Brought to you by the Massachusetts Historical Society

"I have nothing to do here, but to take the Air, enquire for News, talk Politicks and write Letters."

John Adams to Abigail Adams, 30 June 1774

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

John Adams by the numbers

John Adams died on 4 July 1826 at the ripe old age of 90. His death falls slightly more than halfway through the Adams Papers slip file, but when we reached this date in Encoding Level 2 last summer, we felt we'd marked an important milestone in the project. So in honor of John Adams, I've compiled some statistics related to him.

As of now, John Adams appears in the database as an author 13,943 times. He appears as a recipient 11,782 times. These numbers reflect original letters, retained letterbook copies of outgoing correspondence, and other documents. While the MHS holds the vast majority of these items, the slip file lists all known Adams family manuscripts, including those held by other institutions and those in private hands.

The earliest extant letter from John was written at Worcester on 1 Sep. 1755 to Nathan Webb. The first letter John received was written by Richard Cranch in Oct. 1756.

Correspondence between John and Abigail Adams accounts for 1,376 records in the database. Ironically, although Abigail often complained of how little John wrote, he wrote many more letters to her than she did to him--an impressive 912 to her 464 (including letterbook copies). John's first letter to his future wife was written 4 Oct. 1762, two years before their marriage, and her first letter to him was written 11 Aug. 1763.

According to the slip file, John Adams exchanged 662 letters with his "frenemy" Thomas Jefferson--376 to him and 286 from him. Their correspondence spans almost 50 years, beginning with Jefferson's letter from Williamsburg, Va. on 16 May 1777 and ending with Adams' of 17 Apr. 1826, less than three months before the day both men died.

John Adams wrote his last letter on 22 June 1826 to Roger C. Weightman, at that time the mayor of Washington, D.C. Four days later, the last letter to John was written by Ebenezer Clough. It was one of only three letters Clough ever wrote to the former president.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Supporting Databases, Part 1

This sounds like an Oscar category...And the nominees for Best Supporting Database in a Digital Conversion Project are: Accessions. Institutions. People. Places.

The supporting databases in the project allow us to regularize and make a consistent way in which to store and retrieve information. At the present time, there are four supporting databases: Accessions, Institutions, People, Places. There are additional supporting documents that we created and used such the Microfilm Conversion Chart. Fellow Adams Slip File encoder and blogger Susan Martin worked with the Accessions and Institutions databases as well as the Microfilm Conversion Chart and MHS Collection Codes, so she will write on them.

As mentioned in the post on 15 December 2010, at that time the People database contained 19,454 names. This number will fluctuate a bit as digital control file staff and Adams Papers editors identify duplicate entries and/or clarify & identify more fully those records for which staff have more information. Occasionally also we find names skipped during encoding level 2; this generally was the result of the density or complexity of a record.

The Places database was the first to be built and populated during Level 1 Encoding. In Level 2, while not a focus, we took the opporutnity to review attributes and perform basic data clean-up if necessary. The Places database contains 3,090 records: from Abbeville to Zwolle.

The fields we populated in Level 1 in the Places database are location, city, state, country, and notes. The location field is the controlled form of the entry - the attribute. Generally the first time a city appeared it received a one word attribute: "quincy", "tallahassee", and "athol" for example. However, once the country expanded, we were left with the task of differentiating between places with the same name in different states and/or countries. A good example is Burlington. We have eight different records for Burlington: "burlington", "burlington-county", "burlington-ia", "burlington-ma", "burlington-me", "burlington-nj", "burlington-ny", and "burlington-vt". We assigned the fullest known attribute to distinguish one from the other. However, sometimes the address listed simply says Burlington. In these instances it was not always possible to determine if it was the Burlington in Massachusetts or some other state.

This is a long way of saying we did the best we could with the information we had. As with the People database, the Adams Papers editors can use their expertise to help solidly define and identify a place if needed.