One of the projects I have been working on the past few years is the Cornwall Online Census Project which is part of a greater GB wide project which applies the Open Source Free-ware principle to public records. My role is to take the transcribed, checked and validated pieces and prepare them for publication. This includes normalising the coding for some aspects and also (the hardest part) make sense of what is there, what is missing and why.

Apart from observing that no one can spell “Niece” the most common error transcribers make is to get the Folio numbers wrong. The GB census is numbered twice. Firstly each “Enumeration District” booklet is numbered on the original printed forms excluding the title and preamble pages. Some time after they were completed, these booklets were bound together into “pieces” and a new numbering applied, stamped on the top right hand corner of each right hand page as the book was opened. These are the “Folio Numbers.” When we transcribe, we ask the volunteers to note the folio and page number for each entry to avoid ambiguity. What they get wrong is the folio number for those pages which don’t have them stamped—i.e. the left hand pages of the open book. To be fair, that is not how they see the pages. We are working from microfilm (or digitised copies) and what we get is (usually) consecutive single pages with no indication of left and right.

To understand it properly you have to understand what folio means. It is Latin for “leaf” so what is numbered is the leaf of paper both the front and the back—properly known as the recto and verso. So the folio number of an unstamped page is the same as the PREVIOUS stamped page.

I have met experienced researchers who adamantly believe that it is the other way around, that the number refers to both visible pages of the open book. I think it may have be used this way by accountants who refer to a ledger sheet which is continuous across the two open pages as a folio. I’m sorry, but they are wrong.

p.s. the abbreviation for folios is ff.

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