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Governments all over the world have asked their countrymen to stand up and be counted. We’ll help you find out if your ancestors appear in an overseas census—and what you might learn from those records.
The United States may boast the world’s oldest continuous census, but the idea of enumerating a population didn’t originate here. Servius Tullius, the sixth king of Rome, ordered history’s first recorded census before 500 BC. After the fall of the Roman Empire, William the Conqueror revived the idea in 1085 to help determine the tax base in England. The result became known as the Domesday or Doomsday Book, as people likened the enumeration to the Biblical final reckoning in the Book of Life. (This historic early census is being put online.)
In subsequent centuries, some countries have embraced the notion of enumerating their populace more enthusiastically than others. Lacking the United States’ constitutional requirement of a decennial census to apportion governmental representation, other countries have chronologically spotty censuses. Some records have succumbed to wars or (like the 1890 US census) fires. And not every nation asked questions essential to genealogists—some were statistical, and didn’t record any names.