Many family historians are fully aware of the fact that the 1890 census, which contained more than 60 million individuals, was destroyed in the early 20th century and is therefore not available for genealogical research. The lack of this valuable resource, one from such an important time in America’s history, has left a huge gap for many of us.
Despite the common belief that these precious records were simply destroyed by fire in 1921 the actual story of what happened is quite surprising and somewhat disturbing. You can read all about it in this article on Family History Daily. But there is another twist to this story — some of these records DO still exist and they can be accessed online for free.
There are two parts of the 1890 census that can still be accessed and both are very valuable in their own way. The first is a fragment of the main population census and the second is a special veterans and widows enumeration that was completed alongside the main 1890 census.
While the first collection contains just over 6,000 individuals, it could still be hugely helpful to a researcher who is lucky enough to have had ancestors who lived in the geographical locations that were saved.
The second section, the special enumeration of Union (and some Confederate) veterans, is very large and 90,000+ images are offered online.
Read on to find out how to access both of these sections of the 1890 census.
The 1890 Census Fragment
FamilySearch offers the complete 1890 census fragment online. Both a searchable index and images are available. Because only about 2000 images remain, including just over 6,000 individuals, you will want to check available locations before beginning a search.
According to The National Archives, the available locations are:
- Parts of Perry Co., Alabama
- Parts of the District of Columbia
- Columbus, Muscogee Co., Georgia
- Mound Twp., McDonough Co., Illinois
- Rockford, Wright Co., Minnesota
- Jersey City, Hudson Co., New Jersey
- Eastchester, Westchester Co., New York
- Brookhaven Twp., Suffolk Co., New York
- Parts of Cleveland Co., North Carolina
- Parts of Gaston Co., North Carolina
- Cincinnati, Hamilton Co., Ohio
- Wayne Twp., Clinton Co., Ohio
- Jefferson Twp., Union Co., South Dakota
- Parts of Ellis Co., Texas
- Parts of Hood Co., Texas
- Kaufman, Kaufman Co., Texas
- Parts of Rusk Co., Texas
- Trinity Town and parts of Trinity Co., TX
For more detailed information see the list on this page.
To find these records online visit this section of FamilySearch where you can search them easily. If you locate a record of interest you can view a transcript and image like the one seen above.
If you have spent any time doing census research you will also notice that the images look quite different than other enumerations. The 1890 census was the only one to include just one family per page. It also used a vertical layout with wider columns.
If you are lucky enough to be able to locate an ancestor in this precious record set you will find a good deal of helpful information, as with any US census. Names, relationships, occupations, military service information and more are just waiting to be discovered.
The 1890 Census of Union Veterans and Widows of the Civil War
This remaining section of the 1890 census is even more valuable because it is so vast. The US government had several reasons for conducting this special enumeration of Union veterans and their widows and, luckily, much of it has survived.
The National Archives explains the motivation behind this special enumeration:
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The Pension Office requested the special enumeration to help Union veterans locate comrades to testify in pension claims and to determine the number of survivors and widows for pension legislation. Some congressmen also thought it scientifically useful to know the effect of various types of military service upon veterans’ longevity.(28) To assist in the enumeration, the Pension Office prepared a list of veterans’ names and addresses from their files and from available military records held by the War Department. The superintendent of the census planned to print in volumes the veterans information (name, rank, length of service, and post office address) compiled from the 1890 enumeration and place copies with libraries and veterans organizations so individuals could more easily locate their fellow veterans.(29) Read more about it here.
Although the goal was to record Union veterans and widows, some Confederate soldiers were also included so check this database even if your ancestor fought on the side of the south.
Unfortunately, the records for the states of Alabama through Kansas (alphabetically) are now mostly lost, but records remain from all states from Kentucky through Wyoming.
- U.S. Navy Vessels and Navy Yards
- Washington, DC
- Kentucky (part)
- New Hampshire
- New Jersey
- New Mexico
- New York
- North Carolina
- North Dakota
- Oklahoma and Indian Territories
- Rhode Island
- South Carolina
- South Dakota
- West Virginia
Because this record set contains a vast number of individuals there is a good chance that you may locate an ancestor. Finding one means access to information on that veteran’s name (or widow’s name and her deceased husband’s name), rank, date of enlistment, date of discharge, address, disability incurred by the veteran, special notes and more.
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Image: A Census Bureau employee using a Hollerith tabulator in 1908. The Hollerith tabulator was first used for the 1890 census. Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress via Census.gov.
By Melanie Mayo, Family History Daily Editor