Disaster Recovery for Genealogy: “Think About the Things That Matter Most”

Damage reports are surfacing in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey. Today we discuss how two Texas library collections have fared, and disaster recovery strategies for genealogy researchers. I’ve got a fantastic get-started video tip for those trying to rescue documents, photos, and other family heirlooms–and the two steps everyone should take to protect their priceless genealogical collections.

disaster recover things that matter most

Port Aransas, Texas

My heart goes out to those who have been in the paths of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma recently. Knowing I live in Texas, many of you have asked how my family is doing. I’m happy to report that the storms didn’t reach those of us here north of Dallas. However, our daughter Hannah and her husband, while thankfully safe after evacuating from their home on the Texas shore, suffered the loss of their car and other possessions, and Hannah’s workplace was destroyed. They are now part of the relief and recovery efforts, and look forward to when they will be able to return to their home, which is currently uninhabitable. We feel very blessed that they are safe and sound, and our prayers go out to all who suffered losses.

Disaster Recovery for Genealogy Libraries

Clayton Library Center for Genealogical Research, Houston, TX. Wikimedia Commons image; click to view.

As lives are secured and order begins to be restored in devastated areas, I’ve wondered how various genealogy libraries and archives have fared. Genealogy Gems listener Chris emailed me with an alert that the Clayton Library Center for Genealogical Research in Houston, Texas has suffered some damage. “So sad for genies!” she writes. Indeed! The Clayton is one of the top public library genealogy research centers in the United States.

Not wanting to disturb their recovery efforts with a phone inquiry, I’ve turned to Google searching and social media for a status report. The Houston Public Library Foundation states that the Clayton is among one of 10 library locations that are “unable to open due to various building damages.” The Clayton Library Friends Facebook page offers more specifics–and this hopeful report:

“Yes, there was some flooding at Clayton Library and according to Susan Kaufman, Manager, Clayton Library is closed this week. Clayton Library staff will be deployed to other libraries that are open.

Clayton Library did suffer some water damage but it was not really that bad. They just need to decide how best to proceed since they were planning on doing renovations soon anyway.”

CityofHouston.news tells us what Clayton staff may be doing at other library branches: “The services and resources that are available at your library system include free access to WiFi and computers, one-on-one assistance with filling out applications and forms, and access to the expertise of library archivists who can assist you in preserving and saving precious family memorabilia such as books, letters and photographs that may have been damaged in the storm.” 

Chris’ email encourages us to support the recovery effort for Houston’s libraries through the Houston Public Library Foundation: here’s the link she sent to their donation portal.

Port Arthur Public Library, Port Arthur, Texas. Image from library website.

Down on the coast, another library system wasn’t so fortunate. The Port Arthur Library will remain closed for months, reports the Port Arthur News. “The Port Arthur Public Library was one of many buildings hit hard by Harvey,” states an article by L.V. Salinas. “It sustained flood damage and the subsequent mold issue inundated buildings often face afterward. It also sustained substantial damage and loss of property of its books, computer equipment, archives and more.”

Crews are working to clean up and preserve what they can. High priority is being given to their historical and genealogical resources: “One of the costlier processes was the freeze-drying of irreplaceable items like genealogy records, microfilm, Port Arthur historical photos and collections. The intent, as performed by companies contracted by the city, was to prevent any further damage from taking place, kill the bacteria that’s present and preserve the items long enough for a transference of information by experts.”

The Port Arthur History Collection is proudly described on the library website; it includes a collection of historic photos that were lovingly organized by volunteers and placed in archival-quality storage. “It’s one of our highest buy testosterone medication priorities,” states a library official in the article. “It’s time sensitive, and it has to happen now….We have to preserve it now.”

Disaster Recovery for Genealogy Researchers

As genealogists, we to have our personal and precious libraries and archives. We build trees in software–some of us spending hundreds or thousands of hours on them. We may have files, books, and other research materials. Many of us are family archivists: the stewards of priceless original family documents, photos, and other artifacts. Here’s some level-headed counsel for after a disaster strikes–and here’s what the rest of us should be doing now, before another disaster.

