What Do You Do When Records are Missing or Destroyed?

April 6, 2020

Written by: Terry Kelly and Tara Dolgner

It can be very frustrating when you are researching someone and you need that information from the 1890 U.S. census to provide additional evidence of where she/he was living and with whom.

Then you find out that most of the 1890 U.S. census records burned in the 1921 Commerce Department Building fire.

Many records have been lost to fires, floods, or other disasters. Now, what do you do?

1. First, take stock of the information you have been able to gather. Making tables to document and compare information can be very helpful. This may help you to identify holes in your research and also identify conflicting information.

2. Next, research records from other family members. Do those records provide any clues?

You may be able to find information from a son’s or daughter’s birth, marriage, or death records. Find A Grave records may also provide clues including cemetery locations. Contacting the cemetery office can provide plot locations and they may even have some additional documents to help you with your research.

If you can visit the cemetery in person, additional information may have been engraved on the tombstone or footstone. Sometimes, if you are really lucky, those old tombstones may even provide the birth locations.

3. If you know the person’s religion, local parishes may house family records including births, baptisms, marriages, and deaths.

4. Land records and probate records including wills may be available. Land records should include the “person’s name, the place of residence at time of purchase, a description of the land tract, the number of acres in the tract, the date of transaction, the volume and page number of the Bureau of Land Management record, and the testimony (which would include age, citizenship, and household members).” #1

Contact the local courthouse to find if these records exist. You probably will have to go onsite and research the records yourself.

Don’t give up! Keep digging and don’t forget to research all family members, acquaintances, and neighbors.

Kith and Kinsmen is all in the family. Terry and Tara are a mother/daughter duo who have a joint interest in family history. Terry and Tara are well versed in genealogical research. Together, they complement each other and create a great genealogy research team. They have worked together to research their own family and are now interested in helping others in their journey.

1 Greenwood, Val D., AG. The Researcher’s Guide to American Genealogy, 3rd edition. Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 2000, page 389.