OK - so you have searched the soundex or the printed indexes or CD-ROM census indexes. What do you do now?
Finding your ancestor in the census pages can sometimes test the most patient of genealogists. The biggest hurdle is generally what page number they were referring to. You will see how this can easily become a little more difficult than you could have imagined.
No standard to census indexing.
The Later Years
For the 1880, 1900 and 1920 soundex, it is usually pretty straight forward to find your ancestors. The cards used to extract the information asked for volume, E.D., sheet and line numbers. The volume number is the least important of these four numbers. The E.D. is generally the most important, as the counties were divided into enumeration districts (E.D.) and larger cities could even possibly have 10-15 EDs of their own. The sheet number actually has a sheet A and B. You can usually tell which it will be by seeing what the line number is. Line numbers 1-50 will be found on the A sheet, and line numbers 51-100 will be found on the B sheet.
Of course, just because you have now figured out how to locate folks using these soundex cards, the 1910 uses a completely different system. First a word about the 1910 Miracode. This is a computer printout as opposed to the hand written cards found in the 1880, 1900 and 1920 soundex cards. And to challenge you a little further, unlike the hand written cards, the miracode cards have no headings. So you really need to know what the various columns are for. As far as the clues to locating your ancestor in the actual census page, there are three numbers along the top of each miracode entry. The first is the volume number, followed by the ED number, and then the visitation number. The visitation number is found to the right of the names of the individuals enumerated on the actual census pages. So, once you locate the correct Enumeration District, you would then scan the visitation column until you come to the appropriate number, and that should be your ancestor.
The Early Years
The hardest indexes to pin down your ancestor with are the printed book ones or the CD-ROM ones. The reason these are so difficult is that there were a number of different page numbers on the earlier census records. The 1790-1870 censuses often had page numbers for each specific town, and then a hand written page number done in some black crayon. And just to make it even more interesting, there was often a stamped number as well. Some indexers would use the black crayon number. Others would use the stamped number.
So when you are using the printed or CD-ROM census indexes, you will want to see what numbers seem to make the most sense. One note of caution about the stamped numbers, they were often the page number for two pages. So if you locate the correct stamped page and your ancestor does not appear to be listed, be sure to look at the following page before assuming that the individual is not there.
Indexes to the U.S. federal census records are a mainstay to our research. They are not without their problems though. You will want to be on the alert for the possibility of multiple pages numbers. There may be times when the only approach is a line-by-line search.