Understanding the 1890 Census Questions

The census of 1890 was taken, under the supervision of Robert P. Porter,14 according to an act of March 1, 1889, and modeled after that used for the 1880 Census.

The enumeration began on June 2, 1890, because June 1 was a Sunday. The census employed 175 supervisors, with one or more appointed to each state or territory, exclusive of Alaska and Indian territory. Each subdivision assigned to an enumerator was not to exceed 4,000 inhabitants. Enumeration was to be completed in cities with populations under 10,000 (according to the 1880 Census results) was to be completed within 2 weeks. Enumerators were required to collect all the information required by the act by a personal visit to each dwelling and family.

As in 1880, experts and special agents were hired to make special enumerations of manufactures,15 Indians living within the jurisdiction of the United States, and a separate enumeration of Alaska. Furthermore, the schedule collecting social statistics was withdrawn from enumerators; the work of obtaining statistics concerning mines and mining, fisheries, churches, education, insurance, transportation, and wealth, debt, and taxation, also was conducted by experts and special agents.

Robert P. Porter was appointed as Superintendent of Census by the President on April 17, 1889. He resigned the position on July 31, 1893.

In 1890, the manufactures schedules were withdrawn from the general enumeration for 1,042 “important” manufacturing centers (opposed to 279 in 1880). Special agents were responsible for collecting the detailed data in these areas.

Robert B. Porter served as Superintendant of Census until his resignation on July 31, 1893. On October 3, 1893, Congress enacted a law that directed census-related work to continue under the direction of the Commissioner of Labor. On March 2, 1895, a further act of Congress closed the census office and transferred the unfinished work to the office of the Secretary of the Interior, where it continued until July 1, 1897.

The results of the 1890 Census are contained in 25 volumes, plus a three-part compendium, statistical atlas, and an abstract. The complete results from the special enumeration of survivors of the Civil War were not published (the schedules of which were turned over to the Bureau of Pensions); however, the special inquiry on Schedule 1 (general population schedule) regarding Union and Confederate veterans were published in the report on population.

1890 Census Guide – Questions & Information

1890 Census Special Note

The 1890 census was destroyed by fire in 1921, and very little of it remains (approximately 6160 persons). As such, information for it is very limited. The following fragments remain:

  1. Alabama
    • Perryville Beat No. 11
    • Severe Beat No. 8
  2. District of Columbia
    • Q. Thirteenth
    • Fourteenth
    • R. Q. Corcoran
    • Fifteenth
    • S.R. and Riggs Streets
    • Johnson Avenue
    • S Street
  3. Georgia
    • Muscogee County
      • Columbus
  4. Illinois
    • McDonough County
      • Mound Township
  5. Minnesota
    • Wright County
      • Rockford
  6. New Jersey
    • Hudson County
      • Jersey City
  7. New York
    • Westchester County
      • Eastchester
    • Suffolk County
      • Brookhaven
  8. North Carolina
    • Gaston County
      • South Point
      • River Bend
    • Cleveland County
      • Township #2
  9. Ohio
    • Hamilton County
      • Cincinnati
    • Clinton County
      • Wayne
  10. South Dakota
    • Union County
      • Jefferson
  11. Texas
    • Ellis County
      • J.P. #6
      • Mountain Peak
      • Ovilla
    • Hood County
      • Precint #5
    • Rusk County
      • Precint #6
      • J.P. #7
    • Trinity County
      • Trinity
      • Precint #2
    • Kaufman County
      • Kaufman

Information Found Within the 1890 Census

  • Name of each person.
  • Name of the county, parish, township, town, or city where the family resides
  • Age
  • Sex
  • Color (Race)
  • Birthplace
  • Whether married in the last year
  • Profession, occupation, or trade of each person over 15 years of age
  • Value of Real Estate
  • Whether deaf, blind, dumb, insane, idiotic, pauper, or criminal
  • Whether able to speak or speak English
  • Whether the person attended school within the previous year
  • Birthplace of father and mother

Genealogy Strategy for the 1890 Census

  1. Location of the Household
    As in all census, the location of the household at the time the census was taken becomes a valuable tool for further research allowing you to concentrate on records of that time period in that particular location. The 1890 census will provide you the district, township, and county of your ancestor. It is also the first census to provide the name of the street and house number in urban areas.
  2. Establishing the Composition of a Family
    The 1890 census identified the relationship to the head of household of other household residents.
  3. Age of Inhabitants
    The 1890 census indicates the month in which the person was born, if born “within the year,” that is between June 1, 1869 and May 31, 1870. While not an exact age, the fact that you’re provided the year each person is born will assist you in finding birth records.
  4. Tracking the Migration
    The 1890 census provides the birthplace of each individual along with the birthplaces of each parent for that person, making it much easier to track the origin of a family. Genealogists should always be cautious of any information provided a census taker, and realize that many ancestors for their own reasons would not provide accurate answers to this type of a question due to the prejudices of the time.
  5. Occupation
    The occupation of each family member over 15 is recorded. A mention of a profession would indicate possible search of a professional directory. Clergy were enumerated as well under occupation, and the genealogist should search within the records of the denomination indicated.
  6. Foreigners
    The 1890 census indicate the person’s parents’ birthplaces.
  7. Real Estate
    An indication of real estate value might point to land or tax records.
  8. At School
    An indication of being at school within a household might point to local school records.
  9. Insane
    An indication of insane within a household might point to guardianship or institutional records.1
  10. Convict
    The indication of a persons enumeration as a convict is rare, unless the census actually finds them in the jail at the time of the census. Furthermore, a person in jail, may be listed twice, if his home was in a different district. Instructions given to the enumerator was to ask, or use their own knowledge and county records as a source, in identifying those who had been a “criminal” within the past year.
  11. Native American Research
    It is possible to find your Native American ancestor in the 1890 census only if they were residing in an area being taxed. If this is the case, then your ancestor would be enumerated as any other tax paying citizen was. Even though there was a census of the Indian Territory, nobody residing in this area was enumerated.
  12. Parents Birthplace Location
    The parents birthplace location is provided.

1890 Census Forms

1890 Census,

Partridge, Dennis N. United States Census Guide. Copyright 2008-2013.

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