Learn more about Census
A census is the process of obtaining information about every member of a population (not necessarily a human population). It can be contrasted with sampling in which information is only obtained from a subset of a population. As such it is a method used for accumulating statistical data, and it is also vital to democracy (voting). Census data is also commonly used for research, business marketing, and planning purposes.
 Census and Privacy
While the census provides a useful way of obtaining statistical information about a population, such information can sometimes lead to abuses, political or otherwise, made possible by the linking of individuals' identities to anonymous census data. <ref>The Census and Privacy</ref>
It is not unusual for census data to be processed in some way so as to obscure individual information. Some censuses do this by intentionally introducing small statistical errors to prevent the identification of individuals in marginal populations; others swap variables for similar respondents.
Whatever measures have been taken to reduce the privacy risk in census data, new technology in the form of better electronic analysis of data pose increasing challenges to the protection of sensitive individual information.
 Ancient and medieval censuses
One of the earliest documented censuses taken was in the year 500-499 BC by the Persian Empire's military for issuing land grants, and taxation purposes.<ref>Kuhrt, A. (1995) The Ancient Near East c. 3000–330BC Vol 2 Routledge, London. pp 695</ref>.
The Bible relates stories of several censuses. The Book of Numbers describes a divinely-mandated census that occurred when Moses led the Israelites from Egypt. A later census called by King David of Israel, referred to as the "numbering of the people," incited divine retribution (for being militarily motivated or perhaps displaying lack of faith in God). A Roman census is also mentioned in one of the best known passages of the Bible in the Gospel of Luke.
The world's oldest extant census data comes from China during the Han Dynasty. Taken in the fall of 2 AD, it is considered by scholars to be quite accurate. At that time there were 57.5 million living in Han China, the world's largest population. The second oldest preserved census is also from the Han, dating back to 140 AD, when only a bit more than 48 million people were recorded. Mass migrations into what is today southern China are believed to be behind this massive demographic decline.
In the Middle Ages, the most famous census in Europe is the Domesday Book, undertaken in 1086 by William I of England "to find out ... what or how much each landholder had in land and livestock, and what it was worth," so that he could properly tax the land he had recently conquered. In 1183, a census was taken of the crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem, to ascertain the number of men and amount of money that could possibly be raised against an invasion by Saladin, sultan of Egypt and Syria.
 Modern censuses
The Australian census is run by the Australian Bureau of Statistics. It is carried out every five years, the last one being on August 8, 2006. Past Australian censuses were conducted in 1911, 1921, 1933, 1947, 1954, 1961, 1966, 1971, 1976, 1981, 1986, 1991, 1996, and 2001. In 2006, for the first time, Australians were able to complete their census online.
The first census was organised after Bulgarian parliament passed a law for national censuses in 1880. A special Act on Statistics was enacted in 1897. It was following on the edge European standards at the time. The area of the next census was widening for the purposes of International Statistical Institute which was planning a world wide census of the then ‘civilized world’ at the time. The Directorate of Statistics was the only institution authorized and responsible with and for organization and of national censuses. The procedure retain the same until the WW-II.
During the period in review Bulgaria has organized 16 population censuses (1880, 1884, 1887, 1892, 1900, 1905, 1910, 1920, 1926, 1934, 1946, 1956, 1965, 1975, 1985, 1992 all of them ending in December and 2001 providing data by March same year). Reliability of the statistics, indeed, improved with the time.
The information in the first censuses covers a wide range of data: • Population statistic – sex, age, nationality, mother tongue, education, religion, different groups of disabled people • Occupation…. • Animal statistics- providing detailed information on the number of beasts on the village and town level; • Dwelling statistics – the data is broken down by villages/towns and by type of use – for living and for rent providing purposes • Vital statistics – marriage, number of family members, age at marriage, mortality and nativity
The Canadian census is run by Statistics Canada. The first census conducted in Canada was conducted in 1666, by French intendant Jean Talon, when he took a census to ascertain the number of people living in New France. In 1871, Canada's first formal census was conducted, which counted the population of Nova Scotia, Ontario, New Brunswick, and Quebec. In 1918, the Dominion Bureau of Statistics was formed, and replaced by Statistics Canada in 1971.
