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Evidentia Meets the 1790 Census – Part One

Learn by example? Over the next few months I want to offer use cases for entering and analyzing the US Census records. My hope is that this will help you get a better idea of how Evidentia fits into your workflow.

In these exercises we will not focus on citations.  We assume you have already cited your source record and are ready to catalog, and eventually, analyze.

The 1790 US Census


It’s a mess, right? ¬†This is a smaple of the 1790 Census for Gilmanton, NH. Handwritten, with those little hash marks — what kind of “claims” can we possibly extract, other than the fact that the head of household lived in Gilmanton? ¬†Let’s take a look.

1790CensusHeaderThe enumeration date for the 1790 census was 2 August 1790. Six questions were asked, giving us at least 6 possible claims.

  • Name of Head of Household
  • Count of Free White males of 16 years and upward (to assess the country’s industrial and military potential)
  • Count of Free White males under 16 years
  • Count of Free White females
  • Count of All other free persons
  • Count of Slaves

For this exercise, I will be cataloging claims regarding my ancestor, David Thompson.


Cataloging the Claims

Using the Evidentia “complete this sentence” approach, we can record the following:

This source claims that…
on August 2, 1790 David Thompson lived in Gilmanton, NH
on August 2, 1790 the household of David Thompson included 1 male 16 years of age or older
on August 2, 1790 the household of David Thompson included 1 male under 16 years of age
on August 2, 1790 the household of David Thompson included 3 females
on August 2, 1790 the household of David Thompson included no other free persons
on August 2, 1790 the household of David Thompson included no slaves

You may decide it is not worth cataloging the last two items, since they admittedly provide little value. This is a personal choice, and I include them only for completeness.

It is important to note that referencing the August 2 date assumes

  1. that the enumerator followed the instructions to only record counts as of the August 2nd date, even though in this example the enumerator may have taken the count anywhere within a 9 month period
  2. that the person answering the enumerators questions understood the questions were to be answerd “as of August 2nd 1790”

However, at this point in the Evidentia workflow we are not making any judgments about the quality or accuracy of the record, so recording the claims this way makes sense and may prove helpful later.

We Might be Missing Somethingstop_sign

It would be easy to assume we have gleaned all we can from this census record, but in my case we would be missing something. ¬†Note the entry above David’s. ¬†Jon Thompson. ¬†Relative? Possibly.

This jumped out at me because the revolutionary war enlistment record for David also showed a John Thompson joining at the same time. ¬†This kind of indirect clue might help me pin down other facts about David’s life. ¬†I don’t want to lose this information.

This source claims that…
on August 2, 1790 Jon Thompson lived in Gilmanton, NH, the same town as David Thompson

OK, we have 5 (possibly 7) pieces of potentially valuable informatation. Let’s turn it into evidence!

Tagging Our Claims

Evidence is information applied to a research question. Right now we have information. To make it evidence, we need to tag the information to the subject(s) and claim types we think they may be relevant to. We do not have to be 100% sure at this time. We can reevaluate our assignments during our analysis.

This source claims that… Subject/Claim Type
on August 2, 1790 David Thompson lived in Gilmanton, NH Thompson, David (ca 1790)/Residence

This first claim is pretty straightforward. It provides evidence for the residence of David Thompson on August 2, 1790.

But what about all these anonymous head counts? This is where we tag the claim with what we THINK it applies to. It’s OK that there is some guessing going on – analysis is later.

on August 2, 1790 the household of David Thompson included 1 male 16 years of age or older Thompson, David (ca 1790)/Birth

It is reasonable to assume that since there is only one male over 16, and David is HH, that the 1 person is David himself. If David was 16 or older on August 2, 1790, then we will be able to calculate a “born before” date. This is a clue – evidence. But we will leave the calculations to the analysis phase.

I might also be able to use this as a counter argument — for example, if I thought David had a son who was older than 16, why isn’t he counted here? There could be many explanations, but I should account for that in my analysis.

However, I do not believe this to be the case, so I’ll move on.

on August 2, 1790 the household of David Thompson included 1 male under 16 years of age Thompson, Jacob/Residence
Thompson, Jacob/Birth

Silhouette-question-markWhere did this Jacob fellow come from? Well based on other evidence I have collected, I believe David had a son, Jacob, who was born before 1790. It is reasonable that this counter refers to him. We know this boy was younger than 16 on August 2, 1790, so again, we will be able to do some calculations.

This claim is also possible evidence that David did not have any other sons younger than 16 at this time, at least not living. If I thought he did, I would add addional tags for each one.

on August 2, 1790 the household of David Thompson included 3 females Brown, Rachel/Residence
Thompson, Anna/Residence

I have evidence that David’s wife was Rachel Brown, and since other census records show her living with David throughout his life, it is reasonable to assume one of the 3 females was Rachel.
I’ll be honest, I don’t remember why of all David’s daughters I thought Anna would still be living at home in 1790. I’ll need to revisit that (and account for that in the analysis of Anna’s Residence).

I don’t have a clue right now who the 3rd female might have been. Not even a guess. Normally I would just leave the field blank. Evidentia has a nice report that will identify all un-tagged claims. However, since this claim is tagged with Rachel and Anna, and Evidentia has no way of knowing there is a third person referenced in the claim, I need to use the name “Unknown” to force the report to include this claim. This way when I run the report to identify research gaps, it will include the mysterious “third woman”.

Deciding how to tag the last claim is a bit of a challenge. Relative? Friend? Just a neighbor? What kind of research question might I apply this information to?

Time for a custom claim type. Elizabeth Shown Mills has coined the phrase FAN club, referring to Friends, Associates, and Neighbors we run across in our research. evidentia doesn’t have a FAN reference, but its easy enough to add one from the List manager screen using the Claims Type List tab.Adding ClaimType

Now I can tag the claim.

on August 2, 1790 Jon Thompson lived in Gilmanton, NH, the same town as David Thompson Thompson, David (ca 1798)/FAN

But why did I just tag David with the FAN reference? Isn’t David also a FAN of Jon? In fact, I could include Jacob, Rachel, and Anna as well.

This is where personal choice comes in again. At this point I have chosen not to add Jon Thompson to my subject list (yet). Jon has been “called in for questioning” but is not yet a “person of interest”. The evidence isn’t “lost”, and once I know more, I can choose to come back and add additional tags. I have tagged the claim so it will show up in a Research Summary Report for David under FAN. When I run the report and see that I also have a FAN claim for David referencing Jonathan Thompson in the enlistment record, I’ll want to dig deeper.


In this post I identified 5 pieces of information in the 1790 census I believe are relevant to my research. I have tried to explain my justification for including each piece of information, as well as which research questions (tags) I think they provide evidence for.

I have NOT tried to evaluate the information for quality or accuracy. I have also not drawn any implications from the information. I have restricted myself to recording what the source has to say, and tagging each piece of information to one or more research questions.

In my next post, I will walk through my analysis process, and hopefully show why even the vague clues provided by the hash marks in the 1790 census can provide evidence as we research our ancestors.

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  1. This is great, Ed. I really like seeing how you are thinking through the process. Can’t wait to see more of your posts.

  2. Thanks, Ed,
    I have often wondered if I am recording claims correctly. This helps clarify some of the ways to do that. If you ever have time, I would love to send you an example, and you can guide me to get the best most out of your program. Thanks.

  3. I noticed that this page is in alphabetical order. This means this a copy of the enumerator’s original enumeration. To me this signals a potential for errors that could come from the copying process.

    Would you note this here or in the analysis part of this process>

  4. Sandra, it would be reflected in the classification of the source (derived) depending on how you break down your source. I might also add a note in the source or citation so I would remember to include it in the analysis.

  5. Ed, I second Lisa Gorrell. Reviewing your thinking process is going to help others. I really like the idea of analyzing the different Census records.

    Sandra, thank you for pointing that out. It is a reminder for me to check records to see if something I think as original is actually a copy.

  6. Hi Ed. My second attempt to write this up. I am confused as to why you used the results of a Proof of Residence for this post: “Residence ‚Äď a Study of Daniel Hart Thompson”. It doesn’t even mention David and/or Jacob Thompson.

    Further when you deal with age you say “David must have been born AFTER August 2, 1774” whereas you also say “the Calculator confirms that Jacob must have been born BEFORE August 3, 1774.” I would think David being the eldest would have been born BEFORE August 2, 1774 whereas Jacob being only 5 or 6 would have been born AFTER August 2, 1174. Am I missing something here? Please clarify. I’m feeling lost and stupid.


    1. Chris, I used the “Residence ‚Äď a Study of Daniel Hart Thompson” as an example of what one can pull from Residence analysis. It wasn’t meant to be one for one.

      Your right about the others – I got them backwards. Correcting now…

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