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Rhonda's Tips: Genealogy Questions Answered
by Rhonda R. McClure

May 16, 2002
See Rhonda's Previous Columns

1890 Census

Q: I have yet to find any information on the 1890 Census. Was there one? -- Bob

A: There was an 1890 census taken. The census was taken on 1 June 1890 and the enumerators were given a month to canvas their assigned area and complete the census. According to published statistics the population at that time was 63 million.

Unfortunately for genealogists, in 1921 a fire broke out in the basement of the Commerce Building where the census was stored and most of the census was destroyed. A few fragments survived and the Special Enumeration of Union Veterans and Widows that can prove useful in some research.

One of the biggest differences with the 1890 census was the fact that the names are across the top of the columns and the questions are the rows. We are so used to working with the names going down the left side of the page, that this different version takes a little getting used to, assuming your ancestors were living in one of the few areas where fragments survived.

For more information about the demise of the 1890 census, you may want to read First in the Path of the Fireman, The Fate of the 1890 Population Census. Written and published in Prologue, the publication of the National Archives.

Ellis Island

Q: In your question Before Ellis Island, you told how to find a record only for 1843. What is the procedure for other years, specifically, 1899-1900? -- Agnes

A: For those fortunate enough to be researching an immigrant ancestor who arrived through New York in the 1890s or into the 1900s, research just got a lot easier. The first place to begin your search is the Ellis Island Web site. This massive undertaking, in which was involved, has indexed many of the immigrants coming through Ellis Island from 1892, when it opened, until 1924. While Ellis Island remained open after that, the online index ends in 1924.

Of course, using a computer index does have its ups and downs. For more on this, you might want to read last week's Twigs and Trees. The column covers many different records, there is a great deal about the Ellis Island Web site.

It is important to note that the passenger lists in question are also available on microfilm and that there is a Soundex index to the passengers. Each index card lists the name of the immigrant, the sex, the age, and then either gives full details including the name of the ship and the date of arrival, or it gives you information in a list of numbers, which must then be deciphered to understand the right passenger manifest film to order.

All of these records are available on microfilm through the Family History Library. Your local Family History Center can help you order them. You might also find that your local genealogy library, or genealogy department of a local public library has them as well.

Beginning Genealogy

Q: I'm new at this. I was wondering if you can guide me or help me figure out how to get started. -- James

A: Family history is a wonderful hobby. It combines mystery and history and many say it brings history to life for them. Even those who slept through history class now find history is fascinating. Of course, when you are first beginning your research, it can get a little frustrating. The best way to avoid that is to read up on the subject.

There are many good how-to books available for those researching their family tree. I would suggest checking at your local library to see what they have. For those who like the lighter approach, there is The Complete Idiot's Guide to Genealogy by Christine Rose and Kay Ingalls and the online companion to that The Complete Idiot's Guide to Online Genealogy by Rhonda McClure. These books, and others like them, introduce you to the concepts of genealogical research and the tracing of a family tree.

You will also want to spend some time in's Learning Center which offers many useful articles written by experienced genealogists from all different avenues of the hobby. Each article will introduce you to another aspect of the hobby and may give you some great tips to help you avoid some of the early problems and frustrations that so many of us have endured in our research.

Another way to get better at researching your family tree is to get involved with discussion boards. Many people reading these messages learn from the experiences of others. The message board on this site, called GenForum, is a great places to begin this online communication.

There is no easy answer to starting and you'll learn as you gain research experience. At some point, like all good researchers, you'll go back to your earlier endeavors and discover that you have drawn inaccurate conclusions from the research you did. This happens to all of us and we go back and fix it and try not to mourn too loudly the sawing of the limb from the family tree.

Above all remember, there are no stupid questions. If you don't know what something is, ask. If you don't know how to get a certain type of record, ask other researchers. We all had to learn at some point and most are more than happy to share that knowledge.

Rhonda R. McClure is a professional genealogist specializing in celebrity trees and computerized genealogy. She has been involved in online genealogy for fifteen years. She is the author of the award-winning The Complete Idiot's Guide to Online Genealogy, now in its second edition. She is the author of four how-to guides on Family Tree Maker. In late 2001, she wrote The Genealogist's Computer Companion. She is a contributing editor to Biography Magazine with her "Celebrity Roots" column and a contributing writer to The History Channel Magazine. Her latest book is Finding Your Famous and Infamous Ancestors. She may be contacted at

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