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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]
# Thursday, December 11, 2008
This Brick Wall is Murder
Posted by Diane

Q. I have a great aunt who was murdered in San Francisco, July 18, 1918, at age 30. Her husband had died four months before and she had a 3-year-old son. I was able to find the date of death, but I really want to know the facts behind the case. How did it happen? Was the killer caught?

A. You don’t mention whether you’ve already found a death certificate. If not, look for one. The certificate will confirm details such as the date and cause of death. Contact San Francisco’s Office of Vital Records or the California Department of Public Health for information.

A microfilmed index of California deaths covering 1905 to 1988 is at the Family History Library. You can rent film for viewing through your local FamilySearch Family History Center.

As a FamilyTreeMagazine.com Forum member suggested, coroner’s records (also called medical examiner records) may help. Coroners would investigate suspicious deaths. The San Francisco History Center at the San Francisco Public Library has coroner’s reports from 1906 to 1950. Contact the library (415-557-4567) to request a search .

You’re right to search newspapers. You can use a service such as Proquest Historical Newspapers or Newsbank at many libraries; or you could use a site such as the subscription site GenealogyBank at home.

If searching doesn’t produce results, try browsing through newspapers for the days and weeks after your great-aunt’s death. San Francisco being a major city, your local library may have its newspapers on microfilm. Search for titles of San Francisco papers using the directory on the Library of Congress’ Chronicling America site.

The above records should help you determine whether anyone was caught and tried for the crime. The State Archives of California has San Francisco criminal case files from 1850 to 1965. Learn more about researching California court records using the archives' online finding aid.


birth/death records | court records | printed sources
Thursday, December 11, 2008 9:59:06 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #  Comments [2]
# Wednesday, December 03, 2008
Investigating an Ancestor's Presidential Award
Posted by Diane

Q. My grandfather, a lawyer, received a Certificate of Appreciation from President Roosevelt on April 15, 1943, "in grateful recognition of patriotic services rendered in aiding in the administration of the Selective Training and Service Act." The governor of Maryland also signed it.

I'd like to find out what he did to earn this certificate. I can't find anything in Maryland state archive searches. (This question is from the FamilyTreeMagazine.com Forum.)

A. The Selective Training and Service Act of 1940 required American men aged 21 to 35 to register beginning in 1940. Those whose names were drawn had to serve 12 months.

In 1941, Congress approved by one vote the President's request to extend the term of service. After the United States entered World War II, a new act made men age 18 to 45 liable for military service; those up to age 65 had to register.

There are any number of ways your grandfather could've participated in administering this legislation, so first dig through attics and closets and quiz relatives for clues that may give you a starting point. Then take these steps:
  • Was he a lawyer for the government or for a firm? If the latter, perhaps his involvement was through his employer. A relative might remember the name, or you could check a city directory.
If he was a government employee, his records would be at the National Personnel Records Center (part of the National Archives and Records Administration) in St. Louis. Records may be restricted for privacy reasons; instructions for making a request are online.
  • If he was prominent enough to get an award from the president, maybe he made the news. Search newspaper databases such as Google's News Archive, the subscription site GenealogyBank, or NewsBank, available through many libraries.
  • Reading a history of the Selective Service System may offer clues to your grandfather’s participation or even mention him.
  • Selective Service System records are in the National Archives' Record Group 147, which includes correspondence, official appointments, conscientious objector case files and more. The mostly paper records, some of which involve state draft boards, are distributed among various National Archives locations. Start with the administrative records at the archives' Washington, DC, and College Park, MD, locations.
These records aren’t indexed, so study a finding aid (the archives recommends two) and enlist the help of an archivist.
You also can hire a researcher; the archives has posted a list of recommended researchers by topic.
You can use the Archival Research Catalog People Search to see if your grandfather’s name appears in any National Archives catalog descriptions. (Note that even if he’s not in the People Search, the records still may mention him.)


occupational records | US roots
Wednesday, December 03, 2008 9:49:46 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #  Comments [0]