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The idea of a periodic census is not new. The Romans held regular censuses, the most famous being that recorded in Luke's Gospel. The empire wide census of AD 14 recorded 4,937,000 Roman citizens - a fraction of the population. As well as population numbers, the Roman census was one of real property for taxation purposes.
In the modern era, the United States started censuses in 1790, and Britain followed suit in 1801. We have held censuses every ten years since, with the exception of 1941. While the numbers of questions get ever longer, the essence of the census remains the same in that the returns are collected by local officers called "enumerators", although originally they would write all the returns themselves as they walked around the village.
The census returns are kept by the Public Records Office and are closed for 100 years. The returns for 1801-31 were destroyed when the statistics had been extracted, so the returns for 1841-1901 are available to historians.
The population of Hartley doubled in the c19th from 151 in 1801 to 304 in 1891. Links to the full returns for Hartley are listed above.
For further details about the census, see the Public Records Office website.