Thousands of 1890 US Census Records Still Exist

Like many genealogists and family historians, I’ve found the lack of 1890 Census records to be somewhere between unfortunate and annoying. A twenty year gap between the 1880 Census and the 1900 Census has played merry havoc with more than a handful of my research.

So I was really excited when I came across a blog post I’m going to share with you. You’ll find a link at the bottom of this post.


1890 Census fragment.

Many family historians are fully aware of the fact that the 1890 census, which contained more than 60 million individuals, was destroyed in the early 20th century and is therefore not available for genealogical research. The lack of this valuable resource, one from such an important time in America’s history, has left a huge gap for many of us.

Despite the common belief that these precious records were simply destroyed by fire in 1921, the actual story of what happened is quite surprising and somewhat disturbing. You can read all about it in this article on Family History Daily. But there is another twist to this story — some of these records DO still exist and they can be accessed online for free. – Family History Daily

You can find out more about the 1890 Census information that still exists by visiting:

Family History Daily:

Digging deeper with Census Records: Part 4

Recognising family groups

As mentioned previously ( Post: What’s in a maiden name), marriage records are important for a number of reasons. Two invaluable pieces of information marriage records provide are 1) the maiden name of the bride; and 2) in most cases, the maiden name of the bride’s mother.

Maiden names allow you to build a bigger picture of your family’s history. In my family’s case, certain names occur with consistency. Taking the Roanes for example, the family name of Hill, Carpenter, Byrd (or Bird), Richardson, Broaddus, Waring, Johnson, Holmes, Baylor, Braxton and Green occur over and over again, generation after generation in any number of combinations. Again, it’s worth bearing in mind that these were members of rural communities, an important genealogy and family research factor I mentioned in the first post in this series.

Roane cousins from different branches of the male Roane lines married. That’s one of the easiest ways to spot marriage between cousins. What’s more subtle and more challenging to spot is kinship through a family’s female lines. In my case,  by discovering women’s maiden names – and the surnames of their mothers – I’ve been able to recognising recurring last names…and establish degrees of kinship amongst cousins who married from different family branches.  The names listed in the above paragraph appear frequently.

Here’s a fictitious example: Nancy Roane marries Joe Richardson.

  • Nancy’s parents are Samuel Roane and Betty Broaddus
  • Joe’s parents are Charles Richardson and Nannie Green

Now, looking at both their parents:

  • Samuel Roane’s parents are Edward Roane and Annie Green
  • Betty Broaddus’s parents are Alan Broaddus and Sophie Richardson (Joe Richardson’s aunt)
  • Charles Richardson’s parents are Lawrence Richardson and Lena Roane (Samuel Roane’s great-aunt)
  • Nannie Green’s parents are Ollie Green (second cousin to Annie Green, Samuel Roane’s mother) and Kate Holmes

This is an extreme example. However, what this boils down to is Nancy and Joe are cousins. Charles Richardson (Joe’s father) and Samuel Roane (Nancy’s father) are also cousins. Stretch this example a few generations back and the same surnames criss-cross through time – different lines of a family coming together in marriage.

I’ve spent a great deal of time tracking down marriage records for my family tree. And whether it’s my Roane, Sheffey, Turner, Mathews/Mathis, Harling or Josey ancestors, I’ve noted the intricate patterns of their extended families. So when I scan a county’s census record I slow down – without even thinking about it – as soon as I begin to see associated names to the family I’m researching. It’s like Pavlovian conditioning.

If I’m researching my Roane ancestors, as soon as I see the names Hill, Carpenter, Green, etc I slow my scrolling down to a dead crawl. And usually a relevant Roane family group soon appears.

The same holds true for the Sheffeys: when I start seeing surnames like Byrd, Richardson, Hill, Ward and Johnson, my scrolling grinds to a snail’s pace and usually a relevant family group appears. With the Joseys it’s name like Padgett, Smallwood, Calvert and Barbee. With the Harlings, it’s names like Matthews/Mathis, Peterson and Fuller. These names are red flags that tell me to slow my scanning speed down.

And these tend to be families that live quite near to one another and subsequently appear together in census returns decade after decade after decade (until the 1920s when family groups began to move elsewhere within the US). This is where knowing maiden names pays off. The family living next door to your (rural) ancestors weren’t just neighbours…they were more than likely kin; especially if they remain living to one another through the 19th Century.