Censuses in Canada are conducted in five-year intervals. The last two censuses were conducted in 2001 and 2006. Censuses taken in mid-decade (1976, 1986, 1996, etc.) are referred to as quinquennial censuses. Others are referred to as decennial censuses. The first quinquennial census was conducted in 1956.
For the 2006 Census of Canada, respondents were able, for the first time, to choose to complete their census questionnaire online. Other options for answering the questionnaire include postal mail (using a pre-paid envelope) and telephone (using a 800 number).
 Costa Rica
Costa Rica carried out its 9th population census in 2000. INEC, National Institute of Statistics and Census is in charge of conduct these census. Past Costa Rican censuses were conducted in 1864, 1883, 1892, 1927, 1950, 1963, 1973 and 1984.
The first Danish census was in 1700-1701, and contained statistical information about adult men. Only about half of it still exists. A census of school children was taken during the 1730s.
Following these early undertakings, the first census to attempt completely covering all citizens (including women and children who had previously been listed only as numbers) of Denmark-Norway was taken in 1769 . At that point there were 797 584 citizens in the kingdom. Georg Christian Oeder took a statistical census in 1771 which covered Copenhagen, Sjælland, Møn, and Bornholm.
After that, censuses followed somewhat regularly in 1787, 1801, and 1834, and between 1840 and 1860, the censuses were taken every five years, and then every ten years until 1890. Special censuses for Copenhagen were taken in 1885 and 1895.
In the 20th century, censuses were taken every five years from 1901 to 1921, and then every ten years from 1930. The last census was taken in 1950. Currently, Det Centrale Personregister is doing the censuses using their register of Danish citizens.
Napoleon Bonaparte began the census in France as a means of determining the number of potential soldiers under his rule. Today, the census in France is carried out by INSEE. Since 2004, a partial census is carried out every year, and the results published as averages over 5 years.
The first large-scale census in the German Empire took place in 1895. Attempts at introducing a census in Germany sparked strong popular resentment in the 1980s since many quite personal questions were asked. Some campaigned for a boycott. In the end the Constitutional Court stopped the census in 1980 and 1983. The last census was in 1987. Germany has since used population samples in combination with statistical methods, in place of a full census.
 Hong Kong
- Main article: Census in Hong Kong
Census takes place every 10 years and by-census between two censuses by the Census and Statistics Department of Hong Kong. The last census was conducted in 2001 and the next by-census will take place in 2006.
The first Icelandic census took place in 1703, following upon the first Danish census of 1700-1701. Further censuses were carried out in 1801, 1845 and 1865. The 1703 exercise was the first ever census to cover all inhabitants of an entire country, mentioning the name, age and social position of each individual. All of the information still exists, although some of the original documents have been lost.
The setting up, in 1952, of the National Register (þjóðskrá) eliminated the need for censuses. All those born in Iceland, and all new residents, are automatically registered. Individuals are identified in the register by means of a national identification number (the so-called kennitala), a number composed of the date of birth in the format ddmmyy and four additional digits, the last of which indicates the century in which the person was born (9 for the 1900s and 0 for the 2000s).
In Iceland, the National Register also doubles as electoral register. Likewise, all bank accounts are linked to the national identification of the owner (companies and institutions all have their own identification numbers).
The decennial census of India is the primary source of information about the demographic characteristics of the population of India which is the second biggest country of the world in terms of population.
The first census in India in modern times is dated 1872. It started as far back as in 1860 and was finished in 1871. Starting from there, a population census has been carried out every 10 years, latest being the fourteenth in February - March 2001.
Census is carried out by the office of the Registrar General and Census Commissioner, India, Delhi under the Census of India Act, 1948. The act gives Central Government many powers like to notify a date for Census, power to ask for the services of any citizen for census work. The law makes it compulsory for every citizen to answer the census questions truthfully. The Act provides penalties for giving false answers or not giving answers at all to the census questionnaire. One of the most important provisions of law is the guarantee for the maintenance of secrecy of the information collected at the census of each individual. The census records are not open to inspection and also not admissible in evidence.
Census happens in two phases, first House Listing and House Numbering Operations and second actual population enumeration phase. Census is carried out by the canvassing method. In this method, each and every household is visited and the information is collected by a specially trained enumerator.
