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HIST3250: American Ethnic History: Using the Census

Selected Decennial Censuses for Your Assignment

Census Training Resources

The Census Bureau provides a number of helpful training resources that are especially useful for navigating the period starting in the year 2000 and later. These included publications and webinars.

Using the Census for Research in American Ethnic History

The United States Decennial Census provides a great deal of useful data for research in ethnic history, but it is important to understand the specific types of subject categories it uses and the limitations of the data available.

The Census does not write its survey questionnaires to collect information about the ethnic identities of people as we generally understand this concept. The Census Bureau currently uses the term "ethnicity" to mean a very specific and limited thing. It states:

"Ethnicity determines whether a person is of Hispanic origin or not. For this reason, ethnicity is broken out in two categories, Hispanic or Latino and Not Hispanic or Latino. Hispanics may report as any race."

Given the Census Bureau's practice, it is necessary to use the categories it does employ to collect "ethnic" data. For the your assignment in this course you'll be using the 1920, 1950, and 1990 Census reports, and these are the key categories for each:

1920 Census

  • Race
  • Foreign Born by Citizenship Status
  • Year of Immigration
  • Mother Tongue of the Foreign Born Stock
  • Foreign Born by Country or Continent of Birth
  • Parental Nativity of Foreign White Stock by Country of Origin

1950 Census

  • Race
  • General Nativity
  • Specific Nativity by Country of Birth

1990 Census

  • Race and Hispanic Origin
  • Ancestry


This guide contains pages that will guide you through the data available for each of the three Censuses you will use for your assignment. See the links on the left side of the screen or the menu above to visit these pages

Subject Guide

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Richard Kearney
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