US Federal Census roll numbers

I am having a hard time locating the specific roll number on Federal Census records on the major websites ( / I have citations written in 2017 which include the specific roll number, but when reviewing these websites now, I cannot find it anymore.

Example citation I wrote in 2017:

1900 U.S. census, Cook County, Illinois, population schedule, South Town, Chicago, Ward 6, p. 305 (stamped), enumeration district 165, sheet 8A, dwelling 95, family 148, John Smith; digital image, ( : accessed 13 September 2017); citing National Archives microfilm publication T623, roll 250.


When I go to today (19 October 2019), I can only find the following data...

Year: 1900; Census Place: Chicago Ward 6, Cook, Illinois; Page: 8; Enumeration District: 0165; FHL microfilm: 1240250 1900 United States Federal Census [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations Inc, 2004.
Original data: United States of America, Bureau of the Census. Twelfth Census of the United States, 1900. Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, 1900. T623, 1854 rolls.

You'll notice it only notes the total number of rolls (1854), but not the specific roll number anymore.


Here is the citation offered by FamilySearch for this same record:

"United States Census, 1900," database with images FamilySearch ( : accessed 19 October 2019), John Smith, Precinct 28 South Town Chicago city Ward 6, Cook, Illinois, United States; citing enumeration district (ED) 165, sheet 8A, family 148, NARA microfilm publication T623 (Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, 1972.); FHL microfilm 1,240,250.


Has there been a citation standard change where we are no longer citing the exact roll number? If not, I cannot seem to locate it anymore, and that's troubling.

Submitted byEEon Sat, 10/19/2019 - 09:43

dpslager, you are right that providers are inconsistent on this point. Realistically, our providers are inconsistent on a lot of points, but that gets into other issues.


The ready-made citation provided by FS for this 1900 census does identify the NARA microfilm publication (M263) but omits the roll number—which is the equivalent of citing a 1,854-volume print series without saying which volume. However, FS does identify the exact roll in the "Catalog Record" part of that fly-out screen ...


Here, things are more complicated. Ancestry doesn't offer ready-made citations. It offers a lot of detail from which we have to pick and choose to create a logical citation with all the essentials.

In the case of the 1900 census, source data on the "database entry" page for our person unfortunately mixes peas and apples. It tells us the NARA microfilm publication ID and the number of rolls in that publication. But then it jumps to a different produce aisle and cites the  FHL microfilm roll number.

From there, we can go to the FHL catalog, query for 1240250, and identify the specific NARA roll that corresponds to the NARA microfilm pub ID.

The bigger issue

Do we really need to do all that for a census citation? Opinions vary among researchers. A decade or two ago, when most people were still consulting censuses as microfilm at their local libraries, identifying the exact film number could matter significantly. Many censuses underwent more than one filming in the early-to-late 1900s. Some libraries still had inferior "first filmings" that they could not afford to replace, even though legibility was poor.

Today, the major providers are all digitizing from the best film available. Some are putting problematic film images through enhancement procedures to make them more legible. In EE's opinion, the more important issue today is the identity of the provider. Past that point, our source-of-the-source data might simply quote whatever origin the provider offers.