Distinction between "penned" and "stamped" page numbers when sourcing

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I read today that when citing US census records, it is important to distinguish "penned" and "stamped" page numbers.  I don't understand why, and I don't have a copy of Evidence Explained handy.  Is the page number not a unique identifier of a page, whether it is stamped on the page or written on it?  Are there really sites that have multiple copies of the same page, one stamped and one penned, requiring this distinction to be made?  I would think that stating whether you found the image at Family Search versus Fold3 etc. would be enough to determine exactly which image was being used.

asked in Policy and Style by Barry Smith G2G6 Mach 3 (37.4k points)

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In the census records, the penned (handwritten) numbers are often different from the stamped numbers which is why, when you write your source information, you need to tell which one you are using by saying you are using the stamped number or the penned number. When I transcribe on my own, I usually include both.
answered by Nelda Spires G2G6 Mach 4 (49.8k points)
selected by Barry Smith
Then my question becomes: if there is already this discrepancy between the penners and stampere, is there any guarantee that the same page was always stamped with the same number when stamped by different people? And that all "penners" put the same number on the same page?

I'm not totally sure I understand your question. The originals are what are "stamped" and "penned" and they all have both types of numbers on them. Anyone who transcribes from the originals should tell you in the transcription which of the numbers they are using to index the image, but sometimes they don't (directly.) For example, here is the transcription for one of my ancestor's census records at FamilySearch.org:

Name: Cancel Cotton

Titles and Terms: 

Event Type: Census

Event Date: 1860

Event Place: Election Precinct 11, Coffee, Alabama, United States

Gender: Male

Age: 7

Race: White

Race: 

Occupation: 

Birth Year (Estimated): 1853

Birthplace: Gea

Page: 189

Household ID: 1251

Affiliate Name: The U.S. National Archives and Records Administration (NARA)

Affiliate Publication Number: M653

Affiliate Film Number: 6

GS Film Number: 803006

Digital Folder Number: 005165577

Image Number: 00389

Household Role Sex Age Birthplace

Bradford Cotton M 60 Gea

Elizabeth Cotton F 40 Gea

Polly Cotton F 19 Gea

Jane Cotton F 16 Gea

George Cotton M 14 Gea

William Cotton M 11 Gea

Cancel Cotton M 7 Gea

The page number above is the "penned" number. The stamped number on the image, 937, is not mentioned in the index. I could possibly go to a different website and they could use the stamped number for indexing so with only the information above, if I couldn't find by name (in this case the name is misspelled so I might not find it by name) I would have a difficult time scrolling to find the image. So, it's important to know which of the two numbers a particular website or database is using for indexing.

Can you tell me where you read the article? If it's online, I'd like to read it, too, to see what they have to say about this issue.

Without having been there, we can't know why some enumerators penned in other numbers. We just know that it happened. I track both when I get them since that would be more unique. Since most of these pages are copied from the enumerators pages, they may have transcribed to the wrong copy. There shouldn't be two with the same stamped page number unless you look on the other copy. Most of the enumerators copies were destroyed.
Ah, I didn't know there were two different page numbers on each page.  That's pretty strange.  So I figured the different numbers were appearing because they were being put on copies.
I couldn't find an article about it, which is why I wrote here.  There are a whole lot of citation "templates" that mention the distinction, but I never found any context.  Here's one of those template pages:

https://destinationaustinfamily.blogspot.com/2012/04/source-citation-format-for-1940-us.html
I agree with Nelda and Doug. For federal censuses, the census takers carried only loose pages with them, simply numbered them in the order in which they used them, and then made copies of each page to send to the bureau. When the census bureau bound the those copies into volumes that contained contiguous enumeration districts, copies from multiple enumerators were routinely included in a single set or volume...thus the variety--and sometimes duplication within a given county--of the handwritten page numbers, while the volume(s) prepared by the federal bureau were stamped with page numbers that were sequential to the volume and unique to the county involved.

IMHO, it's generally easiest--and more accurate--to locate a census page/image by the "stamped" page number. Like Nelda, though, I prefer to err on the side of too much information rather than too little, so I'll typically note both page numbers, if present, in a citation.

I hadn't given it that much thought on here since I'm mostly linking directly to the census images at FamilySearch.org and cutting/pasting their citations, but, really, to be completely accurate, the citations probably should include both numbers. I just found a template citations at the St. Louis Genealogical Society website and if we cite the "originals" (the microfilmed images) directly rather than just using the citation the repository provides for the images (FamilySearch.org or Ancestry.com or what-have-you) we should, according to them, include both the stamped and penned numbers. 

St. Louis Genealogical Society: Citations - Census Records

I see a HUGE project in my future of updating all these citations...someday.
What was the first year when this became the process?  I don't think I've ever seen much metadata or other notation on a 1790 page.
From 1790 through 1820 the U.S. census was enumerated on blank pages; preprinted, lined pages with printed column headings weren't used until 1830. Though I can't recall (without checking by looking at a bunch) ever seeing a "stamped" page appearing for 1830, I do remember seeing them in 1840 and I think it was pervasive throughout the 1850 census. But I don't have any definitive info about it.
Is the weird 550 at the lower right of this 1800 census page a stamped page number?

https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:33SQ-GR8K-N5B?i=13&cc=1804228
The St. Louis Genealogical Society census citation page I referenced above doesn't mention stamped citations until the 1830 Census. (Edit--I looked again, they start earlier--with the 1800 Census.) I don't think the stamped numbers were pre-printed on the pages, because they are often crooked like something stamped on after the fact. Anonymous above explained it pretty well, I think--The enumerators had page numbers for their districts which were handwritten, then later on, someone added stamped numbers for multiple compiled districts.
Barry, looks like a stamped page number to me. I scrolled through a few pages past that one and the stamped number increased by one as I scrolled to a new page.

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