Searching for a family in the 1890 U.S. census may leave you feeling very frustrated. That’s because the 1890 Census was almost completely destroyed by fire in 1921. If you are researching in Appomattox County, Virginia it is vital to know that a fire destroyed much of the county court records in 1892. If you are searching the freebmd.org.uk site for a birth registration for your ancestor born in 1835 you will be disappointed. The civil registration of births, marriages and deaths in England and Wales only began in July 1837. On June 30, 1922 almost all of the records kept in the Public Record Office of Ireland were destroyed during the Irish Civil War. All Irish census returns for the years 1821, 1831, 1841 and 1851 as well as many other documents were destroyed by the explosion and fire. These are simple examples of why it is important to know the history before you search for the records.
How to Find Out What Records are Available
There are 2 sites I use when trying to find out what records may be available in a research locality which is new to me:
I’ve written before about the incredible value to be found in using the FamilySearch Wiki as you prepare to search.
Start out with a broad locality, for example, Arizona. Here you will find a page that gives you all the information you need to begin a search for records in Arizona. The large blue ‘Online Records’ button indicates that there are numerous records available online to look at.
You can continue to narrow your search to a particular county, city or town. The FamilySearch Wiki is not only focused on the United States but has information on the available records for many countries. Below is the Wiki page for South African genealogy:
You can also search by keywords so typing in ‘Burned Counties’ will give you a page with information on which U.S. counties are considered ‘burned counties’ and ways to find records for them.
Not only can the FamilySearch Wiki assist in finding out what records are available but it also gives valuable research guidance and advice. Know the history know the records!
The other site that I use for my British research is GENUKI. From their main page, “GENUKI provides a virtual reference library of genealogical information of particular relevance to the UK and Ireland”. (http://www.genuki.org.uk/)
GENUKI provides a wealth of information on county formation, available records, maps, addresses of libraries and county record offices, directories, description and travel, and local history.
Having trouble locating a record? Good questions to ask yourself are:
- Do I understand enough about the history of this area to be able to search effectively?
- Does the record exist in the time period I am looking at?
- Am I looking in the correct town, city, county, province or district?
- Have records moved as counties merged with other counties?
- Have a country’s borders changed over time?
- Was there a fire, flood, or some type of disaster which may have destroyed the records I’m searching for?
Knowledge really is power. Knowing the history means knowing which records may be available. The added benefit of this knowledge is that it helps us make good use of valuable research time.