Saturday, May 2, 2015

Saturday Spotting - Census Records in Danger

Published in December 1913 in the Duluth News-Tribune out of Duluth, MN
Director Harris Says Records Are in Constant Danger of Destruction by Fire.

      WASHINGTON, Dec. 27 – Urgent need exists for a more sanitary building for the census office, according to Director Harris, who also declares that the records of the bureau as now stored are in constant danger of destruction by fire. Greater space for the storage of records and equipment is highly desirable, he says.
     “A fireproof building, erected with proper regard for lighting and sanitary conditions and having ample storage space, would facilitate the work of the bureau and would greatly increase the comfort and well-being of its employees,” the director says. “In view of the vast quantity of valuable records which must be stored, many of which could not be replaced if destroyed, the need of a fireproof building is especially pronounced, and while the census bureau remains in its present quarters there is great need of a larger fireproof vault for the storage of population schedules of past censuses, as the capacity of the vault now in use is insufficient to meet the bureau’s requirements.

Complains to Secretary Redfield
     In a letter to Secretary Redfield, Director Harris has this to say about the danger to the records:
“The total number of volumes from 1790 to 1880 comprised 4,622. In 1890, when schedules were not bound, we had approximately 44,000 bundles of schedules. For 1900 we have 2,813 volumes. The population returns for 1910 are in a fireproof vault and fill it completely. They have not been bound and are constantly referred to. The census returns from 1790 to and including 1900 are continually referred to for genealogical purposes and the returns for 1850 and 1860 are constantly being examined to secure data showing the ages of pensioners, as they are unable to obtain any other record evidence of their ages. These volumes, especially, are proving invaluable and could not, of course, be replaced if they were destroyed, and as time passes by the census returns will prove of greater value, as it is the only list to which individuals can refer in order to establish relationship in their families, often required in settling estates.
“In addition to the census-returns we have many divisions records, the loss of which would cause great embarrassment and thousands of dollars would have to be expended to attempt to replace them. For instance, the geographer’s division has the plans of division in to enumeration district, into which the country was divided in 1910. These official records, if lost, could not be replaced and would involve great expense in the preparation for the fourteenth census. There are in all the divisions of the census bureau division records that are essential in preparing for another census, and they would all be lost if there were a fire which destroyed the present building occupied by the census bureau.”