Prologue Magazine
Spring 1996, Vol. 28, No. 1

"First in the Path of the Firemen"
The Fate of the 1890 Population Census, Part 3


The Fate of the 1890 Population Census, Part 1
The Fate of the 1890 Population Census, Part 2

Notes

1. Daniel P. O'Mahony, "Lost But Not Forgotten: The U.S. Census of 1890," Government Publications Review 18 (1991): 332; Margo J. Anderson, The American Census: A Social History (1988), p. 106.

The Census Bureau was established as a permanent organization in 1902; before that date, the work of the bureau was carried out on an ad hoc basis pursuant to congressional authorization. In February 1903 the Census Bureau was transferred from the Department of the Interior to the Department of Commerce and Labor and in 1913 to the newly separated Commerce Department. See Kellee Green, "The Fourteenth Numbering of the People: The 1920 Federal Census," Prologue: Quarterly of the National Archives 23 (Summer 1991): 131-132.

2. O'Mahony, "Lost But Not Forgotten," pp. 333, 335; Anderson, The American Census, p. 102; W. Stull Holt, The Bureau of the Census: Its History, Activities, and Organization (1929; reprint, 1974), p. 30.

Municipal governments could request copies of information (names, age, sex, birthplace, and color or race) of their residents from the superintendent of the census at a cost of twenty-five cents for each hundred names. See Sec. 23, An Act to Provide for Taking of the Eleventh and Subsequent Censuses, March 1, 1889, Records Relating to the 11th (1890) Census, 1889-1893, Records Relating to Decennial Censuses, Patents and Miscellaneous Division, Records of the Office of the Secretary of Interior, Record Group 48, National Archives (hereinafter, records in the National Archives will be cited as RG ___, NA); Carroll D. Wright and William C. Hunt, The History and Growth of the United States Census (1900), p. 73.

3. There were four general schedules relating to the population, agriculture, manufactures, and mortality; eight supplemental schedules, for the defective, dependent, and delinquent classes; and a special schedule enumerating the survivors of the War of the Rebellion. Sec. 9, 19, An Act to Provide for Taking of the Eleventh and Subsequent Censuses, March 1, 1889, and Robert V. Porter to Eugene Hale, Feb. 21, 1890, Records Relating to the 11th (1890) Census, 1889 1893, Records Relating to Decennial Censuses, Patents and Miscellaneous Division, RG 48, NA; Richard Mayo Smith. "The Eleventh Census of the United States," Economic Journal 1 (March 1891): 45-46; Wright and Hunt, History and Growth, p. 70.

4. Holt, The Bureau of the Census, p. 28; Sec. 17, An Act to Provide for Taking of the Eleventh and Subsequent Censuses, March 1, 1889, and Robert V. Porter to Eugene Hale, Feb. 21, 1890, Records Relating to the 11th (1890) Census, 1889-1893, Records Relating to Decennial Censuses, Patents and Miscellaneous Division, RG 48, NA.

On the population schedule there were fourteen inquiries common to the schedules of 1880 and 1890, while in 1890 there were ten additional points of information:

  1. Whether a soldier, sailor, or marine during the Civil War (United States or Confederate), or widow of such person.
  2. Mother of how many children, and number of these children living (for all married, widowed, and divorced women).
  3. Number of years in the United States (for all foreign-born adult males).
  4. Whether naturalized (for all foreign-born adult males).
  5. Whether naturalization papers have been taken out (for all foreign-born adult males).
  6. Ability to speak English (for all persons ten years old and upward).
  7. Whether home lived in was hired, or owned by the head or by a member of the family.
  8. If owned by head or member of family, whether the home was free from mortgage incumbrance.
  9. If the head of the family was a farmer, whether the farm which he cultivated was hired, or owned by him or by a member of his family.
  10. If owned by head or member of family, whether the farm was free from mortgage incumbrance.
In 1890 a further subdivision was required by the law concerning negroes of mixed blood as to the number of mulattoes, quadroons, and octoroons. See Robert Porter to Hon. J. H. Gallinger, ordered to be printed Jan. 5, 1898, 55th Cong., 2d sess., Document 46.

5. Introduction to File Microcopies of Records in the National Archives: No. 123, Eleventh Census of the United States, 1890, Schedules Enumerating Union Veterans and Widows of Union Veterans of the Civil War (1948), p. ii; Wright, History and Growth, p. 76; Smith, "The Eleventh Census," p. 49; Anderson, The American Census, pp. 106, 108; Report of the Operations of the Census Office for the Fiscal Year ended June 30, 1892, Records Relating to the 11th (1890) Census, Records Relating to Decennial Censuses, Patents and Miscellaneous Division, RG 48, NA; U.S. v. Stevens, et al., Criminal Case 105, U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota Fourth Division (Minneapolis), Records of District Courts of the United States, RG 21, National Archives-Central Plains Region.

