I am trying to get all available 1 and 3 yr American Community Survey data for New Orleans from the census.

I am looking on the FTP drive at ftp2.census.gov in the folder /acs2012_1yr/summaryfile/2012_ACSSF_By_State_By_Sequence_Table_Subset/Louisiana

What are the files in this folder?

They are in a text format that looks like CSV but does not have headers. The sections start "ACSSF,2012e1,la," etc.

What is this format?

I am not sure where to look in the ACS documentation or guides.

What am I looking at? Where can I find the documentation that explains it?

  • 1
    You're asking for a mouthful. Let's take it back a few notches. Is there a reason you are looking to go into using the FTP version of Census Data? The ftp server would typically be designed for data scientists looking to store the information in-house or if they want to access statistics published at a level not available from American FactFinder. Since you are suggesting that you only need estimates from the 1-Year and 3-Year Summary Files, may I suggest exploring the American Factfinder as an option? You can get estimates for New Orleans this way.
    – Kotebiya
    Commented Mar 28, 2014 at 19:54
  • 3
    The documentation is at (see Chapter 2): ftp2.census.gov/acs2012_1yr/summaryfile/… . I warn you, you will pull your hair out to understand (lol). Kotebiya's advice to use Fact Finder and export the results is better way to go for someone whom is not a data scientist. Commented Mar 28, 2014 at 20:27
  • @Andrew-OpenGeoCode you should add this as an answer not a comment
    – magdmartin
    Commented Apr 2, 2014 at 15:32
  • just my two cents: american factfinder is ridiculously confusing for what it should be...not sure if it's just the ui or the whole shebang, but i've always found it awkward....to say the least
    – albert
    Commented Apr 11, 2014 at 16:47

1 Answer 1


To answer your question very specifically: here is the technical documentation for the ACS2012-1yr summary files: http://www2.census.gov/acs2012_1yr/summaryfile/ACS_2012_SF_Tech_Doc.pdf

But, the comments on your question provide sage advice: if you don't know why you need the summary files, you may be better off using the American Fact Finder.

Alternatively, I've been part of a project called Census Reporter, which aims to make ACS data easier for journalists to use. We hope that it's useful to non-journalists as well. Here's our profile page for New Orleans You can also get bulk data for different tables. We're gradually working on some help documents that try to put census concepts into clearer, if sometimes less technically precise language.

If you do want to go deeper with the summary files, the first question is "why do you want data for both the 1-year and the 3-year"? They are not meant to be compared to each other. If you want to compare data for New Orleans this year and three years ago, use the 2012 and the 2009 1-year data sets. If you want data for different areas inside New Orleans, you'll need to use the 5-year dataset to find census tracts or block groups inside the city.

The root of the Census Bureau's ACS documentation is at http://www.census.gov/acs/www/

Just to get a general idea of what goes on in the ACS data, I found the ACS Handbooks for Data Users quite helpful, and there are several versions each slightly tailored to a different audience. Coming from a journalism background, I was impressed that the "media" version included quotes from several respected expert census journalists.

  • lololololololololol....i was going to share the acs post i just read in source...but considering we have one of its authors here....i'll stfu
    – albert
    Commented Apr 11, 2014 at 16:48
  • I can't take any credit for that article, besides commissioning Paul Overberg to write it. So I'll share the link! source.opennews.org/en-US/learning/… Commented Apr 14, 2014 at 17:26

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