Most genealogists are familiar with census records. The U.S. government created its first census in 1790 for the purpose of apportioning seats in the House of Representatives and assessing direct federal taxes. A new census has been created every ten years since then and, of course, direct federal taxes are still with us.
Prior to 1790, only a few local censuses were created in the American colonies. However, poll lists, tax lists, taxables, militia lists, censuses, and similar documents were originally drawn up for purposes of taxation and local defense. Many of these documents have been preserved. The original documents are available in archives in Britain and the U.S. and from a wide range of published sources. From these documents, it is possible to make estimates of the population prior to 1790.
In 1932, Evarts B. Greene and Virginia D. Harrington wrote a book entitled American Population Before the Federal Census of 1790. The book does not contain names of the citizens of the times. Instead, it focuses on statistics and how the population estimates are derived. However, genealogists researching ancestors of that time will be interested to note that the authors name the various lists they consulted and tell where those lists were found. The modern-day genealogist can use this book to locate census lists and similar documents that may, indeed, contain the names of specific individuals. Coverage, by the way, isn't confined merely to the original thirteen colonies, but includes population lists from territories such as the Illinois Country, Kentucky and Tennessee, and the northern and southern Indian Departments.
This 1932 book has been difficult to locate. However, Genealogical Publishing Company has just released a 2004 reprint. This 252-page hardcover sells for $25.00 and is available from almost any book store if you order ISBN#: 0806313773. It is also available directly from Genealogical Publishing Company's safe and secure online shopping cart system at http://genealogical.com/item_detail.asp?afid=&ID=2345.