Predecessors of Modern Censuses


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 Litoměřice 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.