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The First U.S. Census

Have you found ancestors in the United States census? Census records are one of the most important resources in genealogy. With the information provided in these records, finding a relative in the census will often open doors to additional discoveries. The very first U.S. census was conducted on August 2, 1790. Every household was visited by a census taker to record information for each person who was within the household on the census day.

In the 1790 census, the U.S. population was enumerated to be 3,929,214, although both President George Washington and Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson were skeptical of the final count and believed the number to be underreporting the population.

The First U.S. Census

U.S. population map following the 1790 census / U.S. Census Bureau

Under the general direction of Thomas Jefferson, the first census was conducted by U.S. marshals and included households in the original 13 states, plus the districts of Kentucky, Maine, and Vermont and the Southwest Territory (Tennessee). About 650 men on horseback were hired to go door-to-door to ensure every household in the country was counted.

The First U.S. Census

1790 U.S. census totals by state and district / U.S. Census Bureau

The amount of information collected by the census has varied over time, but in the first census, there were just six questions asked. The 1790 census called for the name of the head of the family and the number of persons in each household for the following descriptions:

  • Free white males of 16 years and upward (to assess the country’s industrial and military potential)
  • Free white males under 16 years
  • Free white females
  • All other free people
  • Slaves

The First U.S. Census

Thomas Jefferson 1790 U.S. census record / MyHeritage SuperSearch

It’s interesting to look back at the first census and find a few notable historical figures. The image above is the 1790 census record for Thomas Jefferson. Note that he even writes in his occupation as Sec. of State to the US.

The First U.S. Census

Paul Revere 1790 U.S. census record / MyHeritage SuperSearch

Paul Revere can also be found in the 1790 census. His household had 3 free white males under 16, 3 free white females, and no slaves at the time.

Do you have ancestors who were in the 1790 U.S. census? All U.S. census records from 1790 – 1940 are available on MyHeritage SuperSearch. They are also automatically matched with your profiles on Geni, so check out your Record Matches now to see what new discoveries await!


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