USGenWeb Free Census Project Help, Page and sheet numbering system

The page number is always the number used by the original enumerator, if given. The census schedules can carry anywhere from zero to five numbers on them, most applied many years later. We list each of these as sheet numbers, in addition to the one determined to be our page number.

When listing sheet (and some page) numbers, you will often see a system where only every other page carries a number. If you look closely you will see that the film has been made from a large ledger book, with both right hand (recto) and left hand (verso) pages.

The numbers (usually hand stamped so as to appear printed) that advance on every other sheet are found nearly always near the upper right corner of the right hand sheet. If this number is 52, then the right hand sheet is recorded as 52B, and the left hand sheet as 52A.

Note that the sheet the number appears on is the B, not the A.

Each census page or sheet has a header recording certain information about the enumeration on that page.

Page and sheet numbering system

The microfilm is a series of photographs of pages of an old ledger book, which is the actual census record itself. Each frame of film is one page of the census. Remembering at all times that it is a book being filmed, you can imagine that an open book has two facing pages showing at all times. These two facing pages are known as a sheet. Note that a sheet is two facing pages, not two back to back pages. In most years of the census, each two page sheet was later (much later, in some cases) stamped with a sheet number in the upper right of the right hand page. This number is for both facing pages, left and right. When you see it on film you first see the blank page (57A, for example) before you see the 57 stamped on the right page (57B). Resist the temptation to label as A the first page on which you find the stamped sheet number.

On October 25, 2000: Remember please that the census schedules were bound into volumes (large ledger books), and that the microfilm you see is simply a series of photographs (not always in order) of the pages of the book. Each frame of film is a picture of one page of the book. When a book is open we see not one but two pages, left and right (verso and recto). These two pages together make up one sheet. For convenience, historians usually will refer to the laft hand page as the "A" half of the sheet, the right hand page as the "B" half. In most census years, there is a stamped (some years this will be a handwriitten number) sheet number found on the right hand (or "B") half of the sheet. Please note that the sheet numbers start at the beginning of each volume (book) and continue in order (usually) to the end of that book. Microfilm rolls pay little attention to beginnings and ends of these books, and frequently start or stop in mid volume. Page numbers usually start at 1 with each new enumerator's district, and continue to the end of the district. Page numbers are the original ordering system, then later when the schedules were bound into books, the sheet numbering system was added. In some places and years, you will find multiple sheet numbering systems.

Since every census year is different, I will speak today in detail only of the 1880 census schedules. I will cover each census year in a separate message over the next few weeks, but the concept is the same. In 1880 census schedules you will find (at least) three different independent ordering systems. First, there are the page numbers, handwritten in the upper left of each page, beginning at 1 for each Enumeration District. Page numbers in 1880 do not have an A or B designation. Second, there are the sheet numbers, stamped in the upper right of each right hand page, beginning at 1 for each bound volume, going up one number for every two pages (1 sheet). Note that each volume begins with a right hand page, or 1B, there being no 1A. Also note that when you see the stamped sheet number it is ALWAYS on the B half of the sheet, the right hand page. This means that the other half, the A half, is the page filmed BEFORE the B half. In other words when you see sheet number 242 the page you are looking at is sheet 242B, the page before it is sheet 242A, the page after is sheet 243A. If you visualise the actual book the film was made from this concept is much easier to understand. In 1880 a third ordering system was used, one which terribly confuses our transcribers. Printed on each schedule page is a large letter, either A, B, C, or D. These letters are NOT in any way connected with either page or sheet numbers. Please DO NOT confuse these letters with the A or B of the sheet numbers (which are not marked on the schedules). To make matters worse, the ABCD ABCD etc. letters begin on the right hand pages, so A and C usually show up on the B halves of sheets, B and D on the A halves. We record the page numbers in the page number field of our transcription software, the sheet number in the reference or sheet number field, and the page letter in reference or remarks.

Since it is vitally important that our online work reflect the correct page and sheet numbers, please review your work to see if you are doing it in this way, and make any corrections required. State census coordinators, please be very certain that any instructions you give to your volunteers exactly match what I have stated here. I know there will be plenty of questions about this, please direct them all to me at cp@maggie-sz.org. As I said, I will speak about the peculiarities of this topic in each census year in messages to follow.

Thank you,
Maggie Stewart
USGW Census Project


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A Gift of the Past for the Future! Started in February, 1997, The USGenWeb Free Census Project is an all-volunteer project to transcribe census records in a standard format in order to make them available to genealogical researchers on the Internet.

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