6. Anderson, The American Census, p. 109; Wright and Hunt, History and Growth, p. 78.

In his annual report for 1937, the Archivist of the United States, reporting the accessioning of farm schedules from other census years, noted: "The agricultural schedules for 1850, 1860, 1870, and 1880 have been distributed to societies and libraries throughout the country; those for 1890 have disappeared." See Third Annual Report of the Archivist of the United States for the Fiscal Year Ending June 30, 1937 (1938), pp. 141-142.

7. C. S. Sloane to Edward McCauley, Nov. 24, 1903, folder "Census of 1890," Alphabetical Subject File, Records of the Bureau of the Census, RG 29, NA.

Perhaps, retrospectively, it is amazing that a fire did not occur sooner, as a 1916 report notes that the area in the vault nearest the boiler room could not be kept below 90 degrees while the heating plant was in operation, making it too hot for a clerk to work in the vault for more than a few minutes and causing the records to rapidly deteriorate. Report of the Secretary of Commerce 1916, General Correspondence 68636/3, Office of the Secretary, General Records of the Department of Commerce, RG 40, NA.

8. "Report Concerning the Fire in the Basement of the Department of Commerce Building on the Afternoon of January 10, 1921," Jan. 20, 1921, and Testimony of James E. Foster, Fireman, Testimony of John Parsons, Chief Engineer and Electrician, Office of the Solicitor's Inquiry Concerning Origin of the Fire in the Department of Commerce Building on January 10, 1921, made January 11, 1921, General Correspondence 68636/3; Office of the Secretary, RG 40, NA; Washington Star, Jan. 11, 1921; Washington Post, Jan. 11, 1921.

9. The January 20 report of Libbey and the Washington Post state 5:30 as the time the fire was discovered. "Report Concerning the Fire in the Basement of the Department of Commerce Building on the Afternoon of January 10, 1921," Jan. 20, 1921, and Report, E. M. Libbey to the Secretary of Commerce, Jan. 20, 1921, General Correspondence 68636/3, Office of the Secretary, RG 40, NA; Washington Post, Jan. 11, 1921; Washington Herald, Jan. 11, 1921.

10. Washington Post, Jan. 11, 1921; Washington Star, Jan. 11, 1921; Testimony of William M. Lytle, Chief Clerk, Bureau of Navigation, Testimony of Chancellor, Watchman, Office of the Solicitor's Inquiry Concerning Origin of the Fire in the Department of Commerce Building on January 10, 1921, made January 11, 1921, and Report, E. M. Libbey to the Secretary of Commerce, Jan. 20, 1921, General Correspondence 68636/3, Office of the Secretary, RG 40, NA.

11. Washington Post, Jan. 11, 1921; Washington Star, Jan. 11, 1921; Washington Herald, Jan. 11, 1921; J. W. Alexander, Secretary of Commerce, to Harry Wardman, Jan. 22, 1921, General Correspondence 68636/3, Office of the Secretary, RG 40, NA; New York Times, Jan. 11, 1921, quoted in O'Mahony, "Lost But Not Forgotten," p. 335.

Chief Engineer Parsons claimed the water was 14-16 inches deep when he inspected it on January 11. See Testimony of John Parsons, Chief Engineer and Electrician, Office of the Solicitor's Inquiry Concerning the Origin of the Fire in the Department of Commerce Building on January 10, 1921, made January 11, 1921, General Correspondence 68636/3, Office of the Secretary, RG 40, NA.

12. Washington Herald, Jan. 11, 1921; Sam L. Rogers to the Secretary of Commerce, Jan. 11, 1921, and Testimony of John Parsons, Chief Engineer and Electrician, Office of the Solicitor's Inquiry Concerning the Origin of the Fire in the Department of Commerce Building on January 10, 1921, General Correspondence 68636/3, Office of the Secretary, RG 40, NA.

Other later estimates place the destruction at 15-25%. See Evangeline Thurber, "The 1890 Census Records of the Veterans of the Union Army," NGS Quarterly 34 (March 1946): 8. G. M. Brumbaugh, editor of the NGS Quarterly, claimed in April 1921 that the fire destroyed records of about 6,000 enumeration districts and badly charred about 2,000 other districts out of some 41,000 districts, although he does not provide the source of his data. See G. M. Brumbaugh, M.D., to Senator Miles Poindexter, Apr. 8, 1921, and G. M. Brumbaugh, to Herbert Putnam, Librarian of Congress, Apr. 8, 1921, folder "Census of 1890," Alphabetical Subject File, Records of the Bureau of the Census, RG 29, NA.

