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Census taking in Ireland

Census taking through the ages - A glimpse at earlier Censuses

Early Censuses Civilisations of every era have recognised the need to collect information on their most valuable asset – their people. Throughout history, slaves, peasants and serfs, nobles, clergymen and monarchs have all taken part in censuses.

The Babylonians and the Chinese held censuses mainly for military and taxation purposes. The Egyptians collected information on the population so that they could plan armies of people to build their giant pyramids and to redistribute land following the annual flooding of the Nile.

The Greeks and Romans held censuses of population many years before the birth of Christ. It was the five-yearly census ordered by Caesar Augustus which required every man in the Roman Empire to return to his place of origin, thus ensuring that Joseph and Mary travelled to Bethlehem for the birth of Jesus.#

Domesday and beyond The first census to be held anywhere in the British Isles was in 1086 when William the Conqueror ordered the production of the Domesday book. This detailed inventory of land and property was a massive undertaking for the time and took many years to complete.

While Quebec held its first official Census in 1666, Iceland in 1703 and Sweden in 1749, Great Britain and Ireland were slow to follow suit. In Britain some believed that any type of people count was sacrilegious. Others said that a population count would reveal the nation's strengths and weaknesses to foreign enemies.

Towards the end of the 18th Century, however, it became increasingly obvious that nobody had any idea about the number of people living in the British Isles. Some said the population of Britain was rising while others were sure it was falling.

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