The Origin of Census Taking

Census taking had its beginning in ancient times in the countries of Egypt, Babylonia, China, Palestine and Rome. In these earlier times, population counts were undertaken to determine fiscal, labour and military obligations and were usually directed towards heads of households, males of military age, taxpayers or adult citizens.

Census enumerations are mentioned in biblical writings citing 1491 B.C. and 1017 B.C. as crucial dates in census history. In later years, censuses became important events across the Roman Empire, among French colonies and in the Scandinavian countries.

The Evolution of Population Censuses in the British Empire

Up to the beginning of the 19th century, the number of the population within the British Empire was a matter of estimate and conjecture. By the mid-eighteenth century, attempts were made to provide for the annual enumeration of the people and of the persons in receipt of parochial relief. These initiatives were violently opposed.

By the end of the century, however, owing to the great impact of the publication of the essays of noted economist Thomas Malthus, it was thought desirable to possess the means of judging from time to time, the relations between an increasing population and the means of subsistence. A Census Bill therefore became law at the end of 1800, and the first enumeration under it, took place in March of the following year, the operations being confined to Great Britain.

Initially, the enumeration process was entrusted to the overseers and the village schoolmasters with a supplementary statement of births, deaths and marriages for each parish from the clergy. The census instrument was quite simple requiring the number of houses inhabited and otherwise, the population of each family by sex, and the occupation, under one of the three heads, (a) agriculture, (b) trade, manufacture or industry, or (c) other than these two. The results, which were not satisfactory, were published without comment.

Ten years later, the chief alteration in the next census was the substitution of the main occupation of the family to that of the individual. In 1821 an attempt to get a return of ages was made, but it was not repeated in 1831, when the attention of the enumerators was concentrated upon greater detail in the occupation record. The creation, in 1834, of poor law unions, and the establishment in 1836, of civil registration districts, as a rule coterminous with them, provided a new basis of the taking of the census, and the operations in 1841 became the responsibility of the Registrar General and his staff. The most important innovation, however, was the transfer of the responsibility for filling out the schedule from the overseers and village schoolmasters to the householders, thereby rendering possible a synchronous record. In the year 1844, the first official census in the British West Indies Region was conducted under the directive of the British Government.

The date found more suitable for the census in England proved inconvenient for her colonies and dependencies thereby negating simultaneity. Then, again, as to the scope of inquiry, the administrative purposes for which information was thus collected varied greatly in the different countries. The census had to be limited to what the conditions of the locality allowed, and what the population was able and willing to answer. The scope of censuses, understandably was limited to collecting information on those specific aspects of the population which were of crucial importance to the economic order of the time. With the passage of time, the focus of the inquiry became more relevant to the developmental needs of the countries in the Region.

Historical Review of Censuses in Trinidad & Tobago

Trinidad and Tobago and the Caribbean region have a well-established tradition of conducting Population and Housing Censuses. The first official census in Trinidad and Tobago was taken in 1844. The second was done in 1851 and since then, censuses have been conducted at ten year intervals viz, 1861, 1871, 1881, 1891, 1901, 1911, 1921, 1931, 1946, 1960, 1970, 1980, 1990 and the most recent 2000. The postponement in 1941 was due to circumstances of World War II. The census reports produced over these periods provided a rich source of socio-economic and demographic data.

Historically, Trinidad and Tobago began a shared experience with other Caribbean countries in census taking when the first official census was conducted in the region, formerly known as the British West Indies. Responsibilities for the conduct of censuses then was with the Registrar General of England who through the Secretary of State for the Colonies set down standard practices for census taking in the then British Colonies.

The scope of early censuses was limited to collecting information on specific aspects of the population which were of crucial importance to the socio-economic conditions of the time. The significant feature of these first and subsequent censuses was the uniformity in the procedures adopted for conducting the censuses which set the stage for regional census planning.

The West Indian Census of 1946 is regarded as the first of the modern censuses taken in the region and represented a further step forward since it was organised in close collaboration with other British Colonies in the Caribbean. Prior to the taking of the census, a conference of the Census Officers of the Colonies concerned was held in Barbados and as far as possible, agreement was reached on the adoption of uniform procedures. The tabulation and analysis of the information gathered at the census were performed centrally for all Colonies in the Central Bureau of Statistics of Jamaica.

