News From Terre Haute, Indiana

February 21, 2009

GENEALOGY: Only 6,160 names saved from 1890 census tragedy

By Tamie Dehler

TERRE HAUTE — Over the past weeks, I have been discussing the tragedy of the 1890 census — what was lost and what was saved from the fires and the subsequent mismanagement of the damaged fragments.

Only 6,160 names out of a population of nearly 63 million on the 1890 census were saved. That is only about one-hundredth of 1 percent. Yet, if your ancestor was living in one of the counties recovered, the name is worth looking for because they are all indexed.

Many people aren’t aware, however, that much more of the 1890 census was saved — in the form of the Special Enumeration of Union Veterans and Widows.

This enumeration was requested by the U.S. Pension Office in order to locate Union Civil War veterans or their widows who were involved in pension claims and needed the testimony of former comrades to help prove their service record. Each schedule asked the veteran or widow for name; rank; company, regiment, or vessel; enlistment date; any disability incurred in service; and general remarks. The “general remarks” can provide some interesting and revealing information. In addition, if a disability was sustained as a result of military service, the veterans’ schedule can alert the genealogist that a pension record might be available through the National Archives.

Although this special enumeration was supposed to include only Union veterans of the Civil War, a funny thing happened. Some enumerators included all veterans in the questionnaire. Therefore, a researcher might just find a veteran of the War of 1812, Mexican War, or one of the Indian wars. In addition, many Confederate veterans of the Civil War were also enumerated.

Veteran schedules for the southern states often include large lists of Confederate veterans. These names might be crossed out, but still readable.

If a veteran was deceased, but had a surviving widow, her information was compiled as well as the data for her late husband. Many widows had remarried and their new name, as well as their current address, were listed. For genealogists looking for African ancestry, service in the “Colored Troops” is documented on the veterans’ schedule. It also is interesting to note that some persons deceptively claimed to be veterans, perhaps hoping to get an undeserved pension.

The original intent of the census office was to publish this veteran information and make it available to the public as well as to veterans’ organizations and associations. However, funding for the project was lacking and in 1894 the schedules were transferred to the Commissioner of Pensions to be used in the government Pension Office. In 1930 the schedules were delivered to the newly created Veterans Administration. In 1943 they were transferred to the National Archives, where they remain today. More than 1 million Union veterans were originally documented as well as more than 163,000 widows.

Although there is no evidence that the 1890 veterans’ schedules were involved in either fire that annihilated the actual census, a significant portion of these schedules is missing. Almost all schedules from the states of Alabama through Kansas (alas, this includes Indiana and Illinois) are missing. Nearly one-half of the Kentucky veterans’ schedules are missing. Surviving schedules include, alphabetically, part of Kentucky through Washington, D.C. They can be found in National Archives Publication M123 and consist of 118 rolls of microfilm. Bundle 198 on roll 118 titled “Washington, DC, and Miscellaneous” contains some fragments for California, Delaware, Florida, Idaho, Illinois (Cook and Henderson counties), Indiana (Warrick and White counties), and Kansas.