- Website of the office of the Registrar General and Census Commissioner, India
- Banthia J.K., Ex Registrar General & Census Commissioner, India. "Mobilising Support for India’s Census - Constraints and Challenges"
The first census in Israel was held in November 1948, six months after the creation of the state. Subsequent censuses took place in 1961, 1972, 1983 and 1995. The aforementioned were conducted by the Israel Central Bureau of Statistics.
The census in Ireland is carried out by the Central Statistics Office (Ireland). The previous two censuses were carried out in 2002 and most recently on April 23 2006. The census is carried out every five years, except in 2001, whose census was postponed to 2002 due to the outbreak of foot and mouth disease. According to the 2006 form, "any person who fails or refuses to provide information or who knowingly provides false information may be subject to a fine of up to €25,000," under the Central Statistics Act 1993.
The census in Ireland is very similar to that of the United Kingdom. That is, the "100 year" law applies here as well, as does the recent addition of a question regarding religion to the 2006 census. However the 1911 Census for the whole of Ireland was made publicly available some time ago.
Since the very first census, the question of "Can you speak Irish?" has been asked. This has often led to misleading figures, as many people know how to speak some Irish through schooling, but do not actually speak it frequently. The 2006 census included how often you spoke the language if you had chosen the "Yes" answer if you spoke Irish.
Also, on the CSO website, instructions for non-English speaking residents of the Republic of Ireland were available. They were mock copies of the census forms, with all headings/questions etc. being translated into a particular language. These were not to be filled out, but were only a guide on how to fill out the English or Irish form.
This census also asked two unique questions relating to ownership of PCs and what Internet connection your home had. The next census will take place in the year 2011.
Japan collects census information every five years. The figures show the English translation of the 2005 census form. The form solicits information on name, sex, relationship to head of household, year and month of birth, marital status, nationality, number of members of household, type and nature of dwelling, floor area of dwelling, number of hours worked during the week prior to October 1, employment status, name of employer and type of business, and kind of work.
The most recent census in Latvia was in 2000. Before that, it was about 6 censuses, most part of these previous censuses was in the USSR time. The census in Latvia is carried out by Centrālā Statistikas Pārvalde (Central Statistical Bureau).
The census that was supposed to be conducted in 1981 was postponed and later cancelled. A call for privacy was responisble for the cancellation of any further census since 1991.
 New Zealand
The census in New Zealand is carried out by Statistics New Zealand (Tatauranga Aotearoa), every five years. The last was on 7 March 2006. For the 2006 Census of New Zealand, respondents could choose to complete their census questionnaire online. See New Zealand Census of Population and Dwellings.
The two first male census was conducted during the 1660s and 1701. Later statistical censuses were held in 1769, 1815, 1835, 1845, and 1855. Norway’s first nominative, complete census was taken in 1801, when Norway still was a province of the kingdom of Denmark-Norway. The scope of the census followed the de jure principle, so military persons should be included as well as foreigners if they were residents. The 1801, 1865 and 1900 censuses are digitized, and are made searchable on the internet. The census records are made public available when 100 years have passed. Since 1900, the census has been conducted every ten years. (However, the 1940 census was postponed to 1946.) Since 2001 the population census has been combined with the housing statistics.
In Russia, the first (and the only) Russian Empire Census was carried out in 1897. All-Union Population Censuses were carried out in the USSR (which included RSFSR and the other republics) in 1920 (urban only), 1926, 1937, 1939, 1959, 1970, 1979, and 1989). The first post-Soviet Russian Census was carried out in 2002. The next census is tentatively planned for 2010. Currently, the census is the responsibility of the Federal State Statistics Service.
 South Africa
The census in Spain is carried out by INE every 10 years. The first modern census was carried out in 1768 by Conde de Aranda, under the reign of Carlos III. The last four were in 1971, 1981, 1991, 2001.
The census takes place every 10 years. The last census was in 2000.
 United Kingdom
In the 7th century, Dál Riata (now Scotland) was the first territory in what is now the UK to conduct a census, with what was called the "Tradition of the Men of Alba" (Senchus fer n-Alban). England took its first Census when the Domesday Book was compiled in 1086 for tax purposes.
