How to Find Your Ancestors in 1890

When I first started building my Wakenight family tree, I would search the US census records to find out where my ancestors lived. Some of them lived in the same area all their lives, while others moved to different states and regions of the country.

One of the most challenging searches for an ancestor who has moved from an area is between 1880 and 1900. The reason for this difficulty is that a fire destroyed most of the 1890 US census in 1921. Only about 1% of these records were saved, amounting to about 6,160 people in the whole United States. has tried to aid in this search by amassing a collection of state censuses taken around the 1890 era. I have a list copied to the computer that I use as a reference point. When I am looking for an ancestor around 1890, I will pull this list up to see what territories and states are in this collection. Here is what I have:

  • 1890 United States Federal Census Fragment
  • 1890 Veterans Schedules
  • California, Voter Registers, 1866-1898
  • Iowa, State Census Collection, 1836-1925
  • Iowa, State Census, 1895
  • Kansas State Census Collection, 1855-1925
  • Massachusetts Census (Hancock), 1790-1920
  • Michigan, State Census, 1894
  • The population of Michigan, 1880, 1890: (showing the population of each county, township, city and village, and the last apportionment)
  • Statistical Returns from the Census of the State of Michigan, 1894
  • Minnesota, Territorial and State Censuses, 1849-1905
  • Montana (Census of the Blackfeet), 1897-1898
  • New Jersey, State Census, 1895
  • New York City Police Census, 1890
  • New York, Census of Inmates in Almshouses and Poorhouses, 1830-1920
  • New York, Orphans Placed in the New York Foundling Hospital and Children’s Aid Society, 1855-1925
  • New York, State Census, 1892
  • North Carolina (Native American Census Selected Tribes), 1894-1913
  • Oklahoma and Indian Territory, Dawes Census Cards for Five Civilized Tribes, 1898-1914
  • Oklahoma and Indian Territory, Indian Censuses and Rolls, 1851-1959
  • Oklahoma, Territorial Census, 1890 and 1907
  • Oregon (Marion County), Census, 1895
  • A Directory of the eleventh census of the population of Schuylkill County (PA): giving the names and ages of males and females, pub
  • Tennessee, Enumeration of Male Voters, 1891
  • Washington State and Territorial Censuses, 1857-1892
  • Wisconsin, State Censuses, 1855-1905
  • U.S. Virgin Islands Census, 1835-1911 (Danish Period)
  • U.S. Special Census on Deaf Family Marriages and Hearing Relatives, 1888-1895
  • The U.S., Indian Census Rolls, 1885-1940
  • U.S., Native American Applications for Enrollment in Five Civilized Tribes, 1898-1914
  • U.S., Native American Enrollment Cards for the Five Civilized Tribes, 1898-1914
  • The U.S., Wallace Roll of Cherokee Freedmen, 1890-1893
  • Walker River Valley, Nevada Paiute Indian Records, 1897-1901

As you will notice, many censuses included the enumeration of the Native American populations. Native Americans, not living on reservations, were first enumerated on the 1860 US census. By the time 1900 rolled around, the US census included Native Americans living in the general population and on reservations.

If you are looking for a Native American ancestor, check out “Indians and the Census 1790-2010” on the Native Heritage Project website. The article explains how and when census takers enumerated the Native Americans in the US censuses.

The other collection of records that has included as an 1890 census substitute are hundreds of city and county directories. Ancestry has narrowed these records down to years ranging from 1882 to 1895. Having fewer records to search makes it much easier to find an ancestor in a particular state or county.

The city and county directories can also supply useful information about your ancestor. Many of the listings will include the residential address, occupation, and other adult family members living at that address. This type of information can help verify and confirm that you have the correct person. You may also find other family members listed on the page who are living at different addresses.

When I first began building my family tree, I thought I was stuck, losing 20 years of history in my ancestor’s life. After a little searching, I found the 1890 census substitute collection and was able to fill in this 20-year gap.

Interested in learning more about the 1890 census? The US National Archives has an article entitled “First in the Path of the Firemen,” The Fate of the 1890 Population Census, Part 1, which explains in detail what happened before and after the fire.

Are you having trouble finding your elusive ancestors? I would love to help by providing a free records search for you.  There is no catch!  I love doing genealogical research! Just leave a message in the Comments or Contact Me Section of my website. Please include information such as name, age, birthplace, and where they had last lived. The more you can supply, the easier the search.

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