From 1782 to 1858, 7 countings of the population were organized which could be considered forerunners of modern population censuses.
The Statistical Committees, established in Estonia and Livonia in 1863, considered it necessary to conduct censuses according to the principles laid down at international conferences on Statistics. The first population census organized on the basis of these principles took place in the towns of Livonia on 3 March 1867. In the Estonian territory 5 towns were included: Pärnu, Tartu, Valga, Viljandi and Võru. At that time those towns were part of the Livonian Province (Guberniya) of the Russian Empire.
On 16 Nov 1871, the Statistical Committee of the Estonian Province carried out a population census in Tallinn.
On 29 Dec 1881, the Statistical Committees of the Estonian and Livonian Provinces organized coordinately and simultaneously a population census which could be considered the first census enfolding the land territory of Estonia although the town of Narva and Petserimaa were not included as they were, respectively, parts of the St.Petersburg and Pihkva Provinces. The first general population census in the Russian Empire was carried out on 28 Jan 1897 (according to the old calendar).
The First World War and the events following the war had a strong impact on the population figures and composition in Estonia. The newly originated independent state of Estonia needed basic data on the population within the boundaries established by Tartu Peace Treaty in 1920. On 28 Dec 1922, the State Statistical Central Bureau carried out a population census which also included registration of residential buildings and dwellings.
The next population census was planned to be conducted on the basis of international recommendations in 1930, however, it was postponed because of economic crisis and financial difficulties and carried out on 1 March 1934.
The questionnaires of the 1922 and 1934 population censuses were basicly the same and fairly thorough, suitable for Estonian conditions and considering international recommendations.
The events of 1939–1941 influenced profoundly the population figures and composition of Estonia, therefore, the German occupying powers ordered a population registration to be carried out on the basis of census programme consisting of 7 questions. After the Second World War four population censuses were organized in Estonia within the framework of all-Union censuses: on 15 Jan 1959, 15 Jan 1970, 17 Jan 1979 and 12 Jan 1989. Questions asked at these censuses were basicly the same enabling to get comparable data.
In 1959 each inhabitant was asked 15 questions besides address data; in 1970 each counted person was asked 11 questions and in addition to those questions 25% of resident population was asked 7 additional questions. In 1979 each counted person was again asked 11 questions and 25% of resident population was also asked 5 additional questions. In the 1989 population census all inhabitants were asked 13 questions and 25% of resident population was asked 5 additional questions. In addition to these questions, for the first time 7 new questions about the residential buildings and flat, which deal with the living conditions of families and inhabitants, have been added in the census programme.