For those of you who are new to genealogy, you may be wondering why you haven’t received any hints leading you to 1890 census records for the people in your family tree. Here’s the story. The 1890 U.S. Federal Census was stored in the Commerce Building in Washington D.C. In 1921 there was a fire in the basement of that building. About 1/4 of the census was destroyed by fire. Another 50% of it was ruined by smoke and water damage. In the mid-1930s the remainder of the census was destroyed by government order.
For those of us who use census records as the beginning steps for sketching out the structure of our families, that gap between 1880 and 1900 seems huge and, sometimes, insurmountable. A lot can happen in twenty years.
There are plenty of other records available that can help you trace your family through the end of the 19th century. Here are a few of my favorite.
State Census Records
Many states took censuses on “off” years from the federal government, most commonly on the “fives.” Using the Card Catalog, do a title search for “State Census” and see what comes up. To solve the 1880-1900 gap challenge, look specifically for censuses taken in 1885 or 1895. As of now we have the following censuses for that time period online at Ancestry.com:
While these will likely only list the adults in the household (and sometimes only the head of household), city directories are a great resource for tracking your family through the 1880s and 90s. Using the Card Catalog, filter to directories, then state, then decade to see what is available. Once you find a person you are looking for, try a surname search on the same street to see who else shows up in the same neighborhood or place of employment.
Newspapers are another great way to track your family, especially if they came from a smaller community where local happenings were big news. Be sure to check out the large newspaper collection on Ancestry.com – again, using the Card Catalog, filter to Newspapers, then state, then decade to see what shows up in the same time and place as your family.
If you want a quick video tutorial about searching the state censuses and the city directories, watch my Ancestry LIVE broadcast from earlier today.
Until next time – Have fun climbing your family tree…
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