When citing census records for England and Wales (1841-1901), by convention we cite both the folio and page number. Since the page number simply clarifies which side of the folio to look on, why is this necessary or useful? Would it be better simply to cite the page using 'r' (recto) and 'v' (verso) to indicate which side of the folio, as this is consistent with the guidelines for Citing documents in The National Archives?

For example, RG 9/2480, f 70, p 11 would become RG 9/2480, f 70r.

ADDED: As it seems to be the consensus that the use of recto/verso is unclear or confusing, perhaps a better question is why is it necessary to cite the page at all? The folio alone is sufficient to locate a specific record, so why not leave the citation as, for example, RG 9/2480, f 70?

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    But - (1) how would one know recto / verso in digital images? (2) aren't the pages all already numbered anyway? (3) if 'everyone' is already using the Folio Page convention, aren't UK censuses already an exception to the usual guideline?
    – bgwiehle
    Apr 18, 2015 at 0:49
  • @bgwiehle (1) One would know recto vs verso because all recto pages are odd numbered, while verso pages are even numbered. (2) Yes, all the pages are numbered, but several pages within the same piece have the same page number, which is why the folio number reference was introduced. (3) Even if 'everyone' is using the folio-page convention, that doesn't mean that there is not a more logical and consistent way to cite the census.
    – Harry V.
    Apr 18, 2015 at 2:23
  • If you have a downloaded image in front of you and want to know if it's the right one, you can see the Class & Piece (except for the 1911). You can see the page but not the folio (unless, by chance, it's stamped really hard and has bled thru). So it is necessary to cite the page if you can't see the folio.
    – AdrianB38
    Apr 19, 2015 at 17:22
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    Referencing the the latest available census, the 1911, is wholly different, not helped by the supplier of the first site inventing a referencing system for the images that combined two classes. The 1841 is also different.
    – AdrianB38
    Apr 19, 2015 at 17:31
  • For clarity I have added the census years to which my question applies. The 1911 census is of course different as the schedules were not transferred to enumerators books, but the question certainly applies to 1841 even though it is also necessary to cite the book number in that year.
    – Harry V.
    Apr 19, 2015 at 17:46

2 Answers 2


To be useful, information not only needs to be right but also clear and accessible. Perhaps after due digging thru a dictionary or some other reference, someone can eventually figure out what "r" or "v" means. However, far more people will understand "p 11". From your description, it seems this ultimately conveys the same information, so it makes sense to go with more broadly understood and accessible.


The answer to your question may be contained in the question itself. When making your original conversion between the folio/page reference and the folio recto/verso-style reference, you said:

For example, RG 9/2480, f 70, p 11 would become RG 9/2480, f 70v.

See Wikipedia on Recto and Verso for Left-to-right language books (such as English):


Page 11 cannot be a verso page if the language is English.

I plugged the reference you provided into Find My Past so I could browse the images. (A disclaimer: it is not safe to assume that the order an online provider serves up images is the same as they appear on the microfilm -- the pages could have been re-arranged by the vendor. For an example, see Elizabeth Shown Mills' QuickLesson 16: Speculation, Hypothesis, Interpretation & Proof, footnote 10.)

If you start at the front of the piece and page forward, it quickly becomes clear that the folio number only appears on the recto page. The page numbers appear to be printed on the pages, while the folio numbers were added later (probably stamped) -- they are likely to be a safeguard against missing pages. But the folio numbers are also needed because the printed page numbers are not exclusive within a piece (piece 2480 has more than one "page 1" in it).

It may be that the convention came into being because recto and verso have different meanings, depending on the language one is accustomed to, and don't have the same context once an item is microfilmed. Perhaps people felt that adding the explicit page numbers to the reference would make the citation more clear, especially since the folio numbers do not appear on every image.

  • I'm sorry I was sloppy with my example, I have now corrected it.
    – Harry V.
    Apr 18, 2015 at 2:09
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    @vervet, apologies for seeming to pick on you, but your mistake did illustrate one of the difficulties with using recto and verso for this record group. I'll be happy if someone can come up with an actual answer instead of a guess.
    – Jan Murphy
    Apr 18, 2015 at 2:12
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    Just to confuse matters, I have found pages of other books (staff registers) where "folio" stamping takes place and the "folio" number is stamped on the LEFT hand page of the opened book. I suspect this stamping to have been original, nothing to do with any archives. And the example I just checked has "83" stamped on the left page and "83" stamped on the opposite right-hand page.
    – AdrianB38
    Apr 19, 2015 at 17:28
  • @AdrianB38 -- rather than confusing matters, I think it illustrates the point that we can't expect the folio stamping to be consistent for these record groups. I agree with your hypothesis that the stamping is likely to have been original and not made by any archives. I think the variances in the stamping and other office marks can be important clues which are often overlooked.
    – Jan Murphy
    Apr 19, 2015 at 20:03

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