(+) The 1890 U.S. Census: Not Everything Was Destroyed

The following is a Plus Edition article written by and copyright by Dick Eastman. 

Beginning U.S. genealogists soon learn that the 1890 census records were destroyed in a fire in the basement of the Commerce Building on January 10, 1921. Many people who would like to see these records just shrug their shoulders and move on.

Some of the 1890 census records after being damaged by fire and water.

A short search on the Web, however, soon reveals that not all of the records were destroyed. In fact, census fragments for 1890 in Alabama, Georgia, Illinois, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, South Dakota, Texas, and the District of Columbia survived and are available now.

The morning after the fire 1921 fire, Census Director Sam Rogers reported the extensive damage to the 1890 schedules, estimating that only 25 percent of the records were destroyed, with 50 percent of the remainder damaged by water, smoke, and fire. Salvage of the water-soaked and charred documents might be possible, reported the bureau, but saving even a small part would take a month, and it would take two to three years to copy and save all the records damaged in the fire. The preliminary assessment of Census Bureau Clerk T. J. Fitzgerald was far more sobering. Fitzgerald told reporters that the priceless 1890 records were “certain to be absolutely ruined. There is no method of restoring the legibility of a water-soaked volume.”

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