Keeping with the Roanes, have a look at the two census returns below. The first is Essex County, VA in 1870, the second is Newtown, King & Queen County, VA in the same year. Keep in mind the surnames Hill, Carpenter, Byrd (or Bird), Richardson, Broaddus, Waring, Holmes, Baylor, Braxton and Green. How many appear in both? And how close do they live to the Roanes?

That’s digging just beneath the surface in terms of scanning census records.

That’s it from me until just after Christmas.  So to new-found family and followers of the blog…my best wishes for a very happy holiday.

Digging deeper with Census Records: Part 3

A question solved – many other questions raised.

Finding my great-great-great Grandfather George Henry Roane’s lost relations answered one question: their whereabouts in 1870. However, scanning the census records for Essex Count, VA raised even more questions.

There are quite a number of African-American Roane family groups. And their relationship to one another is anything but clear. I’ll share some of my hypotheses as a glimpse into how this noggin works.  Ascertaining how these individuals might be related to George hinges upon his date of birth (1805) to theirs.

In Line 1 we have a George Roane born 1810 with his wife and son. Is he George Henry Roane’s cousin? During this period it’s not uncommon for siblings to use the same name for their children at the same time. Nicknames and middle names were used to distinguish between them. So for two brothers to both use the name George for their sons within the same generation wouldn’t be unusual. And George was a very popular name in this period. I did note this Roane family group is living quite a distance from other black Roane family groups, which may or may may not be a factor in determining kinship.

Jane Roane in Line 44 is a mystery. She’s either a Roane through birth or marriage. Born in 1840, she belongs to the younger generation of the family, a contemporary of George Henry Roane’s own children. Should marriage records for her children surface, hopefully they will cite the name of their father and this family group’s relationship to other Roanes might become clear.

We have a Toby Roane in Line 61 who could be either be George’s brother or cousin. Born in 1805, he is of George Henry Roane’s generation. Another cousin perhaps?

In Line 86 we have a Susan Roane. Susan is more than likely a Roane through marriage. Born around 1800, she belongs to the same generation of George Henry Roane. Given that she is probably living with her niece, a Waring through marriage, it’s not possible to guess Susan’s maiden name or understand how she and her children are related to neighbouring Roanes.

Randall Roane’s (Line 133) family group follows next. He is Sumer Roane’s (Line 61) uncle (Sumer is living with his brothers and sister/sister-in-law). Marriage and death records indicate these two men are definitely uncle and nephew. Randall Roane (Line 167) and Jerry Roane (1869) are Randall Sr’s sons. Given Randall Sr’s year of birth in 1815, could he be George Henry Roane’s cousin? That’s my hunch at the moment.

Rostlin Roane (Line 217) is listed as the head of her household. At first I thought she was the sister of Campbell Roane (his wife is Catherine). However, that didn’t ring true to me. It just seemed odd for a younger sister to be the head of a household that elder brother was resident in with his wife. So I’ve come to the conclusion that Rostlin is Campbell’s sister-in-law; the widow of some yet unknown brother. While I’m still trying to figure out how this group is related to Randall Roane Sr’s family and George Henry Roane, I believe there is a close kinship with Absalom Roane (Line 235), a hunch based on proximity. Given their respective years of birth, Campbell and Absalom could be siblings or cousins.

Next we come to Divie Roane (Line 254) and his brother William Roane (Line 255). They are live in servants and, at this point, there are no clues to indicate who they are related to. Marriage and death records are proving elusive to find for them online.

There’s Baylor Roane in Line 268. Again, he is either the brother or cousin of Absalom Roane (Line 235) and Charles Roane (Line 290). That would make these three men either the brothers or nephews of George Henry Roane (my hunch is that they are George’s nephews and subsequently cousins to one another).

A fair distance away lives Horace Roane (Line 293) who is probably George Henry Roane’s nephew. He’s certainly a cousin of Absalom, Charles, and Baylor – and perhaps a cousin of Sumer and Randall Roane Jr as well. All of them belong to the same generation.

We find Spencer Roane (Line 317) a small distance from Horance Roane – and a greater distance away from the central Essex Roane group (Randall, Sumer, Charles, Baylor, etc). Marriage and death records show that Spencer and Horace are brothers. Dicey Roane (Line 318) is their mother. Edy is Spencer’s wife and mother of his children Mary and Franklin (Baby John is apparently Nelly Roane’s son). Nelly, Francis and Lindsey are Spencer and Horace’s siblings. While it eventually became clear how this household were related to each other – their relationship to other Roane family groups remains a matter of speculation.

