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Another Look at the 1890 Census

Without a doubt, census records are one of the most valuable sources that a genealogist can use to trace faily history. Unfortunately, the greater part of the eleventh census of the Untied States, taken in 1890, is not available for use.

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Type: Article
Resource: GenWeekly
Prepared by: Karan Pittman
Word Count: 800 (approx.)
Labels: Census 
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Without a doubt, census records are one of the most valuable sources that a genealogist can use to trace family history. Unfortunately, the greater part of the eleventh census of the United States, taken in 1890, is not available for use. In January 1921, a fire destroyed most of the records of the census records and the water used to quench the fire destroyed the rest. Although the documents were moved, no efforts were made to reconstruct the records, and only fragments remain.

The twenty-year gap between 1880 and 1900 may seem daunting and almost insurmountable to many genealogists, especially since a lot of people were moving around the United States in those years. With some creativity as well as logical thinking, sources may be used to substitute for the census and to locate your ancestors.

Some of the sources you may use to substitute for the census include city directories, if they are applicable to your area. City directories provide a variety of information for genealogists, including street address and often occupation. Unfortunately, many people between 1880 and 1900 did not live in cities large enough to warrant a directory.

If your ancestors did not live in a city, land and property records will assist in your search. A careful look at property bought and sold during that time may help you to trace your family's path. Start with the last known place of residence and work backwards. The best part of a land record is that when land is bought or sold, the county the grantee or grantor lives in at the time is listed. This may prove helpful in your search and give you the clue for the next county or state to search.

Tax lists may be helpful, but not all counties will have the complete set of records. Check with the Tax Commissioner's Office to see if any records are available. By locating a tax record, you have placed your ancestor in a particular county on a particular date. I was fortunate enough to locate an ancestor on a tax list in Meriwether County, Georgia. By locating the name on the list, I was able to chart a path that he followed to get to his new home.

Jury rolls may list your ancestor. These may be found in the courthouse. Some counties have published lists of jury rolls. Often local county history books will have lists of jury rolls. Another source to check for the jury rolls is the local or regional newspapers. In many states, the larger newspapers in existence have begun to be indexed, and you may be lucky enough to locate your ancestor.

Another less utilized, but still quite efficient, way of locating ancestors may be in the dead letter lists. These lists, which included the names of people who had mail in the post office but did not live in the county, were often published in local or regional newspaper. As with the jury rolls, some of the larger newspapers are indexed. Many local history books also list the dead letter lists. This helps to provide a framework of dates to know when your ancestor was or was not in a certain area.

Voter registration cards and lists may be useful. Once again, these lists are not always found in every county. If you are lucky enough to locate your ancestor on such a list, you may have a good idea when he came into an area. Remember that in the time period of 1880 to 2000, women could not vote. Only males will be listed.

Newspapers always have interesting information, if you have time to go through them. More and more newspapers are now being indexed, but there are still many small weeklies that you have to go through one by one. Check for weddings, births, and funerals, although names may be frustratingly missing. Be sure to check the social columns. It is amazing the information that can be found in social columns. Three generations of family may be listed in one paragraph. Another great source of information in newspapers will be the classifieds. If your ancestor died between 1880 and 1900, the classified section may help you to pinpoint the date of death.

At www.ancestry.com as well as other genealogical web sites, materials known as 1890 Census Substitute materials will be listed, including the 1890 Veterans Schedules and the 1890 United States Federal Census Fragment. Some printed volumes of substitute material also are available for use. These volumes, which may cover one county or an entire region, are often found in local and regional genealogical libraries.

Even though you may have to dig a bit harder to find the information substitutes for the 1890 Census, the information that you need will probably be out there. Keep thinking out of the box, and you will find your next clue!

Source Information: GenWeekly, New Providence, NJ, USA: Genealogy Today LLC, 2006.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Genealogy Today LLC.

*Effective May 2010, GenWeekly articles that are more than five years old no longer require a subscription for full access.

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