After a Disaster: Take It One Step at a Time

If you’ve been affected by a recent disaster, I’d like to share this fantastic, level-headed advice from Rennee Tallent, Galveston Historical Foundation’s Manager of Historic Collections (Galveston, Texas was hit by a hurricane in 1900–the “deadliest natural disaster in American history”):

I love her compassionate advice:

“Walking into [your home after a disaster] is very overwhelming. Try to take a deep breath and think about the things that matter most to you and what your priorities are. Take it one piece at a time: after you’ve finished that one, move on to the next.” -Rennee Tallent, Galveston Historical Foundation’s Manager of Historic Collections

Start your recovery efforts with whatever matters most to you, Renee says. But she reminds us that certain items are more vulnerable to destruction than others, so try to also focus on things made out of paper and photographs, then cloth, then wood. Leave your china, silver, and glassware until these other items have been stabilized.

Before Disaster Strikes: Digitize and Back It Up!

If a disaster strikes, most of us won’t have the time to grab all our genealogy research files, photographs, and other precious heirlooms. But many of these items are one-of-a-kind–unless we make them two-or-more-of-a-kind!

As family archivists, we can best preserve our past by:

  1. Digitizing it. Make high-quality digital scans of original documents and photos. Take digital pictures of three-dimensional heirlooms such as clothing, handicrafts, even quilts.
  2. Backing up your digital files. Should a disaster occur–whether storm, theft, or fire–your computer may suffer the same fate as any original documents and heirlooms in your home. So I recommend investing in an automated, cloud-based backup service for your computer.

For a few dollars a month, a cloud-based backup service will continually back up your computer files to a remote server. In the event of any loss (including a computer crash), you can download them again. Having a digitized version of those original Civil War letters or photos isn’t quite the same as the real thing–but it’s so much better than having them disappear entirely. And if you’re like me, your computer doesn’t just house your photos and research files. It may have hundreds or even thousands of work files, personal files, music, or video files and more.

I use Backblaze for my personal computer and to back up thousands of Genealogy Gems audio, video, and other files. Backblaze is made for everyday consumers: it’s affordable and easy to use. Do your research yourself and choose the best cloud-based backup for you (click here to read the 8 features you should be watching for).

Our Service “Happiness” Manager, Lacey, experienced first hand the benefits of having her computer backed up:

Right after our Genealogy Gems seminar in Dallas in early August, I came home, sat down to work, and discovered my laptop had died. I tried everything I could find to get it going again (thanks to Google search results) but it couldn’t be revived. Thankfully, I had both Backblaze and Dropbox installed on my computer, and I didn’t lose any files at all. I was able to get everything back! Even my Google account saved all of my settings and bookmarks for my Chrome browser, so when I got my new computer, just about everything was restored as though nothing had happened. I was SO RELIEVED! Planning ahead really paid off!

Backblaze lisa louise cooke(If you decide to go with my favorite, Backblaze, thanks for clicking here to purchase it. The modest commission we receive supports the free information I provide on this website and the Genealogy Gems podcast.)

My sincere wishes for the safety of your families–and your family history.

New Videos Can Help You Find African-American Family History in Freedmen’s Bureau Records

FamilySearch has posted a series of new videos aimed at helping people trace their African-American family history with Freedmen’s Bureau records.

Marriage records created by the Freedmens' Bureau. Wikimedia Commons image; click to view.

FamilySearch’s YouTube channel has published several new videos to help researchers better understand how to trace African-American ancestors with the Freedmen’s Bureau records. As we explain more fully in this article, the Freedmen’s Bureau was organized after the Civil War to aid newly-freed slaves in 15 states and Washington, DC. For several years it gathered “handwritten, personal information on freed men, women and children, including marriage and family information, military service, banking, school, hospital and property records,” according to FamilySearch.