Catherine Roane (Line 349), like Divie and William Roane) is a live-in servant. Her relationship to neighbouring Roanes is unknown.

Sally Roane (Line 366) lives at a great distance from the majority of African American Roanes. She is a contemporary, in terms of age, of Randall Jr, Absalom, Baylor and Charles Roane. In all likelihood she is a Roane by marriage and not birth. Marriage and death records haven’t surfaced for her children. So, at this point, without her husband’s name, their kinship to other Roane’s is impossible to determine.

James Roane (Line 395) and William Roane (Line 399) are living with their respective grandparents. In the case of James, all that can be determined is that his mother was a Sale. William’s mother was a Gardiner. Like Sally and Catherine, they live at a great distance from the core Roane family group. Their relationship to this group, and to George Henry Roane, is unknown. Perhaps they are the children of some unknown first cousins of George Henry Roane.

Further away still is Nelson Roane (Line 495). Born in 1810, he would be of George Henry Roane’s generation. Is he a first cousin or a lost brother?

The last African American Roane family group in Essex County, VA is that of Philip Roane (Line 510) with his son, General Roane (Line 509). Philip is contemporary with Absalom, Baylor, Campbell, Randall Jr and Charles Roane, etc. That’s all that can be said of his for the time being.

Plenty of names…so what does it all mean?

So I’m left with an older generation of Roanes, which includes Toby, George, Spencer, Nelson and Randall Sr whose relationship to one another is unclear. Are they brothers or cousins? And how do they relate to my great-great-great Grandfather George Henry Roane? Some may be George Henry Roane’s brothers while others might be cousins. These are questions that hopefully the Richard A Roane family bible can answer (if the original can ever be located), or a yet-to-be accessed death record or Plain View plantation records (wherever they are!).

The temptation is to force a connection. That is something I try very hard not to do. Every time I have forced a family connection where there’s been an information vacuum…an official record eventually turns up to show that forced connection was wrong. So I’ve learned to be patient – although that isn’t easy sometimes! The simple fact remains that until the names of the parents for this older generation become known, my hypotheses have to remain educated guesses.

One of the exciting aspects of this genealogy adventure is slowly –and at times, painstakingly – putting the pieces to the jigsaw together. I have hypothesis a-plenty. But the chance discovery of a marriage record, a birth record or a death record online can be enough of a piece to put quite a few fragmented bits of information into context.  Somewhere out there is a piece of the jigsaw which will bit a few of these family groups into an overall context. Relationships to each other will be made clear. In the meantime, I have my habit of returning to the information again and again in the hope that some spark of inspiration will give me some new insight into the family groups and the means by which they share kinship.

And we’re not quite finished with this census record just yet. In Part 1 of this post series, I mentioned the aspect of community. Take another look at the Census return for Essex County…and then take a look at the census return for Henrico County (click this link to access the post which contains that census return). See any last names that are similar?

The last post in this series will go over how to recognise relationships between extended family members united through marriage within a community.

Digging deeper with Census Records: Part 2

Scanning the Census Records: The Roanes of Essex County, VA (1870)

So picking up where I left off regarding George Henry Roane and his origins in Virginia…

The slave owning Roane’s tended to keep their African-American family members close to them. While we don’t know how George Henry Roane is related to the white Roane family, he is cited as a ‘colored family member’ in their family bible. So it seems odd that he and his sons should be sold away from both the black and white Roane family. I’ve tried researching the assumption that John Warren, the man he was sold to, was related to the Roanes, perhaps through marriage. This has yet to be proven.

Putting the reasons of why he sold to John Warren to one side, where did George Henry Roane come from? The best starting point was to search for his siblings in the 1870 Census records for Virginia. To make an educated determination there were a few criteria than any county would have to match. It would need to cite the names of George Henry Roane’s siblings: Absalom, Mary, Braxton, Baylor and Charles – or have their descendants residing there. It would also more than likely have Richard Roane living there too – or his descendants if he had died.

It’s come to be accepted that my great-great-great grandfather George was born in Williamsburg, Virginia. His death certificate seems to confirms this. A scan of Williamsburg in the 1870 census didn’t show any of the names I was searching for that are associated with him. Indeed, there were only a handful of African-American Roanes living in Williamsburg in 1870.

So if his adoptive Varina, Henrico county, VA couldn’t provide clues about his missing family, and his birthplace of Williamsburg, VA couldn’t provide any clues – I’d have to check other Roane family strongholds in Virginia to find them.

