Before the first recorded census there was the 1783 tax record, in some states. Then comes the 1789 tax record, again only in some states. Many of Virginia's early records were burned by the British. A real issue for a genealogist!
When teaching history, I used to try to explain this to students- usually with little success. People have a hard time grasping how many people it took to make them. and how that gives us huge family trees. ** This is very interesting.