Freedmen’s Bureau records are finally being fully indexed and posted online for free at FamilySearch and at DiscoverFreedmen.org. (Read the article we refer to above to see how you can help.) Now it’s time to teach everyone how to USE these records and to begin to share success stories. That’s the purpose behind these videos:

Telling a Story with the Freedmen’s Bureau with the Reverend Dr. Cecil L. Murray:

Research the Records of African-American Ancestors with the Freedmen’s Bureau with Kimberly Freeman:


Uncover Information about your African American Heritage wih the Freedmen’s Bureau with Judy Matthews:

Discover Stories from Your Ancestry with Insights from the Freedmen’s Bureau Project with John Huffman:

Use Freedmen’s Bureau Records to Demystify Your Family History with George O. Davis

Enrich Your Family History with Information from the Freedmen’s Bureau with Ambassador Diane Watson

Additional Resources

Free Database on Civil War Soldiers and Sailors  (African-American sailors)

Missing Birth Record? Here’s How to Track It Down (Special tip for African-American births)

DNA Helps Scientists Identify Homeland of Caribbean Slaves

New! Map for Freedmen’s Bureau Resources

Who do you know that will want to learn more about the Freedmen’s Bureau and African-American family history resources? Thank you for sharing this article with them.

Ultimate Guide to 1890 Census and Substitute Records

Video & Show Notes 

Click the video player to watch episode 54 of Elevenses with Lisa about the 1890 census and substitute records. Below you’ll find the detailed show notes with all the website links I mention. Premium Members will find the downloadable ad-free PDF cheat sheet of these show notes at the bottom of this page in the Resources section, along with my BONUS 1890 Census Gap Worksheet. 

What Happened to the 1890 Census

The census shows us our ancestors grouped in families, making it a valuable resource for genealogy. Soon the 1950 census will be available, but for now the most current census publicly available in 1940. In it we may find, depending on our age, ourselves, our parents, our grandparents, and our great parents. In many cases it’s quick and rewarding to make your way back in time to  the 1890 census which was taken starting June 1, 1890.  And that’s where the trail hits a bump. In January 1921 a large fire broke out in the Commerce Building in Washington DC where the 1890 census records were stored, and most were destroyed as a result. Only 6,160 individual names remain in the remnants. (Learn more about the destruction of the 1890 census at the National Archives.)

Prior to the 1890 U.S. Federal Census, the last census taken was in 1880. With about 99% of the 1890 being destroyed as the result of the fire, this leaves a 20 year gap in the census (1880 – 1900.)

Much can happen in a span of twenty years. For example, your ancestors could have been born and reached adulthood. Filling in their timeline for this period requires a bit more effort, but the results are worth it.

In this video and article we’ll cover:

  • How to find the remaining fragments of the 1890 population enumeration
  • What you can learn from the 1890 census records
  • Lesser known 1890 census schedules that can still be found.
  • The best 1890 substitute records and how to find them.

Surviving 1890 Federal Census Population Schedules

A very small portion of the 1890 census has survived, but it’s more than just the population schedule. Here are the six types of records still available.

1. 1890 Federal Population Schedule Fragments

How to find the records:

List of the locations covered by the surviving 1890 federal census:

Alabama: Perryville Beat No.11 (Perry County) and Severe Beat No.8 (Perry County)

District of Columbia: Q Street, 13th St., 14th St., R Street, Q Street, Corcoran St., 15th St., S Street, R Street, and Riggs Street, Johnson Avenue, and S Street

Georgia: Columbus (Muscogee County)

Illinois: Mound Township (McDonough County)

Minnesota: Rockford (Wright County)

New Jersey: Jersey City (Hudson County)

New York: Brookhaven Township (Suffolk County) and Eastchester (Westchester County)

North Carolina: South Point and River Bend Townships (Gaston County), Township No. 2 (Cleveland County)

Ohio: Cincinnati (Hamilton County) and Wayne Township (Clinton County)

South Dakota: Jefferson Township (Union County)

Texas: J.P. No. 6, Mountain Peak, Ovilla Precinct (Ellis County), Precinct No. 5 (Hood County), No. 6 and J.P. No. 7 (Rusk County), Trinity Town and Precinct No. 2 (Trinity County), and Kaufman (Kaufman County)

Questions Asked in the 1890 U.S. Federal Census
The following questions were asked by the census taker:

  1. Name
  2. Age
  3. Sex
  4. Address
  5. Number of families in the house
  6. Number of persons in the house
  7. Number of persons in the family
  8. Relationship to head of family
  9. Race: white, black, mulatto, quadroon, octoroon, Chinese, Japanese, or Indian
  10. Marital status
  11. Whether married during the year
  12. Total children born to mother
  13. Number of children living
  14. Birthplace
  15. Birthplace of parents
  16. If foreign born, how many years in the United States
  17. Naturalized or in the process of naturalization
  18. Profession, trade, or occupation
  19. Months unemployed during census year
  20. Able to read and write
  21. Speak English; if not, language or dialect spoken
  22. Suffering from acute or chronic disease (if so, name of disease and length of time afflicted)
  23. Defective in mind, sight, hearing, or speech
  24. Crippled, maimed, or deformed (with name of defect)
  25. Prisoner, convict, homeless child, or pauper
  26. Home is rented or owned by the head or a member of the family
  27. (if so, whether mortgaged)
  28. Head of family a farmer, if he or a family member rented or owned the farm
  29. If mortgaged, the post office address of the owner

2. Schedules for Union Soldiers & Widows

According to the National Archives, “The U.S. Pension Office requested this special enumeration to help Union veterans locate comrades to testify in pension claims and to determine the number of survivors and widows for pension legislation. (Some congressmen also thought it scientifically useful to know the effect of various types of military service upon veterans’ longevity.) To assist in the enumeration, the Pension Office prepared a list of veterans’ names and addresses from their files and from available military records held by the U.S. War Department.

Index and images of schedules enumerating Union veterans and widows of veterans of the Civil War for the states of Kentucky through Wyoming. Except for some miscellaneous returns, data for the states of Alabama through Kansas do not exist. Some returns include U.S. Naval Vessels and Navy Yards. The schedules are from Record Group 15, Records of the Veterans Administration and is NARA publication M123.

Nearly all of the schedules for the states of Alabama through Kansas and approximately half of those for Kentucky appear to have been destroyed before transfer of the remaining schedules to the National Archives in 1943.”

How to find the records:

Search the United States Census of Union Veterans and Widows of the Civil War, 1890 (index & images) at FamilySearch.

These records can tell you:

  • State, county and district where census was taken
  • Date census was taken
  • Full name of surviving soldier, sailor, marine, or widow
  • Rank, company, regiment or vessel
  • Date of enlistment
  • Date of discharge
  • Residence
  • Disability
  • Length of service in years, months, and days
  • Remarks

Learn more:

3. Schedules Oklahoma Territories

The 1890 Oklahoma Territorial Census lists people who lived in the Oklahoma Territory. The seven counties making up the Oklahoma Territory at the time are listed below. Note the number as they were often listed only by these number on the census.

  1. Logan County
  2. Oklahoma County
  3. Cleveland County
  4. Canadian County
  5. Kingfisher County
  6. Payne County
  7. Beaver County

How to find the records:

4. Selected Delaware African American Schedule

One of the primary uses of the census by the government is to compile statistical reports using the data gathered. Many of these can be found online at places like Google Books.

The Delaware African American Schedule came about because of one of these statistical reports. According to the National Archives, in 1901 the Chief Statistician for Agriculture wrote a report about agriculture in the state of Delaware. Just before it was to be published, some of the conclusions reached in the report were disputed. The controversy centered around what was then referred to as “Negro” farmers. The results was that additional research was conducted in an effort to find all “Negro” farmers in the 1890 and 1900 Delaware census records. The dust up over the statistical report was fortunate indeed because these records are now available.

How to get the records:

The list is roughly in alphabetical order according to surname and contains the following information:

  • Name
  • Census Year
  • Enumeration District (ED) Number
  • ED Description (locality and county)
  • Occupation

5. Statistics of Lutheran Congregation & Statistical Information for the U.S.

These record collection offers limited usefulness because they don’t name people. However, if you have questions about Lutheran ancestors around 1890 or would like more contextual information about the time period, they might be worth a look.

