During George Washington's term as President of the United States, an act of Congress established the first federal census, taken in 1790, as a means of determining the proper representation for each state in the federal census. To put it simply, the population determined the number of government representatives and electoral votes a state received in the federal government. Since then, the census has been taken every 10 years to measure the population and states have added their own censuses.
Over the years, the census recorded more and more information, gathering numerous other data to provide a statistical snapshot of our growing population. Fortunately, for the family historian, this wealth of information not only includes the names and numbers of people in the household, it also includes ages of residents, addresses, when they immigrated to America, if they were naturalized, where they and their parents were born, occupations, and more.
All this information helps to fill out your genealogy and reveal the clues of your lineage. In future posts, you'll learn where to find and to use the census to discover your ancestral roots and how collateral lines can help you bypass genealogical roadblocks.