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Two of the most famous cases of burned genealogical records are the 1890 US census and military files from the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis. Here are tips for working with (and around) these records:
1890 US Census
The 1890 census included detailed population schedules and special schedules for Union veterans and widows, mortality, crime, pauperism and benevolence, the disabled, insurance and transportation. All were almost entirely destroyed after being damaged in two separate fires: one in 1896 that affected the special schedules, and another in 1921, which claimed the population schedules. No copies had been made for county clerks, as had been the practice for previous censuses.
- Surviving records: fragments of populations schedules containing 6,160 names from Alabama, Georgia, Illinois, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, South Dakota, Texas and Washington, DC; Union veterans and widows schedules for half of Kentucky and states alphabetically following it (some are incomplete), Oklahoma and Indian Territories; and a few miscellaneous schedules for other states.
- Availability: Population schedules are on National Archives microfilm publication M407; veterans schedules are on microfilm M123. Online, Ancestry.com’s 1890 Census Substitute database has surviving schedules and several substitute record series, including many of those listed below.
- Substitutes: tax lists; city directories; voter registrations; state censuses; an 1885 federal census for Colorado, Florida, Nebraska, New Mexico, North Dakota and South Dakota; 1890 Oklahoma territorial census; 1890 poll lists for parts of Arizona and California.
Military Records from NARA
Official Military Personnel Files of 20th-century American servicemen and women contain valuable information including length and type of military service, duty locations, performance evaluations, medical records, award citations, photos and more. A 1973 fire at the National Archives’ National Personnel Records Center (NPRC) in St. Louis affected 22 million files of Army and Air Force personnel discharged in 1912 and later.
- Survived: 6.5 million records, many with water or fire damage, including 20 percent of files for Army personnel discharged Nov. 1, 1912, to Jan. 1, 1960; and 25 percent of Air Force personnel discharged Sept. 25, 1947, to Jan. 1, 1964, for names alphabetically before James E. Hubbard.
- Availability: Surviving records are at NPRC. Request records older than 62 years from the service member’s separation date using the online ordering instructions. If the file you request was lost in the fire, the NPRC provides available information from alternate record sources. Records of those separated less than 62 years ago are restricted for privacy reasons; find more information on the NPRC website.
- Substitutes: The Veterans Affairs BIRLS Death File and World War II Army Enlistment Records databases are free at Fold3; they’re also at Ancestry.com. Also use burial databases at the Nationwide Gravesite Locator (US burials) and the American Battle Monuments Commission (overseas burials). Check military records of specific conflicts at the National Archives and published unit histories and yearbooks.
From the October/November 2013 Family Tree Magazine