13. Washington Post, Jan. 11, 1921; Washington Star, Jan. 11, 1921; New York American, Jan. 11, 1921.

14. Rogers reported the following "number of bound volumes and of portfolios of census schedules which were damaged by water in the vault in the basement of the Commerce Building during the fire of January 10": census volumes from the 1830 census (6 states, 53 volumes), 1840 census (7 states, 65 volumes), 1880 census (20 states, 211 volumes), 1900 census (17 states and the Indian Territory, 633 volumes), and 1910 census (48 states and the District of Columbia, 7,957 volumes). He noted that it would be impossible to tell the extent of the damage until the schedules were taken out of the vault, dried, and examined. Sam L. Rogers to the Secretary of Commerce, Jan. 11, 1921, General Correspondence 68636/3, Office of the Secretary, RG 40, NA; Washington Herald, Jan. 11, 1921.

15. J. W. Alexander to Hon. Wesley L. Jones, Feb. 2, 1921, "Report Concerning the Fire in the Basement of the Department of Commerce Building on the Afternoon of January 10, 1921," Jan. 20, 1921, and Testimony of John Parsons, Chief Engineer and Electrician, Office of the Solicitor's Inquiry Concerning Origin of the Fire in the Department of Commerce Building on January 10, 1921, made January 11, 1921, General Correspondence 68636/3, Office of the Secretary, RG 40, NA; Washington Star, Jan. 13, 14, 1921.

Mrs. J. C. Drysdale noted that there had been fires in the three most critical sources of her heirship evidence: in the Census Bureau, in the Capitol at Virginia, and at the Old City Hall in Columbus, OH. "Another fact that makes these three fires appear as the work of an incendiary is the fact that they were almost simultaneous, just enough time between for one man to travel from Va. to Washington, and from there to Columbus, and then to Cleveland to get his reward." Mrs. J. C. Drysdale to T. G. Fitzgerald, Mar. 31, 1921, General Correspondence 68636/3, Office of the Secretary, RG 40, NA.

16. Washington Star, Jan. 11, 14, 1921; Washington Post, Jan. 11, 1921; Washington Herald, Jan. 11, 1921; Congressional Record, 66th Cong., 3d sess., 1921, Vol. 60, No. 29, p. 1320; "Report Concerning the Fire in the Basement of the Department of Commerce Building on the Afternoon of January 10, 1921," Jan. 20, 1921, Report, E. M. Libbey to the Secretary of Commerce, Jan. 20, 1921, and Testimony of Edward M. Chancellor, Watchman, Office of the Solicitor's Inquiry Concerning Origin of the Fire in the Department of Commerce Building on January 10, 1921, made January 11, 1921, General Correspondence 68636/3, Office of the Secretary, RG 40, NA.

17. "Report Concerning the Fire in the Basement of the Department of Commerce Building on the Afternoon of January 10, 1921," Jan. 20, 1921, Testimony of John Parsons, Chief Engineer and Electrician, Testimony of Walter Pumphrey, Chief Watchman, Testimony of W. S. Erwin, Clerk in the Supply Division, Office of the Solicitor's Inquiry Concerning Origin of the Fire in the Department of Commerce Building on January 10, 1921, made January 11, 1921, E. M. Libbey to the Secretary of Commerce, Jan. 20, 1921; General Correspondence 68636/3, Office of the Secretary, RG 40, NA; Washington Star, Jan. 13, 1921.

18. Report, E. M. Libbey to the Secretary of Commerce, Jan. 20, 1921, E. M. Libbey to Charles E. Stewart, Chief Clerk, Department of Justice, Apr. 16, 1921, General Correspondence 68636/3, Office of the Secretary, RG 40, NA.

19. Washington Star, Jan. 24, 1921.

20. William C. Redfield, to J. W. Alexander, Jan. 12, 1921, and Washington Star, Jan. 11, 1921, General Correspondence 68636/3, Office of the Secretary, RG 40, NA; J. Franklin Jameson to Hoover, May 11, 1921, Hoover to Jameson, May 14, 1921, Jameson to Hoover, May 21, 1921, Hoover-Jameson Correspondence, Herbert Hoover Library, West Branch, IA.

21. Washington Star, Jan. 13, 16, 17, 1921; Washington Post, Jan. 11, 1921; General Correspondence 68636/3, Office of the Secretary, RG 40, NA.

