1610s, in reference to registration and taxation in Roman history, from Latin census "the enrollment of the names and property assessments of all Roman citizens," originally past participle of censere "to assess" (see censor (n.)). The modern use of census as "official enumeration of the inhabitants of a country or state, with details" begins in the U.S. (1790), and Revolutionary France (1791). Property for taxation was the primary purpose in Rome, hence Latin census also was used for "one's wealth, one's worth, wealthiness." Related: Censual.
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