I believe I have found his lost siblings in Essex County, VA.

The Essex census return for 1870 follows below:

Line 235 shows an Absalom Roane. A Baylor Roane appears in Line 268 with a Mary Roane residing in the same household (given their respective dates of birth, I believe this is a nephew and aunt). A Charles Roane appears in Line 290. Thusfar, only Braxton hasn’t been located. Given their proximity to one another, there is definite a close family relation between Absalom, Baylor, Charles and Mary. Dates of birth may provide some basic clues about the exact nature of those relationships.

Bearing in mind that George Henry Roane was born around 1805, Absalom, Baylor and Charles could either be George’s (much) younger brothers or his nephews. I’m hedging a bet that they are George’s nephews – each one named for a father who was George Henry Roane’s brother. In other words, Absalom, Baylor and Charles were cousins. Mary, born in 1815, would be George’s sister.

This census return is the only census return in 1870 Virginia that has the names Absalom, Charles, Baylor and Mary not only living in the same county…but quite close to one another. The same census also cites Richard A Roane’s children. While not definitive proof, the evidence is pretty compelling that this is the county George Henry Roane left behind when he was sold to John D Warren in Varino, Henrico County, VA…who literally lived on the other side of the state.

However, I’m not quite finished with this census return just yet. This census return raises as many questions as it potentially answers. More about that in my next post…

Digging deeper with Census Records: Part 1

Regardless of your race, if your ancestors arrived in the US and settled in a rural region before the 1900s, census records can give you new leads in researching tangent branches of your family. Why’s that? Rural areas of the pre-industrialised US were distinct communities. In some instances, they were isolated from other areas and regions. People tended to marry others from within the same community or from neighbouring communities.

A community, usually composed of a network of relations through marriage or shared experience, was a vital support system. On the whole, people rarely left – not until the early decades of the 1900s when industrialisation and manufacturing meant jobs and pay. Whether the jobs and pay were better than those offered by rural areas is arguable. Like anything, it was probably a matter of perception. Work from dawn to dusk farming and risk being prey to the weather and being one drought away from financial ruin, or work long hours for low but secure pay.

I digress!


19th Century rural communities gave individuals a sense of place and a source of identity. Life in a community was a shared experience which bound the people within it together in any number of ways. For post Civil War African-Americans in the South that shared experience was slavery. Not all southern African-Americans were slaves. There was a thriving population of free blacks in America from the very early Colonial times. However, they were in the minority. For those who were slaves and remained in the communities where they had been slaves, there were tight bonds of community which were established long before their emancipation. And these ties existed and were sustained in the decades immediately following the Civil War. And this can be seen quite clearly in the Census records (more on this later).

This process of a community bound through shared experience isn’t unique. The pioneering families of the Mid West were bound by the hardships and challenges they faced on the prairie. Immigrants to New York were bound by the harrowing experiences they faced in the early slums of that city. Fishing villages and towns all along the New England coastline shared a similar bonding experience based on the hardships and loss of deep sea fishing (and previously, whaling).

There are other glues besides collectively faced hardships which bind communities together: faith/religion, beliefs and ideals.


When I first began researching my family, I was just excited to actually find specific people in the official records. It seemed amazing that I could actually sit at my desk and see a name in a census record from 150 years ago. It never occurred to me to scan a whole town’s census returns to see if they had kin nearby. That idea wouldn’t come until later. It was just exciting to find the person I was seeking and their immediate family members.

The idea to scan a town or county’s full census returns didn’t occur to me until I reached a point where I had a large number of different family groups…and no idea about whether they were related to each other or not. When I started to scan the records for an entire county  – literally starting with the first record in the series and then scanning all the way through to the last record – I noticed two things:

    1. Family groups tended to live near to one another: brother lived near to brother, sons lived near their fathers and cousins lived near to cousins. If they married, their wife’s family also tended to live nearby…which brings me to observation #2
    2. Different family groups tended to live near the same family groups. For example, the Smith, Green, Blogg and Jones families tended to live near one another decade after decade after decade. If I wanted to hazard a guess about a wife’s maiden name, I could draw from a relatively short list of neighbouring families. These were groups bound not only by shared experiences but through marriage as well.

Looking back on this now, this seems pretty obvious. But it was a thunderbolt moment for me. In the search for individuals, I had completely overlooked the context of community and the simple yet powerful ties that bound people to one another and to a place.

