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 1890 Census

(c) Linda Haas Davenport (Updated 2007)

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Prior to the 1890 Census the Director of the Census was quoted as saying: "Up to and including 1880 the country had a frontier of settlement, but at present the unsettled area has been so broken into by isolated bodies of settlement that there can hardly be said to be a frontier line. In the discussion of its extent, its westward movement, etc., it can not, therefore, any longer have a place in the census reports." (1)

Commenting on this statement in a classic paper delivered in 1893, one of America's great historians, Frederick Jackson Turner, wrote, "Up to our own day American history has been in a large degree the history of the colonization of the Great West. The existence of an area of free land, its continuous recession, and the advance of American settlement westward, explain American development." (1)

In 1890 the Census Bureau created a completely different method of recording the census, one that has never been repeated. Each family was enumerated on one sheet of paper. With the added volume of paper (about 5 to 10 times the size of the 1880 census where from 5 to 10 families were recorded on one page) Congress decided to finance just ONE set of schedules for the census and no copies were made. If a county wanted their own copy they would have to pay for making it. (As far as I know, only Washington Co GA actually copied the Census into their own court records.)

From a genealogist's point of view this was an incredible mistake since the 1890 census was 99% destroyed by fire in 1921. The surviving records from the fire are microfilmed on three rolls of microfilm. Out of 62,979,766 people, records exist for only 6,160. The census bureau has posted a story about the fate of the 1890 census.  "First in the Path of the Firemen", The Fate of the 1890 Population Census

The 1890 Census asked the most extensive questions of any census to date. Address and the number of people in the house; the number of people in the family; each individual is listed by name; whether a soldier, sailor or marine during the Civil War and whether Union, Confederate or both; whether a widow of a veteran; relationship to head of family; race (white, black, mulatto, quadroon, octoroon, Chinese, Japanese or Indian); sex; age; marital status; whether married within the year; mother of how many children; number of children still living; place of birth of the individual and the birthplace of the person's parents; if foreign-born how many years in US; naturalized or in the process of being naturalized; profession or trade or occupation; number of months unemployed during census year; able to read, write or speak English; whether suffering from an acute or chronic disease (if so disease is listed and how long the person has been ill); whether defective in mind, sight, hearing or speech, crippled, maimed or deformed (with name of defect) ; whether a prisoner, convict, homeless child, or pauper; is house owned or rented; whether owned by head of house or other member of household; whether the house is mortgaged or free; if head of house is a farmer, if he or a family member owns or rents the farm, if owned is it mortgaged or free and lastly the closest Post Office closest to the dwelling.

More than one family historian has been reduced to tears reading the information that was entered on the 1890 census and is now lost forever.

One of the items that did survive the fire at the Commerce Dept was the Veteran's Schedules for 1890 for the Special Census of Union veterans and Widows of Veterans in 1890. Not all of the schedules survived but those for; DC, about half of Kentucky, and Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Indian Territory, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, US ships and navy yards, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin and Wyoming did survive. These films are found the Records of the Veterans Administration, Record Group 15. They are available from the same sources as the Census Microfilm.

The Census schedules for Industry, Farming and others are also believed to be lost in this fire.

 The surviving records for the 1890 census are found on 3 rolls of Microfilm - M407

ALABAMA:, Perry Count, Perryville Beat No 11 and Severe Beat No 8 (roll 1)

DC: Q, 13th, 14th, R, Q, Corcoran, 15th, S, R, and Riggs Streets, Johnson Ave and S Street (roll 2)

GEORGIA: Muscogee County (Columbus) (Roll 3)

ILLINOIS: McDonough County (Mound Twp) (Roll 3)

MINNESOTA: Wright County (Rockford) (Roll 3)

NEW JERSEY: Hudson county (Jersey City) (Roll 3)

NEW YORK: Westchester County, Eastchester) and Suffolk County (Brookhaven Twp) (Roll 3)

NORTH CAROLINA: Gaston County (South Point Twp) and River Ben Twp) and Cleveland County (Twp. No 2) (Roll 3)

OHIO: Hamilton County (Cincinnati) and Clinton County (Wayne Twp) (Roll 3)

SOUTH DAKOTA: Union County (Jefferson Twp) (Roll 3)

TEXAS: Ellis County (J.P. No 6, Mountain Peak, and Ovilla Precinct), Hood county (Precinct No 5), Rusk County (no 6 and J.P. No 7), Trinty County (Trinity Town and Precinct No 2) and Kaufman County (Kaufman) (Roll 3) (2)

An every name index to these 3 rolls of film is available on M496 2 rolls. Roll 1 is A-J and roll 2 is K-Z. All of these films are available at many places.


As with any of my essays I appreciate any corrections, additional information or comments. [an error occurred while processing this directive]


 1790 Census

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 Census Overview




(1) 200 Years of Census Taking: Population and Housing Questions, 1790-1990. Washington, DC: Bureau of the Census, 1989.

(2) Catalogue of 1790-1890 Federal Population Census Data Available Through the Census Microfilm Rental Program; Bureau of the Census, 1992

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