22. Washington Star, Jan. 24, 29, 1921; S. W. Stratton [?], Bureau of Standards, to Secretary of Commerce, Jan. 26, 1921, General Correspondence 68636/3, Office of the Secretary, RG 40, NA; various correspondence, G. M. Brumbaugh, M.D., editor, NGS Quarterly, to Senator Miles Poindexter, Apr. 8, 1921, National Genealogical Society Resolutions to Save the Population Census of 1890, Washington, DC, Apr. 2, 1921, Resolution, Apr. 22, 1921, signed by Emma L. Strider, Register General of the Daughters of the American Revolution, et al., folder "Census of 1890," box 9, Alphabetical Subject File, entry 160, RG 29, NA.

23. Herbert Hoover told inquirers that there must be some "mis-impression about this matter as I have no notion of destroying any records." He also noted that the records were in constant jeopardy, placed as they were in a temporary war building. Herbert Hoover to Burton L. French, May 6, 1921, and sheet, "Census of 1890," n.d., folder "Census of 1890," Alphabetical Subject File, entry 160, RG 29, NA.

24. W. M. Steuart to the Secretary of Commerce, May 3, 1921, folder "Census of 1890," box 9, Alphabetical Subject File, entry 160, RG 29, NA; Annual Report of the Director of the Census to the Secretary of Commerce for the Fiscal Year Ended June 30, 1922 (1922), p. 26.

25. Disposition of Useless Papers in the Department of Commerce, 2d sess., No. 2080; Thurber, "The 1890 Census," p. 8; Note, n.d., signed E.L.Y, folder "Census of 1890," box 9, Alphabetical Subject File, entry 160, RG 29, NA.

E.L.Y. is presumably Evelyn L. Yeomans, on the staff of the Geography Division from 1899 to 1941, who "apparently maintained the Division files and answered requests for information from and about the old census schedules." See Katherine H. Davidson and Charlotte B. Ashby, comps., Records of the Bureau of Census: National Archives Preliminary Inventory 161 (1964), p. 53.

26. A few schedules from Illinois are reported accessioned in the Eighth Annual Report of the Archivist of the United States for the Fiscal Year Ending June 30, 1942 (1943), p. 71. See also Final Report on Transfer, Accession No. 947 Recommendation on Transfer, by Robert Claus, Acting Associate Archivist, Job 42-154, Jan. 22, 1942, Accession 947 Dossier, NA.

27. The accession dossier notes some 74,344 original copies of the "Eleventh Census of the United States, Special Schedules," in the accession. This number was based on the preliminary estimate of schedules given by the Veterans Administration. Recommendation on Transfer, Dorothy Hill, Mar. 24, 1943, Final Report on Transfer, Dorothy Hill, June 17, 1943, and Frank T. Hines, Administrator, Veterans Administration, to Solon J. Buck, Archivist of the United States, Sept. 14, 1942, Job 43-74, Accession 1369 Dossier, NA.

28. By 1890, more than 250,000 claims had been rejected or were awaiting adjudication in the Pension Office because witnesses to support the claims could not be located. See Thurber, "The 1890 Census," p. 7; Recommendation on Transfer, Dorothy Hill, Mar. 24, 1943, Job 43-74, Accession 1369 Dossier, NA; Carroll D. Wright to the Secretary of the Interior, Nov. 18, 1893, Records Relating to the 11th (1890) Census, 1889 1893, Records Relating to Decennial Censuses, Patents and Miscellaneous Division, RG 48, NA.

29. Porter to Hale, Dec. 12, 1889, Records Relating to the 11th (1890) Census, 1889-1893, Records Relating to Decennial Censuses, Patents and Miscellaneous Division, RG 48, NA; introduction to Special Schedules of the Eleventh Census (1890) Enumerating Union Veterans and Widows of Union Veterans of the Civil War (National Archives Microfilm Publication M123), p. ii.

30. Wright and Hunt, History and Growth, p. 187.

31. 12 Stat. L. 566, as quoted in Gustavus A. Weber and Laurence F. Schmeckebier, The Veterans Administration: Its History, Activities, and Organization (1934), p. 40.

32. Enumerators received five cents (in per capita payment areas) for each record on the special schedule for surviving veterans, possibly encouraging additional or incorrect entries. Others claim the incorrect entries resulted from improper or imprecise phrasing of the question regarding veterans' service. Wright and Hunt, History and Growth, p. 72.

33. Susan Arnold, Pennsylvania, Special Schedules of the Eleventh Census, M123, roll 91.

34. Eliza Smith, Pennsylvania, roll 91; Margaret Montgomery, Pennsylvania, roll 91; Widow, Wyoming, roll 117; and Pate Halberts, Ohio, roll 73, all on Special Schedules of the Eleventh Census, M123.

