The First U. S. Census



The first U. S. Census Day was in 1790, late summer time, when brave enumerators went out on horseback to find, question and catalogue the population of the United States, visiting every household. The new U.S. Congress set on March 1, 1790, to have a census taken and done every ten years. The purpose for the census was for used to allocate Congressional seats… electoral votes and funding for government programs.


In making up the census form for the enumerators to use there were only six questions to be answered. The questions were the name of the (white, male) householder, and then the numbers (not names) of all the other people in the household, divided into these categories: Free white males who were at least 16 years old; free white males who were under 16 years old; free white females; all other free persons; and slaves.

Slaves were only counted as three-fifths of a person. Native Indians were not counted in the census at all, not until 1870 was there the first census for Indians.

The census was in the original 13 States in 1790, plus it included the districts of Kentucky, Maine and Vermont and the Southwest Territory (now Tennessee). After the final count there were approximately 3.9 million Americans counted in 1790. About 200 copies of the census results were printed. Of just the states, Virginia had the largest number at 747,610 and Delaware the least with 59,094 people. The biggest city was New York City with 33,131 residents.

As you have researched your family tree and ancestors you might have relatives who were counted in the 1790 census. Remember just the name of the head of each household was named on the census, you can’t find the wife, a sister or children’s names. Start with the head of household name and see what you can match for the other adults and children in the home. It would be 60 years from 1790 before all names and info on residents in a household would be included on the census. Amazing.

Photos: 1790 Census Bureau and a special mug showing the 1790 populations for each state.

Related FamilyTree.com Blogs:

Tips for Census Searching

Read Between the Census Lines

U. S. Federal Censuses

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