Following the influence of Malthus and concerns stemming from his An Essay On The Principle Of Population the UK census as we know it today started in 1801. This was championed by John Rickman who managed the first four up to 1831, partly to ascertain the number of men able to fight in the Napoleonic wars. Rickman's 12 reasons - set out in 1798 and repeated in Parliamentary debates - for conducting a UK census included the following justifications:
- 'the intimate knowledge of any country must form the rational basis of legislation and diplomacy'
- 'an industrious population is the basic power and resource of any nation, and therefore its size needs to be known'
- 'the number of men who were required for conscription to the militia in different areas should reflect the area's population'
- 'there were defence reasons for wanting to know the number of seamen'
- 'the need to plan the production of corn and thus to know the number of people who had to be fed'
- 'a census would indicate the Government's intention to promote the public good' and
- 'the life insurance industry would be stimulated by the results.'
The census has been conducted every ten years since 1801 and most recently in 2001. The first four censuses (1801-1831) were mainly statistical (that is, they were mainly headcounts and contained virtually no personal information).
The 1841 Census, conducted by the General Register Office, was the first to record the names of everyone in a household or institution. However, their relationship to the head of the household wasn’t noted, although sometimes this can be inferred from the occupation shown (eg servant). Those under the age of 15 had their proper ages listed, but for those who were older the ages were supposed to be rounded down to the nearest five years, although this rule was not strictly adhered to. Precise birthplaces were not given - at best the birthplace can be narrowed down to the county in which the person was living.
From 1851 onwards the census shows the exact age and relationship to the head of household for each individual; the place of birth was also listed, but with varying degrees of precision. Sometimes those who were born abroad have the annotation B.S. or British Subject.
The censuses are reasonably accurate. However ages in particular are frequently shown incorrectly, though often the difference is only one year; in general the younger the individual the more accurate the age shown. Birthplaces often vary from one census to the next: a common error is to show the place where the census was taken as the birthplace, but most of the variations in birthplace can be accounted for by changes in geographical scale (for example, the nearest town being shown instead of the precise village, or a city being shown instead of the relevant suburb).
The censuses are also remarkably complete - though inevitably a small percentage of the population wasn’t recorded for one reason or another, and in some cases the records are missing or damaged (notably in 1861). Furthermore, all censuses of Ireland before 1901 have been lost or destroyed.
Because of World War II, there was no census in 1941. However, following the passage into law (on 5 September 1939) of the National Registration Act a population count was carried out on 29 September 1939, which was, in effect, a census.
The census is undertaken for the government by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) for policy and planning purposes, and statistical information is also sold to interested parties. Public access to the census returns is restricted under the terms of the 100-year rule and the most recent returns made available to researchers are those of the 1901 Census.
The 2001 census was the first year in which the government asked about religion. Perhaps encouraged by a hoax chain letter that started in New Zealand, 390,000 people entered their religion as Jedi Knight (more than either Sikhs, Buddhists or Jews), with some areas registering up to 2.6% of people as "Jedi". It was wrongly implied in emails that stating "Jedi" on the form would cause it to become an "official religion". No such thing exists in the United Kingdom. However, the director of reporting and analysis at the ONS stated that it may have helped with the collection process as it encouraged young people, who are often missed, to complete forms. (See Jedi census phenomenon.)
All of the British censuses from 1841-1901 have been transcribed and indexed and are available online; there is a joint project between the National Archives of Ireland and Library and Archives Canada to digitize the 1901 and 1911 censuses for the whole of Ireland, and it is possible this will be completed by the end of 2007.
 United States
The United States Constitution mandates that the census be taken at least once every 10 years, and that the number of members of the House of Representatives from each state be determined accordingly. In addition, Census Bureau statistics are used for apportioning Federal funding for many social and economic programs. But there is not a federal census legislation (nor for federal voting).
The first U.S. Census was taken in 1790 by the local U.S. Marshals. Census-takers went door-to-door and recorded the number of people in each household, and the name of the head of the household. Slaves were counted, but for apportionment purposes each counted as only three-fifths of a citizen. American Indians being neither taxed nor considered during apportionment, were not counted. The first census counted 3.9 million people, less than half the population of New York City in 2000. The 2000 census counted over 281 million people.
In 1902, a Public Law established the Census Bureau as a permanent Federal agency. In recent times, there were two forms of questionnaire – long and short. Currently, the plan is to replace the Long Form and its additional questions about items such as daily commute times, housing unit factors, etc. with the American Community Survey (ACS), prior to the 2010 census. Computer algorithms (based on complex sampling rules) determined which form was mailed to a given household (in practice, of those households whose locations are on the Census Master Address List), one in six receiving the long form. This was supplemented by census workers going door-to-door to talk to people who failed to return the forms. In addition to a simple count of residents, the Census Bureau collects a variety of statistics, on topics ranging from ethnicity to the presence of indoor plumbing. While some critics claim that census questions are an invasion of privacy, the data collected by every question is either required to enforce some federal law (such as the Voting Rights Act) or is required to administer some federal program. Congress gives approval to every question asked on the Census.
