Now, this is surely old news to most of those folks who have been tracing their ancestry for a while. But I figure it isn't something that the average American would be familiar with, at least not at this point in time.
Without going into too much detail, a fire broke out in the Commerce building on January 10, 1921. The records were stacked in the basement. Once the fire department arrived, they proceeded to put out the flames with buckets of water. The water seeped down into the basement and ruined the 1890 census records, and probably any other documents stored there.
There is more to this story, in particular how the water-logged records sat around for another twelve years or so before they were officially ordered to be destroyed. And there are some conspiracy tales that surround the whole thing. For now, I have an answer as to why I can't obtain much information on the first decade of Joseph Bushrod White's life. If you want to read more about the story of the fire and the 1890 census records, you can get the detailed article by clicking here.