The fighting strength of the children of Israel at the Exodus was ascertained by a count of all males of twenty years old and upwards, made by enumerators appointed for each clan.
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 census of 1831 was better, but the results were considered exaggerated, owing to the system of paying enumerators according to the numbers they returned.
The duty of filling up so comprehensive a return, involving an answer to 561 questions, is not left to the householder, but entrusted to enumerators specially engaged, working under the supervision of the Department of Agriculture.
The schedules are distributed by enumerators acting under district supervisors; but it is found impossible to collect the whole number in a single day, nor does the mobility of the population in the rural tracts make such expedition necessary.
In more than one state the police are employed as enumerators, but elsewhere, a staff has to be specially recruited for the purpose.
Hence there is no such basis as exists in nearly every other civilized state for a national system of registration, and the country depends upon the crude method of enumerators' returns for its information on vital statistics, except in the states and cities which have established a trustworthy registration system of their own.
Enumerators' returns in this field are so incomplete that hardly two-thirds of the deaths which have occurred in any community during the preceding year are obtained by an enumerator visiting the families, no satisfactory basis for the computation of death-rates is afforded, and the returns have comparatively little scientific value.
This difference is due in part to the greater scope and complexity of the American census, and in part to the fact that in the United States the field work is done by well-paid enumerators, while in England it is done in most cases by the heads of families, who are not paid.