Member of the National Genealogical Society 2018
Member of the New Mexico Genealogical Society 2018

The Bane of All Census Records - 1890

If you are beginning to trace your family tree and happy with the results, you'll soon discover there's a giant black hole out there just waiting to provide challenge. It's the 1890 US Federal Census.

There was a fire that consumed the 1890 Census, thereby providing us with a 20 year gap. If you have an ancestor (like I do), who was born in the latter part of 1880, they could have been born and out the door by 1900. And should this be a female, her name could already be changed by marriage.

It gets creative, but here are a few things you can do to help locate your roaming family:

  • First, check the US Federal Census of 1900 and find out if your family is still in the same area. If you find them, note the change in family structure and if the Head of Family is still living. Search to see if male children (now grown) are still living in the same area. If the Head of Family is no longer listed, search for his wife. She may be living with a grown child now.
  • Many states held a State Census in 1885 and 1895. Check to see if your particular states are included on this list.
  • Check to see if your states posted Tax Records. You will only find the head of family, but at least you can keep track of their locations.
  • Check old newspaper listings. If they ran a business, got married, or posted an obituary, there's a good chance you'll find some information.
  • Look for birth certificates by searching the mother's maiden name. Registering babies upon birth became mandatory in 1875 so there is a good chance that there is a certificate. Unfortunately, some states (i.e. West Virginia) required only a limited amount of information which makes it a further challenge.
  • Death certificates would have still been issued and many times they provide more family information than birth certificates.
  • has provided us with a wonderful service whereby volunteers continue to photograph and post headstones in their local cemeteries. You may discover your ancestors in one of them. However, be cautious of the genealogies posted in the listings. Often, they are not correct.
These are only a few ways to continue working on your family tree without giving up at 1890. With your focus away from the Census Records, you'll be surprised how many other creative routes you'll discover.

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