Beginning genealogy students are taught that the 1890 U.S. Census was destroyed in a 1921 fire. This is true; however, some fragments of that Census remain. Although it may not be much information (3 microfilms), if one of the remaining schedules contained your ancestor's name it would be worthwhile for you.
Those who have researched Civil War Pensioners probably know that there are also surviving Union Army Veteran Schedules for 1890, which would also be very helpful if your ancestor was listed in the preserved segment. Although much of the 1890 information was lost, it is helpful to have an idea of what survives just in case it might be of use in a future problem.
The 1890 Census was taken in the same fashion as all the others, except that there was a separate page for each family entry. This "family schedule" idea was not used again until 1970. The remains of this Census include select parts of the following: Alabama (Perry County), D.C. (Q, R. S, 13th, 14th, 15th, Corcoran and Riggs Streets, Johnson Ave.), Georgia (Muscogee County), Illinois (McDonough County), Minnesota (Wright County), New Jersey (Hudson County), New York (Westchester and Suffolk Counties), North Carolina (Gaston and Cleveland Counties), Ohio (Hamilton and Clinton Counties), South Dakota (Union County), and Texas (Ellis, Hood, Rusk, Trinity, and Kaufman Counties). The National Archives has prepared an index to all names on the 1890 Census, available in both microfilm and printed forms. If you have an ancestor in one of the above locations, it may very well be worth your while to check the records.
The 1890 Union Army veteran's schedules include valuable information, though they are incomplete as well. Information recorded for each veteran includes name (also name of widow if deceased), rank, company, regiment, enlistment and discharge dates, length of service, address, and information on any disability. The sad part is, again, that many of these schedules were lost, namely all states alphabetically from A through part of Kentucky.
Yes, most of the 1890 Census is gone. What remains, however, will be useful to some. When considering where to look, it is important to remember that if we eliminated every incomplete source from our searches, we would be eliminating many valuable records. Simply keep in mind the value of each record in its place. Even though most of us will never use it, the descendants from some 6,000 people on this Census and many more on the Veteran Schedules will be happy to know that the 1890 Census was not completely destroyed.