Statistics of Lutheran Congregation reproduces a list of each Lutheran church or local organization compiled by the Census Office from information submitted by officials of the Lutheran officials.

How to find the records:

The National Archives – Contact the National Archives regarding National Archives Microfilm Publication M2073, Statistics of Congregations of Lutheran Synods, 1890 (1 roll).  Records are arranged by synod, then state, then locality.

For each church or local organization, the following information is given in seven columns:
(1) town or city
(2) county
(3) name of organization
(4) number or type of church edifice
(5) seating capacity
(6) value of church property
(7) number of members.

6. Statistical information for the entire United States

Statistical reports were compiled and analyzed by the Census Office after the 1890 census was completed. These massive statistical reports are available in National Archives Microfilm Publication T825, Publications of the Bureau of the Census.

How to find the records:

Google Books – Some of the statistical reports have been digitized and are available for free on Google Books. One of the most interesting is the Report on the Social Statistics of Cities in the United States at the Eleventh Census: 1890.

Best Substitute Records for the 1890 Census

Now that we’ve scoured every inch of available records remaining from the 1890 U.S. Federal Census, it’s time to go on the hunt for substitute records. We’ll be focusing on the best available and easiest to find resources.

1885 & 1895 State Census Records:

The U.S. federal government was not alone in taking the census. Some states also took their own state census. These were usually conducted in the years between the federal censuses, most commonly on the “5” such as 1875, and 1885. You may find some as far back as 1825 and as recent as 1925, as in the case of the state of New York.

How to find the records:

Look for state census records at state archives, state historical societies, and state libraries. Many are also conveniently searchable online, most commonly at FamilySearch (free) and Ancestry (subscription.)

Arizona, U.S., Territorial Census Records, 1882 (Ancestry)

Kansas 1895 (FamilySearch)

Kansas 1895 (Kansas State Historical Society)

Colorado State Census 1885 (FamilySearch)

Colorado State Census 1885 (Ancestry)

Michigan State Census 1894 (FamilySearch)

Michigan State Census 1894 (Ancestry)

Minnesota State Census 1885 (FamilySearch)

Minnesota State Census 1895 (FamilySearch)

Minnesota Territorial and State Censuses 1849 – 1905 (Ancestry – select year, then county)

Minnesota Territorial Census records from 1849, 1850, 1853, 1855, and 1857 and Minnesota State Census records from 1865, 1875, 1885, 1895 and 1905 (Minnesota Historical Society)

Florida State Census 1885 (FamilySearch)

Florida State Census 1885 (Ancestry)

Iowa State Census, 1885 (FamilySearch)

Iowa State Census, 1885 (Ancestry)

More on the Iowa 1885  and 1895 censuses from the Iowa Data Center

Iowa State Census 1895 (FamilySearch)

Iowa State Census 1895 (Ancestry)

Nebraska State Census 1885 (FamilySearch)

Nebraska State Census 1885 (Ancestry)

New Jersey State Census 1885 (FamilySearch)

New Jersey State Census 1885 (Ancestry

New Jersey State Census 1895 (FamilySearch

New Jersey State Census 1895 (Ancestry)

New York State Census 1892 (FamilySearch)

New York State Census 1892 (Ancestry)

New York City Police Census 1890 (FamilySearch)

New York City Police Census 1890 (Ancestry)

Rhode Island State Census 1885 (FamilySearch)

Rhode Island, U.S., State Censuses, 1865-1935 (Ancestry – Filter by year then county)

Wisconsin State Census, 1885 (FamilySearch)

Wisconsin State Census 1895 (FamilySearch)

Wisconsin, U.S., State Censuses, 1855-1905 (Ancestry)

Missouri, U.S., State Census Collection, 1844-1881 (Ancestry – Filter by year then county)

Missouri, U.S., State Census Collection, 1844-1881 (FamilySearch)

South Dakota, U.S., Territorial Census, 1885 (Ancestry)

South Dakota, U.S., Territorial Census, 1895 (Ancestry)

Lisa’s Pro Tip: Get a Bit More with Mortality Schedules

Do you happen to have someone in your family tree who was alive and well in the 1880 census but nowhere to be found in the 1900 census? Official death records may not have been available during this time frame where they lived, compounding the problem.

