As a genealogist, the United States Census records provide an invaluable amount of information. In the US, the taking of a census started in 1790 when 650 US Marshalls went house to house, unannounced, taking the name of the head of house and counting all other residents. The England Census began regularly in 1801 and is performed in 10 year intervals also. However, because of World War II there was no census for 1941.
Census began early in history. Egypt is thought to have been taking censuses during the Pharaonic period in 3340 BC. Census taking was mentioned in the Bible for taxing and for counting the population. During the Roman Republic about 509 BC, censuses were taken to keep track of all adult males fit for military service.
One census that is in existence today is the Domesday Book, which is held at the The National Archives, Kew, in southwest London. This survey was performed at the command of William I of England and was completed in 1086. Its purpose was to determine the property ownership and tax liability of subjects under Edward the Confessor. The determination made in the Domesday Book was final; there was no method to appeal. There is much more information available about the Domesday Book and its importance in understanding the period for which is it written is immense.
A free, online copy on the Domesday Book is available through an internet search “Open Domesday”.