East New Market

Census Records

1890 Census

Maryland (does not exist)

Experienced genealogists and local historians have learned that the 1890 Census was destroyed by fire.  However, the story is a little more complicated.

The censuses of 1790 through 1880 required all or part of schedules to be filed in county clerks' offices.  Unfortunately, this was not required in 1890.  The original (and presumably only) copies of the schedules were forwarded to Washington.

In March 1896, before final publication of all general statistics volumes, the original 1890 special schedules for mortality, crime, pauperism and benevolence, special classes, and portions of the transportation and insurance schedules were badly damaged by fire and destroyed by order of the Department of the Interior.  At the time, the general population schedules were reported to be in fairly good condition.

However, the general population schedules did not fair as well in 1921.  On January 10, 1921, the 1890 general population schedules were piled on pine shelves in an unlocked file room in the basement of the Commerce Building.   About 5:00pm on that afternoon, a fire broke out.  Firemen poured water into the building and partially flooded the basement.  By 9:45 p.m. the fire was extinguished, but firemen continued to pour water into the burned area. 

The Census Director estimated that 25 percent of the 1890 Census general population schedules were destroyed and 50 percent of the remainder were damaged by water, smoke, and fire.  Fortunately the bureau reported that salvage of the remaining water soaked and charred documents might be possible.

By May of 1921 the records were still piled in a large warehouse where they could not be consulted and would probably gradually deteriorate.   The Census Director arranged for their transfer back to the census building, to be bound where possible, but at least put in some order for reference.  It is unclear what was done with the records between 1921 and 1932.

In December 1932, the Chief Clerk of the Bureau of Census sent the Librarian of Congress a list of papers no longer necessary for current business.  The list included the 1890 population schedules.  Congress authorized their destruction on February 21, 1933.  The majority of the records were destroyed in either 1934 or 1935.

However, a small number of the original schedules were found to still be in existence.  In 1942 and again in 1953, the National Archives accessioned Census fragments from Alabama, Georgia, Illinois, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, South Dakota, Texas, and the District of Columbia.  1890 Census records for the state of Maryland did not survive the fire, water damage, and subsequent destruction order.

Prologue Magazine, published by the National Archives 
Spring 1996, Vol. 28, No. 1
"First in the Path of the Firemen"
The Fate of the 1890 Population Census, by Kellee Blake