Early Australian census records

Illuminate Australian society and your family history using census records from 1788 to 1901


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Sarah Matthews
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Subjects: Maps, Maps - Australian

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A census or muster counts and describes the population of a particular area.

Census data is useful for researching places & people’s lives over time, or at a point in time. Sometimes information about individuals is available too.

The earliest systematic collection of information about Australia's residents occurred in 1788. The colonies and states regularly collected data in musters or censuses, up until the first Australian (national) census in 1911.

This guide explains how to find and use information collected in censuses from 1788 to 1901, including records of people, and records of populations (statistics). It also includes tips on finding more census data from 1901 to today, and information about the history of censuses in Australia.

Taking the censusA/S23/04/81/137

What is a census?

A census (or 'return') records information about a population. The same information is collected at the same time from everyone across a specific area. Information is collected from people where they are staying at the time of the census.

What is a muster?

Before censuses, musters were the most common way of recording information about a population. Information was collected by calling a population to meet at a particular place, then recording people's details.