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The 2020 Census, Next Steps and a Heartfelt Thanks. Read More.

Report Number C2KBR-35
Angela Brittingham and G. Patricia de la Cruz
Component ID: #ti1940671849

Ancestry is a broad concept that can mean different things to different people; it can be described alternately as where their ancestors are from, where they or their parents originated, or simply how they see themselves ethnically. Some people may have one distinct ancestry, while others are descendants of several ancestry groups, and still others may know only that their ancestors were from a particular region of the world or may not know their ethnic origins at all. The Census Bureau defines ancestry as a person’s ethnic origin, heritage, descent, or “roots,” which may reflect their place of birth, place of birth of parents or ancestors, and ethnic identities that have evolved within the United States.

This report is part of a series that presents population and housing data collected by Census 2000, where 80 percent of respondents to the long form specified at least one ancestry. (About one-sixth of households received the long form.) It presents data on the most frequently reported ancestries and describes population distributions for the United States, including regions, states, counties, and selected cities.1 The listed ancestries were reported by at least 100,000 people, and the numbers cited in this report represent the number of people who reported each ancestry either as their first or second response.

The question on ancestry first appeared on the census questionnaire in 1980, replacing a question on where a person’s parents were born. The question on parental birthplace provided foreign-origin data only for people with one or both parents born outside the United States. The current ancestry question allows everyone to give one or two attributions of their “ancestry or ethnic origin” (Figure 1), and in doing so, enables people to identify an ethnic background, such as German, Lebanese, Nigerian, or Portuguese, which was not otherwise identified in the race or Hispanic-origin questions.

The ancestries in this report also include the groups covered in the questions on race and Hispanic origin, such as African American, Mexican, American Indian, and Chinese. For these groups, the results from the ancestry question and the race and Hispanic-origin questions differ, but the latter are the official sources of data for race and Hispanic groups. In some cases, the totals reported on the ancestry question are lower than the numbers from the race or Hispanic-origin question. For instance, nearly 12 million fewer people specified “African American” as their ancestry than gave that response to the race question. One reason for this large difference is that some people who reported Black or African American on the race question reported their ancestry more specifically, such as Jamaican, Haitian, or Nigerian, and thus were not counted in the African American ancestry category. Similarly, more than 2 million fewer people reported Mexican ancestry than gave that answer to the Hispanic-origin question.2 In other cases, the ancestry question produced higher numbers, such as for Dominicans, whose estimated totals from the ancestry question were over 100,000 higher than from the Hispanic-origin question, where many Dominicans may have reported a general term (like Hispanic) or checked “other” without writing in a detailed response.3

1 The text of this report discusses data for the United States, including the 50 states and the District of Columbia. Data for the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico are shown in Table 3 and Figure 3.

2 The estimates in this report are based on responses from a sample of the population. As with all surveys, estimates may vary from the actual values because of sampling variation or other factors. All statements made in this report have undergone statistical testing and are significant at the 90-percent confidence level unless otherwise noted.

3 For more information about race and Hispanic groups, see Census 2000 Briefs on Hispanic, American Indian and Alaska Native, Asian, Black, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander, White, and Two or More Races populations, available on the Census Bureau Web site at

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