Ancestry refers to a person's ethnic origin, heritage, descent, or "roots," which may reflect their place of birth or that of previous generations of their family. Some ethnic identities, such as "Egyptian" or "Polish" can be traced to geographic areas outside the United States, while other ethnicities such as "Pennsylvania German" or "Cajun" evolved in the United States.
The intent of the ancestry question was not to measure the degree of attachment the respondent had to a particular ethnicity, but simply to establish that the respondent had a connection to and self-identified with a particular ethnic group. For example, a response of "Irish" might reflect total involvement in an Irish community or only a memory of ancestors several generations removed from the individual.
The data on ancestry were derived from answers to Question 13 in the 2012 American Community Survey. The question was based on self-identification; the data on ancestry represent self-classification by people according to the ancestry group(s) with which they most closely identify.
The Census Bureau coded the responses into a numeric representation of over 1,000 categories. To do so, responses initially were processed through an automated coding system; then, those that were not automatically assigned a code were coded by individuals trained in coding ancestry responses. The code list reflects the results of the Census Bureau's own research and consultations with many ethnic experts. Many decisions were made to determine the classification of responses. These decisions affected the grouping of the tabulated data. For example, the "Indonesian" category includes the responses of "Indonesian," "Celebesian," "Moluccan," and a number of other responses.
The ancestry question allowed respondents to report one or more ancestry groups. Generally, only the first two responses reported were coded. If a response was in terms of a dual ancestry, for example, "Irish English," the person was assigned two codes, in this case one for Irish and another for English. However, in certain cases, multiple responses such as "French Canadian," "Scotch-Irish," "Greek Cypriot," and "Black Dutch" were assigned a single code reflecting their status as unique groups. If a person reported one of these unique groups in addition to another group, for example, "Scotch-Irish English," resulting in three terms, that person received one code for the unique group (Scotch-Irish) and another one for the remaining group (English). If a person reported "English Irish French," only English and Irish were coded. If there were more than two ancestries listed and one of the ancestries was a part of another, such as "German Bavarian Hawaiian," the responses were coded using the more detailed groups (Bavarian and Hawaiian).
The Census Bureau accepted "American" as a unique ethnicity if it was given alone or with one other ancestry. There were some groups such as "American Indian," "Mexican American," and "African American" that were coded and identified separately.
The ancestry question is asked for every person in the American Community Survey, regardless of age, place of birth, Hispanic origin, or race.
Ancestry identifies the ethnic origins of the population, and Federal agencies regard this information as essential for fulfilling many important needs. Ancestry is required to enforce provisions under the Civil Rights Act, which prohibits discrimination based upon race, sex, religion, and national origin. More generally, these data are needed to measure the social and economic characteristics of ethnic groups and to tailor services to accommodate cultural differences. The Department of Labor draws samples for surveys that provide employment statistics and other related information for ethnic groups using ancestry.
The ACS data on ancestry are released annually on the Census Bureau's Internet site (http://www.census.gov
). The Detailed Tables (B04001-B04006) contain estimates of over 100 different ancestry groups for the nation, states, and many other geographic areas, while the Special Population Profiles contain characteristics of different ancestry groups.
In all tabulations, when respondents provided an unclassifiable ethnic identity (for example, "multi-national," "adopted," or "I have no idea"), the answer was included in "Unclassified or not reported."
The tabulations on ancestry show two types of data- one where estimates represent the number of people, and the other where estimates represent the number of responses. If you want to know how many people reported an ancestry, use the estimates based on people. If you want to know how many reports there were of a certain ancestry, use the estimates based on reports. The difference between the two types of data presentations represents the fact that people can provide more than one ancestry, and therefore can be counted twice in the same ancestry category. Examples are provided below.
The following are the types of estimates shown: