Many government programs distribute funds based on Census data. This information can affect communities, and the consequences of undercounts could be severe.

The Census Bureau uses a question on ethnicity to create statistics about people of Hispanic origin. These statistics are used to evaluate federal and local programs for civil rights compliance.

How to Find Your Hispanic Ancestors

The Census Bureau broadly defines Hispanics as people of any national origin who claim a Hispanic heritage. In addition, Hispanics make up more than half of the population that self-identifies as multiracial (people who check one or more of the nonwhite races on the Census) and a significant portion of those who identify as some other race (people who write in their ancestry; these are coded as SOR). This has made it difficult to summarily describe the country’s racial makeup using standard Census categories, particularly in reports and tables.

However, a lack of consensus about Hispanic ancestry has also created challenges for genealogists. The complexities of Hispanic heritage often make it difficult to pinpoint exact ancestral origins. The ambiguity of the term Hispanic has even resulted in some confusion over how to categorize immigrants, particularly second or third-generation Hispanics with only partial knowledge of their Old World backgrounds.

A further source of complication comes from how the Census asks questions about racial and ethnic background. In the past, the Census used a set of mutually exclusive racial categories and required respondents to choose only one. In the 1990s, the Bureau revised these definitions and allowed multiracial responses. Census forms now allow respondents to mark as many of the standard race options as they wish, but they still are required to check only a single Hispanic origin category.

As a result, people with only a tiny amount of black ancestry may check white and write in a Hispanic origin, for example, because they do not believe they belong in any other race category. Likewise, some with a little native American or Asian ancestry may find themselves in the SOR category because they do not fit neatly into any other race.

As a result of these complications, the number of people in the SOR category is more significant than that of Asians or Native Americans combined. It is also more significant than the combined populations of African Americans and Native Hawaiians/Pacific Islanders. It is essential to consider how race and Hispanic heritage are defined and presented in Census data. It is important to remember that the SOR category does not reflect an actual increase in racial diversity; it is simply an artifact of Census data collection and coding practices.

Hispanic Census Records

The Census Bureau counts the number of people living in the United States yearly. It has taken a national census every decade since 1790 for many reasons, from determining congressional representation and apportioning taxes to tracking the growth of the country’s population and enforcing civil rights laws. Census data are used in various ways, from local planning to developing infrastructure and services such as housing and healthcare.

The question asked on the Census has changed over time, and with it, the data gathered from the survey. The question’s wording has been modified based on changing cultural norms and demographic trends. Census data show that the number of Hispanic population continues to grow.

As the population of Hispanics grows, so too has the importance of identifying them correctly in government data and public opinion surveys. How a person is counted in the Census directly impacts what can be learned about them and how they are reflected in other sources of information such as voter exit polls and government surveys.

A key question for researchers and journalists is how to report Hispanic data. The Census Bureau uses a unique combination of codes and tables to identify the number of Hispanics in different geographic areas. The table code for a Hispanic iterated table is “B” or “C,” followed by a letter indicating the type of data (for example, B03003 is a tabulation that includes racial data on Hispanics in all geographies).

By separating Hispanics from other race groups, the table can be used to compare the numbers and characteristics of these two groups. The Census Bureau also separates Hispanics from other race groups in its Detailed Race and Hispanic Origin (DRHO) table.

This table provides a breakdown of each person’s response to the race question, including how they answered it. DRHO tables are available at the county, state, and national levels. 

The Census Bureau follows the Office of Management and Budget standards for separating ethnicity and race. It defines Hispanic or Latino as a person of any race who can trace their heritage to Cuban, Mexican, Puerto Rican, South or Central American, or other Spanish culture or origin. The Census Bureau recognizes some instances where reporters will want to treat Hispanic or Latino as a race-like category, and for these cases, it provides the B02001 table.

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