A. The Department of Commerce fire that destroyed most 1890 census records is a research brick wall—but it’s one you can get around.
Fragments of the 1890 census bearing 6,160 names from states including Illinois, Ohio, Alabama, Georgia and North Carolina survived and are available on microfilm. The 1890 special schedules of Union Civil War veterans and their widows survived for half of Kentucky and for the states occurring alphabetically after that.
Census reconstruction projects involve using county, state and federal records to approximate who would’ve been around for the missing census. State archives manage some projects, such as Idaho’s, and genealogical societies oversee others, such as Trimble County, Kentucky’s. Find projects on Cyndi’s List and by doing a Google search on a county or state name and 1890 census. The subscription service Ancestry.com has several 1890 census substitutes.
Researchers sometimes publish census substitutes, such as Prairie County, Ark., 1890 Census Reconstruction by Margaret Harrison Hubbard (self published).
Starting in 1866, California regularly collected voters’ information for its “Great Registers.” Registers after 1900 are on Ancestry.com, but the California State Genealogical Alliance published The California 1890 Great Register of Voters indexing 311,028 men living in California in 1890. It’s available at the California State Library and many other large genealogical repositories.
If you can’t find a census reconstruction for your ancestors’ counties, remember: You have access to the very same records as the people conducting such projects. Look for your ancestors in tax lists, state censuses, voter rolls and city directories. See this Ancestry.com article for more suggestions.