In a number of areas, Trinidad and Tobago, numerically the largest of the nine colonies participating in the 1946 Census stood apart from the others. In the first place, the census questionnaire called for more information especially on the subject of housing than in the other Colonies. The questionnaire stood midway between the deliberated simplified schedule designed for the area as a whole and the more elaborated schedule used in the Jamaica census of 1943. Secondly, the printing of all schedules was carried out in Port of Spain, whereas, the principal schedules for all other Colonies except British Honduras were printed in Barbados. Thirdly, no other colony undertook the preparation and printing of documents analogous to the Census Officer’s Report and Tables or the Census Album.

With the establishment of a Federal Government of the Region in 1958, planning for censuses continued as a regional undertaking. A Regional Coordinating Committee was established in 1959 and met to consider plans for the organisation and conduct of all aspects of the census which were to be wider in scope than previously. The Committee took firms decisions on a number of matters including: the fixing of a date for the census, finance, the legal bases, the use of a minimum schedule to ensure uniformity in approach in the collection of certain types of basic data, drafting procedures of common practice among participating countries and drawing a timetable of operations.

For the 1960 Census, the British Caribbean was organized into two zones. Trinidad and Tobago became the centre of operations for the development of methodology and certain aspects of planning and processing of data, for Barbados, British Guiana and the Windward Islands. Jamaica assumed responsibility for the rest of the region. In Trinidad, the Central Statistical Office (CSO) became the centre of activities through the establishment of several committees and working groups. Overall control for the regional effort and harmonization of census procedures and coordination of activity at both centres were vested in a Technical Committee consisting of persons from the CSO, the University of the West Indies and the Federal Government.

The 1960 Census yielded data and experiences that provided further guidelines for the continuation of the regional approach to the census taking as exemplified in the case of the subsequent Censuses of 1970, 1980 and 1990.

In 1970, instead of the two-zone operational arrangement, fieldwork was conducted in individual territories using a mark-sensing document processed at a central data processing centre establishment in Jamaica. Moreover, although the questionnaire developed for the region had as its basic structure, a set of core questions intended to produce data permitting regional comparison of demographic variables, individual countries were at liberty to add questions which would yield data specific to the information needs of the particular country. The Census Coordinating Committee functioned to ensure uniformity in the use of concepts, in training practices and the other census routines and procedures among participating countries. The conduct of fieldwork, editing and coding of documents remained the responsibility of each country. The 1970 census data were processed and published according to common tabulation plan for all countries.

In 1980, some countries of the region were unable to carry out the Census at the appointed time. Nevertheless, through efforts of the Regional Census Coordination Committee, agreement was reached on a set of common procedures, concepts and definitions for the conduct of the census which would permit some regional comparisons among countries on basic demographic characteristics.

Trinidad and Tobago conducted its 1980 Census during the period 14th April to 12th May 1980, having independently organized its fieldwork and data processing activities. Most other countries conducted the census during the same period. Except for the Bahamas, Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago, the other countries of the region utilized a common mark-sensing document as the census questionnaire and most of the processing was done at the Regional Processing centre located in Barbados.

The Population and Housing Census 1990 in Trinidad and Tobago was conducted during 17th April to 15th May 1990, again with close links with the Census Regional Coordinating Committee and the Standing Committee of Caribbean Statisticians. Most of the countries of the region including Belize, Grenada, Guyana, Jamaica, Montserrat, St. Lucia, St. Kitts/Nevis, St Vincent and the Grenadines, Antigua and Barbados conducted their censuses during 1991.

The 2000 Population & Housing Census

Trinidad and Tobago remains closely linked to the regional organisation of the 2000 Census Regional Coordination Committee, the Standing Committee of Caribbean Statisticians and a party to the planning and procedures adopted for the 2000 Census. In deciding to conduct its census independent of the regional establishment, Trinidad and Tobago adhered to the principles of regional comparability. Cognizance was also taken of the international requirements set by the United Nations for purposes of international comparison and enquiry. Consequently, one of the major considerations exercised was the evaluation of topics proposed for the Trinidad and Tobago Census against recommendations of the United Nations and the Caribbean Regional Census Coordination Committee. The questionnaire adopted was intended to reflect responsiveness to both regional and international requirements while at the same time, reflecting the need for data at the national level.

The 2010 Population & Housing Census

The next decennial census was scheduled to be conducted in May/June 2010 but was deferred when a Central Government Elections was called. The new date of that census was 9th January 2011.

Scroll to Top
Scroll to Top