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Up in Flames

Up in Flames

June 14, 2022

Record loss is an unfortunate hurdle that we deal with when researching our families. Wars and other disasters take their toll. Records can be the victims of fire, flooding, tornados, insects, rodents, and even theft. 

“Every effort was made to save this structure, but the irregulars used it for the storage of ammunition, which made it impossible to fight the flames.”

-St. Louis Post-Dispatch, July 2, 1922

The quote above references a fire that occurred 100 years ago, when on June 30, 1922, the Public Records Office in Dublin burned during the Irish Civil War. Nearly all the records housed there were destroyed. However, all is not lost! Many Roman Catholic, Presbyterian, and Methodist church records survive, as they were not housed at the Public Records Office. You can find Irish records on FindMyPast (in- library use only), with a full list of the database’s available Irish records here. Be sure to check out our upcoming class, Using FindMyPast on Tuesday, July 19 to learn more.

We have had our fair share of record loss in the United States, too. At the start of the Civil War, some of our county courthouses and their records burned (some multiple times). Check out this Burned Counties Research page to see if the county you are researching has had record loss. Other notable record losses are:

  • The 1890 United States Census was destroyed in January 1921 when the Department of Commerce building caught fire. Only a few fragments survive. The census schedules of 1790-1820 and 1850-1870 were in the same building on a different floor and, thankfully, survived.
  • The National Personnel Records Center caught fire in July 1973, destroying approximately 80% of Official Military Personnel Files of those discharged from the Army (1912-1960) and Air Force (1947-1964).

It’s always tough to discover that the records you’re looking for have been destroyed.  There are ways to make up for some of those lost records, however:

  • State Census research can be useful for filling in information around the 1890 United States Census. Some states, such as Kansas, took a census every 10 years from 1855 to 1925. Other states have no census records. Visit this census bureau site for a list of state censuses. 
  • Land Records were often re-recorded by the county after disasters due to their importance. 
  • Newspapers can offer valuable insight when record loss has occurred. They contain probate notices, obituaries, marriage announcements, and more.
  • Tax Records will place your ancestor in a specific place and show their neighbors. 
  • City Directories can help to place your ancestor in a location in the gap years of 1880 to 1900 that were lost when the 1890 census burned.

These are just a sampling of ways to fill in your research gaps.

Emily T.
Midwest Genealogy Center

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