

In 1942, a bundle of fragments of 1890 census population schedules were found for Illinois by the National Archives.  These were thought to be the only surviving fragments of the 1890 US Census Records.  However, in 1953, The National Archives found further surviving fragments.  These included fragments from Alabama, Georgia, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, South Dakota, Texas, and the District of Columbia.  These fragments were microfilmed and today, this is all that remains of the 1890 Federal Census Populations Schedules.  There are about 6,160 names salvaged from the original 1890 census records which would have held over 6 million names.


  • Alabama: Perry County - Perryville Beat #11 and Severe Beat #8.
  • District of Columbia: Q. Thirteenth, Fourteenth, R.Q. Corcoran, Fifteenth, S.R. and Riggs Streets, Johnson Avenue, and S. Street.
  • Georgia: Muscogee County - Columbus.
  • Illinois: McDonough County - Mound Township.
  • Minnesota: Wright County - Rockford.
  • New Jersey: Hudson County - Jersey City.
  • New York: Westchester County - Eastchester.  Suffolk County - Brookhaven Twp.
  • North Carolina: Gaston County: South Point Township and River Bend Township.  Cleveland County - Township #2.
  • Ohio: Hamilton County - Cincinnati.  Clinton County - Wayne Township.
  • South Dakota: Union County - Jefferson Township.
  • Texas: Ellis County - J.P. #6, Mountain Peak and Ovilla Precinct.  Hood County - Precinct #5.  Rusk County - Precinct #6 and J.P. #7.  Trinity County - Trinity Town, and Precinct #2.  Kaufman County - Kaufman.


Requested by the Pension Office to help them locate Union veterans who could testify in the many pension claims being made around this time period, these special 1890 census schedules were used to enumerate Union veterans of the Civil War and their widows.

These special schedules of the 1890 census were transferred to the National Archives in 1943.  At the time of transfer, almost all of the schedules for the states of Alabama through Kansas and about half of the schedules for Kentucky were missing and seem to have been destroyed.  These lost schedules may have been destroyed by the 1921 fire but there is no documentation to back up this theory.

On the original 1890 census population schedules, Question #2 asked "Whether a soldier, sailor, or marine during the civil war (U.S. or Conf), or widow of such person."  If the veteran or widow answered "yes" and was of Union service, the census taker would fill out the veterans schedule.

These schedules can be an important tool for SOME as an 1890 census substitute especially if your ancestor was a Union veteran AND lived in the areas where these schedules survived.  Don't overlook the 1890 Special Census of Veterans and Widows just because your ancestor was a Confederate soldier.  Sometimes they are listed anyway as census takers were not always uniform in their methods of taking the census.  Some Confederates were listed anyway and some lied in hopes of getting the Union veterans pension.  Whatever the reason, many Confederate veterans and widows got listed in these unique census schedules.  It is worthwhile to take a look at them .... just in case.


Search: 1890 Veterans Schedules at Ancestry - Images and Index of the 1890 Schedules of Veterans and Widows which did survive the warehouse fire.

Free Download:  1890 Veterans and Widows Census Form to record your 1890 census data from the Veterans and Widows Schedules.

Questions asked on the 1890 US Federal Census

Search: 1890 Federal Census Fragments at Ancestry - These are the actual images of the 1890 census fragments which did survive the warehouse fire.

Free Download:  1890 Census Form to record your 1890 census data.

Bridging the 1890 Census Gap

See 1890 census form headers - This is what the actual form looks like that was used to record the 1900 census.

Which States Were Originally Included in 1890 Census Records? (49 states)

Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma and Indian Territory, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin and Wyoming.


Where Can 1890 US Census Data be found?

1. Census Finder Census Directory - This is our own directory of free census records which can be found online.  Our directory is categorized by state and county and we have attempted to list every census index, census transcription, and even census images which can be found online. 

To access the directory, Choose a State: Alabama Census, Alaska Census, Arizona Census, Arkansas Census, California Census, Colorado Census, Connecticut Census, Delaware Census, District of Columbia Census, Florida Census, Georgia Census, Hawaii Census, Idaho Census, Illinois Census, Indiana Census, Iowa Census, Kansas Census, Kentucky Census, Louisiana Census, Maine Census, Maryland CensusMassachusetts Census, Michigan Census, Minnesota Census, Mississippi Census, Missouri Census, Montana Census, Nebraska Census, Nevada Census, New Hampshire Census, New Jersey Census, New Mexico Census, New York Census, North Carolina Census, North Dakota Census, Ohio Census, Oklahoma Census, Oregon Census, Pennsylvania Census, Rhode Island Census, South Carolina Census, South Dakota Census, Tennessee Census, Texas Census, Utah Census, Vermont Census, Virginia Census, Washington Census, West Virginia Census, Wisconsin Census, Wyoming Census


2. Ancestry.com Census Records   Ancestry.com has completed the database of all US census records 1790-1940.  This is the greatest tool for genealogy research in the United States to be found online and it does include the surviving 1890 census fragments.


3. National Archives and Records Administration (NARA)  The archives maintained by the Federal US Government contains all United States Federal census records on microfilm.  They are in the process of placing their census collections online.  On their site, you will find an online catalog of available microfilm and a lot of useful information about what is available for census research.  See Clues in Census Records 1850-1930.


4. FamilySearch.org The LDS (Latter Day Saints) Library in Salt Lake City also maintains the entire set of US Federal census microfilm and these can also be found or ordered for a fee at Family History Libraries located throughout the United States.  You can search for a Family History Library near you using this search.  The LDS Church is also putting many census records and genealogical indexes online and these can be accessed on their site.  Search at FamilySearch.org at Discover Your Family History and you may also view the entire list of LDS online records here.


5. Local libraries will often have history and genealogy departments with a (usually incomplete) collection of microfilm available for research and sometimes they will offer their patrons online subscriptions which can be accessed while at the library.


What questions were asked on the US Census?

Choose a year: 1790 Census Questions, 1800 Census Questions, 1810 Census Questions, 1820 Census Questions, 1830 Census Questions, 1840 Census Questions, 1850 Census Questions, 1860 Census Questions, 1870 Census Questions, 1880 Census Questions, 1890 Census Questions, 1900 Census Questions, 1910 Census Questions, 1920 Census Questions, 1930 Census Questions, 1940 Census Questions

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