1890 Federal Michigan Veterans, Widows and Sailors Census 

This special census was meant to enumerate Union veterans and their widows, however...

Most of us have experienced the frustration of researching our grandparents and great grandparents through the years, only to find a huge gap in available data due to the loss of the 1890 census.  Of the decennial population census schedules, perhaps none might have been more critical to studies of immigration, industrialization, westward migration, and characteristics of the general population than the Eleventh Census of the United States, taken in June 1890. United States residents completed millions of detailed questionnaires, yet only a fragment of the general population schedules and an incomplete set of special schedules enumerating Union veterans and widows are available today.

The 1890 census schedules differed from previous ones in several ways, but most important for the purpose of this page was that 1890 was the first census which asked about Civil War service.  Veterans and widows were asked to name a specific branch of service and whether Union or Confederate.  That detail of information was not asked again in a federal census.

During the census enumeration, Civil War veterans were identified and additional information collected for inclusion on a Schedule of Surviving Veterans and Widows.  Very detailed information is found in that schedule, including rank, specific company, and enlistment⁄discharge dates, easing the process of locating pension and military records.  The schedules exist for the states (alphabetically) Kentucky through Wyoming.

Although the special enumeration was intended only for Union veterans of the Civil War and their widows, enumerators nevertheless often listed veterans and widows of earlier wars as well as Confederate veterans.  In some locales, particularly in the South, some schedules were entirely Confederate veterans and widows.  Veterans of the War of 1812 are sometimes listed, and there are numerous entries for Mexican War veterans. Widows, and occasionally mothers of veterans, of either side or of any military service whatsoever, are also known to have been listed.

A preliminary count of the census was said to include 1,099,668 Union survivors and 163,176 widows. Many veterans were overlooked and the Census Bureau sent thousands of letters and published requests for information in hundreds of newspapers in an attempt to obtain a complete and accurate listing. Most of this effort ended prior to 1894, as it became clear the task could not be completed in a timely fashion and with limited resources.  A good deal of work had been completed in this regard, before the idea had to be abandoned primarily for the lack of funding. About one quarter to one third of the total number of entries had been reduced to index cards before the effort ended. Like much of the census itself, the cards disappeared and there is no explanation.

In 1894 Congress directed the transfer of the special census to the Pension Office and the actual records were apparently transferred "shortly thereafter." In 1930, custody went to the Veterans Administration, then in 1943 the National Archives made the records part of Record Group 15.
 
Each "schedule" consisted of two parts. The first part listed the name, rank, unit, date of entry and release (often the EXACT date). The second part listed the address and most usually any injury or illness from that service. "Deserter" is sometimes listed in this section.  While the first part is usually the most important for research purposes, the second can be the most interesting, humorous or tragic.  Just about anything can sometimes be found there, such as "drunk," "trying to cheat pension board," etc.

There is no comprehensive index to the 1890 special enumeration, but indexes to some states or specific areas have been prepared by various publishing companies and private groups. These special enumerations are well worth examination.

 

NARA1 # FHL2 # COUNTIES ON THIS FILM
M123-17 338176 Branch, Calhoun, Hillsdale, Jackson, Lenawee, Monroe, Washtenaw, and Wayne
M123-18  338177 Genesee, Huron, Lapeer, Macomb, Oakland, Saginaw, St. Clair, Sanilac, and Tuscola
M123-19 338178 Clinton, Eaton, Gratiot, Ingham, Ionia, Isabella, Livingston, Mecosta, Midland, Montcalm, and Shiawassee
M123-20 338179 Allegan, Barry, Berrien, Cass, Kalamazoo, Kent, Muskegon, Newaygo, Oceana, Ottawa, St. Joseph, and Van Buren
M123-21 338180 Alcona, Alger, Alpena, Antrim, Arenac, Baraga, Bay, Benzie, Charlevoix, Cheboygan, Chippewa, Clare, Crawford, Delta, Emmet, Gladwin, Gogebic, Grand Traverse, Houghton, Iosco, Iron, Isle Royale, Kalkaska, Keweenaw, Lake, Leelanau, Luce, Mackinac, Manistee, Manitou, Marquette, Mason, Menominee, Missaukee, Montgomery, Ogemaw, Ontonagon, Osceola, Oscoda, Otsego, Presque Isle, Roscommon, Schoolcraft, and Wexford

1 National Archives Records and Administration
2 Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (LDS) Family History Library
 

In addition to the 1890 Veterans, Widows and Sailors schedules...

Where the federal census was conducted every ten years at the start of decade, most state censuses were conducted at the mid-point in a decade.  For the purpose of substituting for the lost 1890 federal census, the state censuses conducted in 1885 and 1895 are key.  Luckily for us, Michigan held state censuses in 1884 and 1894.

Your local LDS Family History Center is a great place to find films of those census records.

In addition to state census records, there are other ways to make up for the 1890 federal census gap.  Many cities published directories for example which might at least provide an address.

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