The U.S. Federal Censuses from 1850-1880 included a mortality schedule counting the people who had died in the previous year. Since the 1880 census began on June 1, “previous year” means the 12 months preceding June 1, or June 1 (of the previous year) to May 31 (of the census year).

Ancestry has a database of these schedules which fall just before the 20 year time frame we are trying to fill. However, this collection also happens to include Mortality Schedules from three State Censuses: Colorado, Florida and Nebraska. There were conducted in 1885. They weren’t mandatory so there are only a few, but if you happen to be researching in one of these states, you just might get lucky.

How to find the records:

While you’re searching, be aware that not all of the information recorded on the census is included in the searchable index. This means that it is important to view the image and don’t just rely on the indexed information.

Ancestry 1890 Census Substitute Database

Ancestry has compiled a special searchable collection of records that can be used to fill in the gaps left behind by the loss of the 1890 census. It includes state census collections, city directories, voter registrations and more.

How to find the records:

Find More 1890 Census Substitute Records at Ancestry

This substitute collection is a tremendous help, but don’t stop there. You can also manually hunt for substitute records to see if there might be something helpful that is overlooked in the 1890 census substitute search. This works particularly well if you have a specific research question in mind.

You might be wondering, why would I need to search manually? Many people rely on Ancestry hints to alert them to applicable records, and they figure the search engine will find the rest.

This is a mistake for two reasons.

  1. only approximately 10% of Ancestry® Records Appear as hints.
  2. Not all records at Ancestry are indexed and therefore searchable. There are thousands of browse-only digitized records. Read my article How to Find and Browse Unindexed Records at Ancestry – The Better Browsing Checklist.
  3. There may be a record that meets your needs that was not captured in the 1890 Census Substitute Collection. Try going directly to the Card Catalog and filtering to USA and then by decade such as 1890s.

FamilySearch 1890 Census Substitutes

While FamilySearch doesn’t have one massive substitute database, you can find several focused 1890 census substitute collections available online, at Family History Centers around the country and world, and in book form at the Family History Library in Salt Lake City.

How to find the records:
1. Go to FamilySearch
2. Log into your free account
3. In the menu go to Search > Catalog
4. Click Titles
5. Search for 1890 census substitute
6. If desired, filter down to records available or at a Family History Center near you.

City Directories as an 1890 Census Substitute

Some of the best and most comprehensive substitute records are city directories. If published in your ancestor’s area when they lived there, they can offer a year-by-year record. And that can do wonders for filling in the gap between the 1880 and 1800 census.

How to find the records:

You can find city directories at the big genealogy websites like Ancestry, MyHeritage and FamilySearch, as well as state archives, historical societies and libraries. Google searches also come in very handy in unearthing lesser known websites and repositories. Two of my favorite places to look that are both free and online are Google Books and Internet Archive.

  • Google Books
    Search for the state and county. On the results page click the Tools The first option in the drop-down menu will be Any View. Change it to Full View. The third option is Any Time. Click the down arrow and select Custom Range and set it to 1880 through 1890.

    10 surprising things to find at Google Books

    Episode 30: Lisa’s 10 surprising things to find at Google Books

  • Internet Archive
How to Use the Internet Archive

Watch episode 43 on the Internet Archive.

Like Google Books, the Internet Archive has a vast array of materials digitized and available for free. Watch Elevenses with Lisa episode 43 for ideas and search strategies.

Finding More 1890 Census Substitutes Online

We’ve touched on some of the most popular and helpful records that can be used to fill in the gap left by the loss of the 1890 U.S. Federal Census. As you expand your search look for:

  • County histories
  • Land records
  • Maps (plat and insurance maps)
  • Newspapers
  • Probate records
  • Tax records
  • Voter registers

Resources

Watch Next

Learn more about 1950 U.S. Federal Census Records. Watch episode 51 and episode 53.

 

Did you enjoy this episode? Have a question for Lisa?

You’re part of the family, so please leave a comment below!

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