Despite a massive effort, the Census Bureau has never been able to count every individual, leading to controversy about whether to use statistical methods to supplement the numbers for some purposes, as well as arguments over how to improve the actual head count. The Supreme Court has ruled that only an actual head count can be used to apportion Congressional seats; however, cities and minority representatives have complained that urban residents and minorities are undercounted. In several cases, the Census Bureau will recount an area with disputed figures, provided the local government pays for the time and effort. The State of Utah protested the figures of the 2000 decennial census because it stood to gain a seat in the House of Representatives, but North Carolina gained it instead. Had the Census Bureau been able to count the numbers of Utahns living overseas, including many Mormon missionaries, Utah would have gained the seat.
To minimize the burden on individuals and to provide improved data, the Bureau is preparing several alternative methods for gathering economic, demographic, and social information, including the American Community Survey and record linking of depersonalized administrative records with other administrative records and Census Bureau surveys.
By law (92 Stat. 915, Public Law 95-416, enacted on October 5 1978), census records are sealed for 72 years. This figure has remain unchanged since prior to the updates of the 1978 law, reflecting an era when life expectancy was under 60 years, and thus attempts to protect individual's privacy by prohibiting the release of such information during their expected lifetimes. Thus, the most recent Census released to the public was the 1930 Census, released in 2002.
Indexes to some of the U.S. Censuses have been produced over the years, making the process of searching old census records much easier. Some indexes of census records have been produced by amateur volunteer genealogists. Due to the sheer volume of information, and the manual methodologies involved, the indexing used to be limited to the head-of-household. These indexes were published in bound volumes and are often available in regional libraries along with microfilm rolls that can be researched.
While valuable, indexes produced from these censuses can be problematic to use. The original census records from this era were completed by hand by census enumerators; this leads to problems in handwriting recognition and variations in spelling of surnames within the original documents.
The 1880 to 1920 censuses have indexes of last names, produced using the Soundex system; the indexing project was performed by the Works Progress Administration. The Soundex system is tolerant of variations in spelling; names with similar sounds but different spellings have the same encoding. The chief motivation in producing the Soundex name indexes was to assist citizens in finding census records to provide evidence of age, especially for those born before the advent of governmentally-approved birth certificates. (Verification of age was needed to establish eligibility for old-age benefits such as Social Security). Partial Soundex indexes of the 1930 census are available; resources from the Works Progress Administration were diverted towards support of World War II efforts before the project was completed.
With the advent of computers, and more recently, the Internet, expanded indexes including all family members are beginning to appear on genealogy websites. These are accompanied with hypertext links that take the researcher directly to an image of the original census page, without having to travel to a regional library and scroll through endless rolls of microfilm. (see http://www.familysearch.org or http://www.ancestry.com or http://www.census-online.com/links/ for examples)
Genealogists view censuses as secondary sources of information; primary sources of information such as birth certificates and even obituaries are viewed as more reliable. Still, census information often provides useful information for genealogists and clues on where to proceed to find further primary source documents.
In additional to the decennial federal census, more localized versions are often used. An example of this is Massachusetts, which takes a statewide census every fifth year. Likewise, each community in Massachusetts takes a municipal census each year.
- U.S. Census Press Release on 1930 Census
- U.S. Census Press Release on Soundex and WPA
- Bielenstein, Hans. "Wang Mang, the restoration of the Han dynasty, and Later Han." In The Cambridge History of China, vol. 1, eds. Denis Twitchett and John K. Fairbank, 223-90 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1978).
- Effects of UK 'Jedi' hoax on 2001 UK census from ONS
 External links
- Census at the U.S. National Archives
- CensusScope Easy-to-navigate data, charts, maps, and graphs of U.S. Census Data.
- Links to census records online for the U.S., UK and Canada
- Online Historical Population Reports Project (OHPR)
- Links to the official websites of various national censuses
- Genealogy History and Reference, Census Article
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