Federal census records for North Carolina begin with 1790 and continue each decennial year through 1920, except for the destroyed census of 1890. All are indexed in at least one format. The 1790 enumeration is missing for Caswell, Granville, and Orange counties; the 1810 is missing the counties of Craven, Greene, New Hanover, and Wake, (though the information has been substituted in most publications with tax lists); and the 1820 is complete except for Currituck, Franklin, Martin, Montgomery, Randolph and Wake counties. The 1890 census survives for only South Point and River Ben townships in Gaston County, and Township No. 2 in Cleveland County.
In 1784 the North Carolina General Assembly requested that a list of inhabitants be taken. Compliance was slow and apparently incomplete, with some counties not responding until 1786. Extant portions of the 178487 state censuses are in Alvaretta K. Register, State Census of North Carolina, 17841787, 2d ed., rev. (1971; reprint, Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1978). Additional portions of the 178487 censuses have been located since the Register's publication. See Helen F. M. Leary, comp., "Bertie Co., N.C., 1787 State Census," The North Carolina Genealogical Society Journal 9, no. 1 (February 1983): 3234, and Jonathan B. Butcher, "1787 Census Return for Pearson's Company, Rowan County, NC," The North Carolina Genealogical Society Journal 11, no. 4 (November 1985): 25354. Tax lists serve as substitutes for other early censuses.