In many cases, the early U. S. Census schedules were destroyed, especially outside of New England. Some were casualties of the War of 1812 when on August 24, 1814 the British burned Washington, DC. Then in January of 1921, most of the 1890 census was badly damaged by a fire in the Commerce Department Building. The census schedules were stacked on open shelves in the building’s basement where water from the fire hoses did more harm than the fire itself. Almost the entire census was thrown out. The outrage that followed spawned the creation of the National Archives for the preservation of our historical documents. There are some ways to document ancestors through alternate resources. Deeds, tax lists, petitions, and other records for a targeted time period can provide amazing compilations.
Using Many Sources to Reconstruct Information
Varied sources can be brought together to reconstruct censuses. A good example is Charles A. Sherrill’s The Reconstructed 1810 Census of Tennessee (Mt. Juliet, TN: Charles A. Sherrill, 2001). Among his 61 sources used are tax lists, deeds, court minutes, and estate records. Concerning tax lists, only 11 of the 38 Tennessee counties in 1810 have surviving books.
State Censuses and Tax Lists
A partial reconstructed census for the destroyed 1790 Census of Virginia has been in print since 1908. These were state censuses of heads of families for the years 1782-1785 for 39 counties. It is published in Heads of Families at the First Census of the United States Taken in the Year 1790. Records of the State Enumerations: 1782 to 1785 (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1908). However, that still left 41 counties without representation.
A more complete listing was reconstructed using the tax lists for 1787. This compilation by Nettie Schreiner-Yantis and Florene Speakman Love, The 1787 Census of Virginia (Springfield, Virginia: Genealogical Books in Print, 1987), includes almost all free white tithable males over 21 years of age. It also includes males and females with real estate and personal property in what is now Virginia, West Virginia and Kentucky.
Compiled Sources Leading Up to the 1790 Census
Although the 1790 Census for Pennsylvania does survive, sometimes it is difficult to find an ancestor prior to that enumeration. While technically not a “reconstructed census” John and Diane Stemmons’ Pennsylvania in 1780 (South Jordan, Utah: John and Diane Stemmons, 1978) has taken the county tax lists and contrived their own enumeration of the taxable population.
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