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History of Population census in 1868 - 1940

Population census (listing of inhabitants) surveys data on population as of certain moment. It is an exhaustive survey, which means that it covers the entire territory of the state. Population and housing census is an important and necessary statistical action, which provides us with a huge amount of highly valuable data that cannot be found out otherwise in an effective way. To put it briefly, some data cannot be found in various registers or running statistics (a typical example is educational level of population). The unique character of a census lies in obtaining information on population, housing and dwelling stocks as of a single day. Only via census we can obtain a detailed picture of the level of housing and individual types of households, find out data in the smallest territorial breakdown, data of declaratory character (e.g. nationality, etc.), but also many pieces of data on economic activity or commute to work. Moreover, by possible linkage of data sets on population and households with other characteristics we can obtain, for example, an overview of quality and structure of housing of households and families. Such combination sorting is a source of an enormous amount of information.

All recorded data serve not only for international comparison and for evaluation of a long-term development of the country, but most of all for the needs of the state administration, municipalities, business sphere as well as each individual citizen. An important benefit of population census follows from the character of its results – it is a source material, because data from population census become usually already at the day of releasing of the results a historical document on the period of its origin, namely a document of primary importance, which cannot be replaced in any other way.


A census belongs to the oldest statistical actions. In our territory, listings of population emerged already in the Middle Ages; at that time, they were made for military and tax purposes. Thus, in the beginning they covered only part of population. Regarded to be the oldest preserved listing in the Czech territory is an inventory of the property of the Litomìøice church of 1058, which is a part of Prince Spytihnev´s II deed of foundation.
Seen as an important milestone can be the date of 13 October 1753 when a patent of empress Maria Theresa on an annual census of population was issued – a new chapter in the history of population censuses in the Habsburg Empire was started with the census carried out in 1754. For the first time, it took place at the same time and in the entire territory of the group of states. The list was first to be done by the clergy by parish; later it was decided that at the same time a census will be carried out also by nobility and the contents of it will be extended by a list of buildings and economic characteristics of the house owner. The census carried out in 1754 was an extraordinary deed. Lists from the 1760s - though they enable for the first time to determine population density by region and provide also some other information on social structure of population – were rather unsuccessful. A growing anxiety about an increase of taxes, resistance of nobility against centralisation efforts of the court (to which church hierarchy gradually joined) resulted in many distortions.

Already in 1777, a new letters patent was issued that (with slight changes and modifications) became the basis for listings up until the year 1851. Again, the entire present population was captured, although more detailed classification by social status and age was still made only for men. Since 1780s, so-called population books were established in manors and towns (later municipalities) – each family with all household members was captured in the books and eventual changes (deaths, births, etc.) were recorded in the book based on a reporting duty of the head of the family.

Another important phase in the modern history of population censuses in Austria was opened by adoption of a new law in 1869. Based on it, a population census was carried out in the beginning of 1870, which captured the situation as of 31 December 1869.

Population census in Austria-Hungary (1868 - 1910)

Among main purposes of censuses, which were carried out in the territory of Austria-Hungary in the second half of the 19th century and in the beginning of the 20th century, were: to find out the up-to-date number of the present population, later also directions of migration, to capture rapid and significant structural changes the society was undergoing at that time as well as to determine the structure of nationalities in individual regions and places. However, due to its marked political aspects, survey on the ethnic composition of population became a closely observed and controversial part of the census.

Population census in 1869 was carried out based on an imperial law on census, which was issued on 29 March 1869; the law stipulated a constant ten-year periodicity of censuses. With the exception of the first census, all the other ones were to be carried out during the midnight from 31 December to 1 January of each year ending with zero. The stipulation was binding until Austria-Hungary ceased to exist.

As for biological characteristics, age and sex were surveyed among population. Recorded were eventual physical handicaps (e.g. in 1869 blindness and deafness), later also mental handicaps. As for social characteristics, citizenship, family status, denomination and language used for communication were surveyed; from 1880 also literacy was surveyed by asking census persons about their ability to read and write. By the question about language used for communication, ethnic composition of population was mapped indirectly. Economic characteristics were also possible to find out from census data (e.g. population was divided by their relation to profession, by branch of activity, by subjective profession, by status in main or secondary profession).

The Ministry of the Interior was authorized to carry out censuses; censuses were managed by district offices. In the territory of individual municipalities, municipal authorities were responsible for carrying out of a census. They also appointed relevant enumerators, who were often teachers or co-operators of municipal authorities. According to prevailing ethnic structure, census sheets were prepared in language versions.
The way of data processing markedly changed. Data from the 1869 and 1880 censuses were sorted and summarised by hand. However, processing of the 1890 census brought a fundamental change: electrical sorting machines of the Hollerith system were used, which not only fastened census processing, but also enabled to substantially enlarge sorting. All results of Austrian censuses were published within source works of Austrian statistics in the series Population Census, although issues were delayed due to lack of finances and some sorting was reduced or absolutely eliminated. Despite that, the most important parts including analytical evaluation were published.

