The 1890 US federal census is gone, destroyed in a fire in the 1930s. The absence of this important bit of genealogical information is quite frustrating to every American genealogist, but probably most particularly to new or beginning genealogists. This is because the census is such a basic tool of genealogy. Most genealogists begin with using it. Its absence leaves a gap in the records from 1880 to 1900. The good news is that there are a lot of alternate sources you can use to get past this gap. Church records are one of them.
What are church records, and how can they help you get past the gap in information left by the absence of the 1890 census? Well, first of all, most churches keep records of the things that happen there. Those records can range from mundane housekeeping things like accounting and building maintenance records, but they can also mention who is an official member of the church, family relations to other members of the church, and christenings, funerals, and marriages that happened there. This can be a great treasure trove of information for people looking for their 1890s ancestors.
It is helpful if you know what church your ancestors attended. If so, you can go right to the church (or call them, or check online to see if they have published their records). If you do not know the exact church, but do know their denomination, you can check churches of that denomination in the cities, towns, villages, and counties where your ancestors lived (or where you believe they lived) in the 1890s. If you do not know the denomination, a little bit more research may be warranted to find out, such as with old newspaper records or personal family records. You could also just check every church in the place where your ancestor lived.
Once you find the records, you may be pleasantly surprised at their ability to fill in important genealogical gaps for you from the 1880 to 1900 period. If the records are not at the church or online, you may want to check with the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, UT to find out if they sent their records there for digitization at some point. You can also check local archives and genealogy libraries for the records of defunct churches. Many churches or towns sent their records there before the church disbanded.
If you are lucky enough to still belong to the same church as your 1890s ancestors, it will be much easier for you to find and utilize their records. Either way, there are plenty of ways to track down church records, and it is well worth doing, because of the importance of the information they can provide to you. While not every church will have records, and those that do won’t always be useful, if you get good records, you will truly be quite happy as a genealogist.