So let’s start with a simple example:

Through correspondence with a newly found Roane family member, we worked out that George Henry Roane had been sold to a John D Warren in Varina, Henrico County, Virginia. George wasn’t a native of Varina, he had come from elsewhere in Virginia. The question was where. But I’ll put that question aside just for a moment.

So what did we know about George? We knew he had at least 5 siblings: Absalom, Mary, Braxton, Baylor and Charles. We also knew he had at least two children: Patrick Henry Roane and Anthony Roane. We also knew that he was mentioned in the Richard A Roane family bible as being part of the “Roane colored family”. So he was associated with Richard A Roane, owner of the Plain View Plantation, and his father, Charles Roane.

Take a look at the document below. It’s an 1870 Census return for Varina, Henrico, VA:

This return shows George and his sons Patrick and Anthony living pretty much next door to one another. There’s George Henry Roane at Line 23. His son Patrick Henry Roane (Line 24) is living with him. Patrick’s wife and children are also in residence. Anthony Roane (Line 33), George’s son and Patrick’s brother, lives two door down. Living in between these two households is the Price family. Wyatt and Rose Price are the parents of Susan Price, Patrick Henry Roane’s wife.

This is a classic example of a family group living within a community.

This particular census return is interesting for a few reasons:

    • George Henry Roane’s family are the only African-American Roanes living in Varina, Henrico, VA at this time. This means, in all likelihood, that subsequent generations of Varina-based Roanes are descendants of this branch of the family. If I come across a Varina-based Roane in the official records, and can’t immediately place them within the family tree, I know he or she shares kinship with this particular family group.
    • There are family names I would come to recognise as sharing kinship with these Varina Roanes through marriage: Wyatt, Price, Braxton and Baylor.

Subsequent census returns showed that George and his sons – and their descendants – chose to remain in Varina and Henrico County. After the end of slavery, George did not return to his native county and didn’t rejoin his siblings. It’s unclear if he restored the bonds with his siblings or if there was any communication between his family and the larger family group George was separated from when he and his sons were sold.

So where did George Henry Roane come from? More on that in the next post…

Getting to grips with the 1850 & 1860 Slave Schedule census – Part 2

What’s the detective work when searching for your ancestors in the Slave Schedules?

A bit of background is needed:  Joe Blogs got his surname in one of two ways: he (or one of his ancestors) was a direct blood descendant of a white farmer or plantation owner. So he (or his ancestor) took that family’s name as their own.  Alternatively, Joe Bloggs just assumed the name upon being freed.

The next step is to look for white slave owning Bloggs in Wythe, Virginia.  You can do this on or – both have 1850 & 1860 Slave Schedules.  If you’re lucky, there will only be one or two Blogg families in Wythe who owned slaves. For this example, there was only one.

In the list of slaves on the 1860 Slave Census, you will be looking for a black male aged 33 (or close to this age). With luck he’ll be there.  If not, look at other slave holding families who lived near or around the white Mr (or Ms – because women owned slaves too!) Bloggs. If you haven’t found your ancestor via this route, there is a link at the bottom of this post with information about other routes you can try.  So don’t give up!

In this instance, we’re going to say that you did find a black male aged 33 listed as a slave of a Mr Daniel Bloggs.  That slave now has a name – the ancestor you were looking for.

So we do the same thing for the 1850 Census Slave Schedule; this time bearing in mind that Joe Bloggs would be 23.

Now if your ancestor Joe Bloggs was married to Jane, aged 42, in the 1870 census with children (say he had a son aged 11, a daughter aged 14 and another son aged 20) you can probably find them on the same census records.

So here goes:

You found Joe Bloggs in the 1860 census.  He was the 33 year old Black male.  There is a female slave with an age of 32, a 1 year old male, a 4 year old female and a 10 year old male – you have probably found Joe Blogg’s wife and children.

Going back to 1850, you found a 23 year old male (Joe Bloggs).  Along with him, there is a 22 year old female, and a 5 month old infant.  Again, you have probably found his wife and eldest son.  So it’s safe to give them names.

The above examples work very well with farms and plantations with a small number of slaves – anything up to 10 or 12.  It’s not impossible to do with larger plantations – just more time consuming.

Have a look at a 1860 Slave Census from 1860:

a blank Slave Schedule

An example of a Slave Schedule

So what happens if you want to go further back than 1850?  Catch the next post for some tips and tricks.

Here’s a link to a great article with more tips on how to use the 1850 & 1860 Slave Schedules: