1790 Census Citation from FamilySearch

Hi EE,

For online sources, I am attempting to use FamilySearch since they have free access to records. Can I get confirmation that I am thinking about this correctly. I see so many different ways to cite this, I hope I could get some clarification. After reviewing Chapter 6 and reviewing some examples online this is what I have come up with. 



“1790 United States Federal Census,” , p. 161 (penned), col. 2, line 16, entry for Benjamin Foss, Jr. Machias, Washington Co., Maine; database with images, FamilySearch  (https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:S3HY-DRL9-XX5 : accessed 28 May 2023), digital film 004440868 > image 98 of 220; citing National Archives and Records Administration microfilm publication M637, roll 2.


Submitted byEEon Thu, 06/08/2023 - 11:16

Hello shaunpsmith.  Let's analyze your first layer, the layer in which you cite the record you are using. This should help you understand why  you are questioning what you've constructed—perhaps because it doesn't quite "sound right"?


"1790 United States Federal Census" 

You place this in quotation marks, as a formal title whose name you are copying exactly (i.e., one you are quoting, hence the quotation marks). However, the United States government does not have a document whose title is “1790 United States Federal Census.”  When we flip back to the beginning of this set of census images, back to the title page at image 5, we see that the formal title is "Population Schedules of the First Census of the United States, 1790." Few researchers use this formal title. Typically they use the very short, generic "1790 U.S. census."

Similarly, the database you used at FamilySearch is titled “United States Census, 1790." However (1) that’s not how your quotation reads; and (2) the name of the database you used—which is the generic title “made up” by FamilySearch—would belong in your 2d Layer (the Access Layer) where you are citing FamilySearch.

If these are your own words, in which you are describing generically the record set you are using, then you would not use quotation marks around them because you are not quoting anything.


“ '1790 United States Federal Census,' p. 161 (penned) …"

The problem here is that the 1790 U.S. census has hundreds of pages numbered 161.  Before someone can find the right p. 161, they have to drill down through hierarchical layers to get to the right bound volume that carries the specific page 161 that has the item of interest. Our citation has to drill down through that hierarchy also. As an analogy, the United States Bureau of the census has published thousands of books, for which it is cited as an author. Would we create a citation that begins

United States Bureau of the Census, p. 161 ...

EE’s QuickLesson 19 at https://www.evidenceexplained.com/content/quicklesson-19-layered-citations-work-layered-clothing uses the 1790 census as an example to dissect a citation to census records. Have you seen this?  

There also another lengthy discussion of this census at https://evidenceexplained.com/content/breaking-down-census-quickcheck-models.


Submitted byshaunpsmithon Tue, 07/04/2023 - 16:06


Here is a second try at citing this record. I read the online article. I also went back to the book to follow the examples. There are two ways I can get to the census on FamilySearch. One is through an index and the other is through browsing the images. In either case I was wondering if it is appropriate to nest the film number and the page number of the film in the citation to make it easier for others to find. In this case the Film # 004440868 and page 98 on FamilySearch. Thanks in advance for your feedback. 





Online Database Entry: example found on page 268

Source List Entry

"United States Census, 1790", database with images, FamilySearch. https://familysearch.org.

First Reference Note

1.  “United States Census, 1790,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:S3HY-DRL9-XX5 : accessed 3 Jul 2023), entry for Benjamin Foss, junr, Machias, Maine.

Second Reference Note

11.  “United States Census, 1790,” FamilySearch, database entry for Benjamin Foss, junr, Machias, Maine.


Online Images: example found on page 268 and 269

Source List Entry

Maine. Machias. 1790 U. S. Census. Database with images. FamilySearch. https://familysearch.org.

First Reference Note

1.  1790 U. S. census, Machias, Maine, p. 161 (penned),  col. 2, line 16, Benjamin Foss junr; image, FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:S3HY-DRL9-XX5 : accessed 3 Jul 2023);  citing National Archives and Records Administration microfilm M637, roll 2.

Second Reference Note

11.  1790 U. S. census, Machias, Me, p. 162, Benjamin Foss junr.

Submitted byEEon Thu, 07/06/2023 - 10:49

Hello, Shawn

You’ve done great! Given that the First Reference Note is the principal form of citation for history researchers, let’s focus on that citation format—explicitly citing to the image rather than the database entry created by FamilySearch. Your draft citation states:

       1.   1790 U. S. census, Machias, Maine, p. 161 (penned),  col. 2, line 16, Benjamin Foss junr; image, FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:S3HY-DRL9-XX5 : accessed 3 Jul 2023);  citing National Archives and Records Administration microfilm M637, roll 2.

EE would use this (alterations in red):

        1. 1790 U.S. census, Cumberland County, Maine, “Town of Machias: Plantations East of Machias,” p. 162, line 16, Benjamin Foss junr; imaged, “United States Census, 1790,” FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:S3HY-DRL9-XX5: accessed 3 July 2023), image 98; citing National Archives and Records Administration, microfilm publication M637, roll 2.


  • You cite “Machias, Maine.” That’s the name of the "town" near which Foss lived. However, the original census is not set up by town name. It is organized first by year, then by state, then by county, then by subdivisions of various sorts within the county. That county name is essential. That is why all the U.S. census examples in EE (and QuickLesson 19) start with “YEAR, U.S. Census, county, state.”   (This missing county name also needs to be addressed in the Source List Entry and the Subsequent Reference Note.)
  • Also note that the last page of the census for that jurisdiction (page 188, imaged at 111), gives a more precise description of where Benjamin Foss lived. He was not just in Machias. He was in “Town of Machias: Plantations East of Machias.”  That is important information you need to capture.
  • You cite “p. 161 (penned), col. 2.”  However, the census page on which Foss appears has only one name-column. The image shows a two-page spread, each of which carries a page number at the top. The left-side page is p. 161. The right-side page on which Foss appears is p. 162.  Also, given that there is only one set of page numbers on this page, you do not have to specify which set you have used. (See EE 6.8 “Penned numbers vs. stamped numbers.”)
  • Your Layer 2, which identifies the provider of the images, needs to name (a) the title of the database through which the image is accessed at FamilySearch; or (b) the digital film number through which it is accessed. This is a peculiarity of FamilySearch's website structure that you've already analyzed.
  • When you paraphrased FamilySearch’s “source-of-its-source” you wrote “microfilm M637.” It is actually “microfilm publication M637” or “micropublication M637.” We can't shortcut that. NARA has both published film and unpublished film, with overlapping numbers. Therefore NARA requests users to include the descriptor “publication” for the series that are published. That is why all citations in EE (and at QuickLesson 19” say “National Archives microfilm publication ___.” (See EE 6.14.)   And yes, FamilySearch's  "information about" the census does not include the word "publication." It substitutes "series." One way of handling situations like this, when a provider does not  identify what it used, as accurately as it should, would be to copy exactly what your provider states, with quotation marks around those exact words.