35. Allan T. Hobbs, Utah Territory, Special Schedules of the Eleventh Census, M123, roll 103.

36. William Martin, North Carolina, roll 58; James Stabus, Ohio, roll 73; Bernard Todd, Pennsylvania, Jackson Mitchell, Pennsylvania, roll 81; and Samuel Polite, Marcus Moultair, and August Gadson, roll 93, all on Special Schedules of the Eleventh Census, M123. Wright and Hunt, History and Growth, pp. 198-199.

37. Dennis Arnold, Maryland, roll 10, and William Luilbett, Jacob Lasa, Missouri, roll 32, all on Special Schedules of the Eleventh Census, M123.

38. William Robertson, Oklahoma Territory, Roll 76, M123; Brown, North Carolina, Special Schedules of the Eleventh Census, M123, roll 57.

39. Thurber, "The 1890 Census," pp. 7-8; Letter, Acting Superintendent of Census to the Secretary of the Interior, Sept. 12, 1893, and Carroll D. Wright to Secretary of the Interior, Nov. 18, 1893, Records Relating to the 11th (1890) Census, 1889-1893, Records Relating to Decennial Censuses, Patents and Miscellaneous Division, RG 48, NA; introduction to Special Schedules of the Eleventh Census, M123, pp. ii-iii; Holt, The Bureau of the Census, p. 30; typewritten note, E.L.Y, Aug. 29, 1934, folder "Census of 1890," Alphabetical Subject File, RG 29, NA; Routing Slip, Dorothy J. Hill, 4-26-43, Job 43-74, Accession 1369 Dossier, NA.

40. Carroll D. Wright to the Secretary of the Interior, Nov. 18, 1893, Records Relating to the 11th (1890) Census, 1889-1893, Records Relating to Decennial Censuses, Patents and Miscellaneous Division, RG 48, NA; Thurber, "The 1890 Census," p. 9; Wright and Hunt, History and Growth, p. 75.

In the printed reports of the commissioner of pensions for the fiscal years 1895 and 1896, it was stated that this division had made some 437,538 additions to the cards in the "service files." See Job 43-74, Accession 1369 Dossier, NA.

41. Acting Superintendent of Census to Secretary of Interior, Sept. 20, 1893, Acting Superintendent of Census to the Secretary of the Interior, Sep. 12, 1893, and Carroll D. Wright to the Secretary of the Interior, Nov. 18, 1893, Records Relating to the 11th (1890) Census, 1889-1893, Records Relating to Decennial Censuses, Patents and Miscellaneous Division, RG 48, NA; Thurber, "The 1890 Census," p. 8; Holt, The Bureau of the Census, p. 30; typewritten note, E.L.Y, Aug. 29, 1934, folder "Census of 1890," Alphabetical Subject File, RG 29, NA; introduction to Special Schedules of the Eleventh Census, M123, p. iii; routing slip, Dorothy J. Hill, 4-26-43, Job 43-74, Accession 1369 Dossier, NA.

42. Introduction to Special Schedules of the Eleventh Census, M123, p. iii; Holt, Bureau of the Census, p. 30; typewritten note, E.L.Y., Aug. 29, 1934, folder "Census of 1890," Alphabetical Subject File, RG 29, NA; Recommendation on Transfer, Dorothy Hill, Mar. 24, 1943, routing slip, Apr. 23, 1943, Final Report on Transfer, June 17, 1943, and interoffice communication, Arthur H. Leavitt, May 20, 1943, Job 43-74, Accession 1369 Dossier, NA; Ninth Annual Report of the Archivist for the Fiscal Year Ending June 1943 (1944), p. 86; Wright and Hunt, History and Growth, p. 79.

The records apparently came to the National Archives from the Dependents Claims Service at the Veterans Administration. Final Report on Transfer, June 17, 1943; routing slip, Apr. 26, 1943, Job 43-74, Dossier, Accession 1369, NA.

43. Introduction to Special Schedules of the Eleventh Census, M123, p. iii.

44. Guide to Genealogical Research in the National Archives (1985), pp. 25-35.

45. Microfilmed copies are available via the Family History Library in Salt Lake City and the California section of the State Library in Sacramento. Wendy L. Elliott, "'Great Register Project' Aims to Replace Missing 1890 Census," Federation of Genealogical Societies Forum 4 (Summer 1992): 3 4; Alice Eichholz, ed., Redbook: American State, County, and Town Sources (1989), p. 32; Ann S. Lainhart, State Census Records (1992).

46. J. W. Alexander to William C. Redfield, Jan. 17, 1921, General Correspondence 68636/3, Office of the Secretary, RG 40, NA.

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