Austrian censuses from 1890-1910 as for their contents, quality of processing and scope of published data belonged to censuses that were organized and carried out very well at that time. Their quality can be documented also by the fact that after a break-up of Austria-Hungary some methods were taken over by the successor states. The census results are still an important source of information on population of the Central European region on the turn of the 19th and 20th century.

The First Czechoslovak Population Census — 1921

The last population census carried out in our territory before the World War I took place in 1910. Newly founded Czechoslovak Republic needed to know demographic data on the new state with the greatest possible detail. In 1919 the State Statistical Office was established as a new body authorized to carry out nationwide statistical surveys, among which the population census was one of the most important. According to the tradition taken over from the monarchy, it was to take place in 1920. However, it was impossible due to many reasons (adequate preparation was necessary and state borders of the Czechoslovakia were not clear). Moreover, new law on population censuses was adopted only on 8 April 1920. It prescribed the first Czechoslovak population census to be carried out within a year as the latest and to be repeated every five years, which was an Anglo-Saxon practice.

Population census, according to the new Act No. 256/1920 Sb. (Collection of Laws) was carried out on 15 February 1921. Its content was a bit different from the pre-war censuses; however, it was again carried out for present population (not residing population). An important characteristic was also occupation of population; however, it has to be said that economic activity was surveyed by economic branches and not for traditional professions (occupations). Nevertheless, secondary job and real estate property were not surveyed. Post-war occupation was compared to the occupation as at 16 July 1914 in order to find out social and professional changes between the pre-war and post-war period.

To survey nationality of population was considered to be the most important from political point of view, as it was to confirm justification of foundation of an independent Czechoslovak Republic. Unlike in the pre-war survey on nationality based on “language used in communication”, the Austrian part of the former monarchy adopted a definition of nationality, according to which “under nationality one has to understand affiliation with a tribe, the external feature of which is usually mother tongue”. The definition of nationality determined according to “language used in communication”, which was in favour of German language, was thus to be eliminated as it was disadvantageous for Czech and Slovak ethnic group. Moreover, the reference to acknowledging of nationality according to “affiliation with a tribe” enabled also to Jews and Romany to come out with their nationality, although they did not speak Hebrew or Romany. The question and definition of “nationality” was fought for not only with representatives of Czechoslovak minorities, but also among Czechs and Slovaks. Although officially “Czechoslovak nationality” existed, it was possible to survey population of Czech and Slovak nationality separately.

Another important cultural characteristic was denomination or nondenominational population. Census results confirmed that population of the Czechoslovakia and Czech lands mostly remained to be loyal to some of renowned churches.

The population was surveyed by census sheets for households, as it was usual for pre-war censuses. Difficulties of comparative analyses were the biggest (as expected) as for comparison of professions of the population, as it was in the pre-war period surveyed according to different classifications than in 1921, even despite an effort for the closest possible link-up with the original Austrian and Hungarian classification.

Results of the first Czechoslovak population census were published in seven volumes of the series “Czechoslovak Statistics”. The first Czechoslovak census was considered to be successful not only as for the way it was organised or for its exhaustiveness and correctness, but also from the point of view of the processing.

Czechoslovak Population Census — 1930

The second Czechoslovak population census was to be carried out already in 1925 according to the Act No. 256/1920 Sb. However, economic reasons and influence of practice prevailing in most countries all over the world (i.e. censuses of a ten-year periodicity) resulted in the Act No. 47/1927 Sb. prescribing that the second Czechoslovak census was to be carried out on 1 December 1930. Content of the census was extended. Newly introduced features were, for example, the former residence of the enumerated provided that the person was not enumerated in the native municipality. Further, surveyed was also the place from which the enumerated person moved to the place of enumeration. Nevertheless, what is considered to be the most important is surveying of data on fertility of women.
Results of the 1930 population census were published in eight volumes of “Czechoslovak Statistics” and processing of data on dwellings was in a separate volume.

The following population census was to be carried out in 1940. Its taking place in the reduced territory of the Bohemia and Moravia Protectorate was prevented by Czech politicians and demographers who justified it by non-preparedness (intending most of all not to provide the occupants with reliable material for the war economy). The first post-war listings from 1946 and 1947 in the restored Czechoslovakia were only partial actions, while a population census was carried out in 1950.