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# Monday, December 15, 2008
The Tragic Tale of the 1890 Census
Posted by Diane

Q. What happened to the 1890 census? Everyone seems to skip over it when talking about census records.

A. The 1890 census is a bit of a sore subject for genealogists. Bringing it up sparks bad dreams, anguished “if only”s and anxieties over everlasting brick walls.

Why?

More than 99 percent of the records were destroyed Jan. 10, 1921, in a fire in the basement of the Commerce Building.

When the fire broke out, firefighters flooded the basement with water. The flames didn’t spread to upper floors, but the 1890 census records—piled outside a records storage vault—were soaked. (Even some of the census schedules stored inside the supposedly waterproof vault got wet.)

The cause of the blaze couldn’t be determined.

The records sat in storage for awhile, with no restoration efforts made. Rumors circulated that they’d be disposed of; various groups protesting such measures were assured the rumors were unfounded. But sometime between 1933 and 1935, the records were destroyed along with other papers the Census Bureau deemed no longer necessary.

I almost don’t want to tell you how future genealogists almost dodged this bullet: According to a 1996 article in the National Archives’ Prologue magazine  (vol. 28, no. 1), all or part of 1790 through 1880 census schedules had to be filed in county clerks' offices. But this wasn’t required in 1890; all the  schedules were forwarded to Washington, DC.

Fragments of the 1890 census bearing 6,160 names later turned up, and are viewable on microfilm. Also surviving are special 1890 schedules for half of Kentucky and states alphabetically following it, which enumerate Union veterans and their widows.

In a precursor to the 1921 tragedy, an 1896 fire badly damaged 1890 special schedules including mortality, crime, pauperism and “special classes.” They were destroyed by Department of the Interior order.

For help filling the genealogical holes left by the 1890 census, see our article on FamilyTreeMagazine.com.


census records
Monday, December 15, 2008 2:24:04 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #  Comments [1]
# Wednesday, April 30, 2008
All About Census Enumeration Districts
Posted by Diane

Q. What's an enumeration district?

A. An enumeration district (ED) is an administrative division of a particular county or township for the purposes of census-taking. Each census taker would be assigned one or more EDs, each of which was designated with a number.

At one time, to find your ancestor's census return, you’d have to identify which roll of census microfilm contained the right ED. Now that US censuses have been indexed by name, people don’t have to identify EDs the way they used to.

But you may find EDs handy for a few reasons:
  • If you can’t find a household in records for a database site such as Ancestry.com, you can browse by ED (in Ancestry.com, choose a census year, then scroll below the search box to pick a state, county or township; a ward; then an ED).
  • Enumerators didn't always proceed through their EDs in orderly fashion: Rather than go down one side of the street and up the other, they might cross back and forth or double back to places where no one was home. But you can compare a census return to a map of the corresponding ED to plot the neighborhood and see who lived next to your relatives.
  • When the 1940 census comes out on microfilm in 2012, a name index won’t be available right away—but while you wait, you'll be able to find the records using the ED. Update: Good news! Name indexes may be available immediately after all. Click comments (below) for details.
To identify your ancestor's enumeration district, you’ll need to know the state, city and street name, and possibly a street number. Then, try these tools:
  • Stephen P. Morse’s Web site has an ED finder for the 1910 to 1940 censuses (mostly for urban areas). Scroll down to the census section of his home page to find it. 
Morse’s site also offers a tool for translating among EDs from 1910 through 1940.
  • NARA has put ED descriptions for each census on microfilm. Series A3378 has EDs for the 1900 through 1940 censuses; series T1224 goes back to 1830. Update: Click comments for details on ED microfilm, too.
Learn more about EDs from the USGenWeb’s Census Project page.


census records | genealogy basics
Wednesday, April 30, 2008 1:41:22 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [2]