A Genealogue News Flash [What's That?]The National Archives announced late Monday that the missing 1890 United States census schedules long thought to have been destroyed in a 1921 fire were in fact "misplaced," and have turned up on an Internet auction site.
Timothy Demers, Assistant to the National Archivist, now admits that the story of census records being destroyed in a Jan. 10, 1921 fire at the Commerce Building was "a fabrication" cooked up by the Census Director when he discovered the documents missing.
"It seems there was a clerk at Commerce with sticky fingers," Demers explains. "The Republicans had won the White House in 1920, and Wilson's crew was on the way out. So, this fellow took home some souvenirs."
Those "souvenirs" included a stack of census volumes, now possessed by the clerk's great-grandson, Jimmy Patrone of Mission City, Florida. Patrone — screen name "daytonastud839" — posted the volumes on eBay over the weekend.
Demers apologizes to genealogists for the Archives' role in perpetuating the myth of the documents' destruction—which included posting an elaborate article on the NARA website.
"Blaming it on the fire wasn't our idea, but we did inherit the lie and pass it on. It's the whole 'aliens-at-Area-51' thing all over again."
Due to the unusual circumstances of the cover-up, and the intentional destruction of additional census records in 1935, government lawyers have found no legal basis for reclaiming the records without adequately compensating Mr. Patrone.
The National Archives has not decided whether to bid for the census volumes, as "the reserve price is set really high."