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The ancestry of the people of the United States is widely varied and includes descendants of populations from around the world. In addition to its variation, the ancestry of people of the United States is also marked by varying amounts of intermarriage between ethnic and racial groups.
While some Americans can trace their ancestry back to a single ethnic group or population in Europe, Africa, or Asia, these are often first- and second-generation Americans. Generally, the degree of mixed heritage increases the longer one's ancestors have lived in the United States (see melting pot). In theory, there are several means available to discover the ancestry of the people residing in the United States, including genealogy, genetics, oral and written history, and analysis of Federal Population Census schedules. In practice, only few of these have been used for a larger part of the population.
The majority of the 300 million people currently living in the United States are descended from European immigrants who have arrived in the past 400 years. Most Latin American immigrants are from Mexico and Central America of which about half are descended from indigenous peoples of those regions and Spaniards (mestizo). African American people, most of whom are descended from Africa and the slavery era, form the next-largest ethnic groups. American Indians now form a small minority in the population.
Major components of the European segment of the United States population are descended from immigrants from Germany (15.2%), Ireland (10.8%), England (7.7%), Italy (5.6%), Scandinavia (3.7%) and Poland (3.2%) with many immigrants also coming from other Slavic countries. Other significant European immigrant populations came from eastern and southern Europe and French Canada; few immigrants came directly from France. Since French, French-Canadian and Acadian ancestries are overlapping, the number of counties with "French" as the main ancestry would also be larger if these three labels are added together.
A large number of Americans are descended from Africans (12.9%), the majority of whom were brought as slaves as early as the 17th century throughout the 19th century during the Transatlantic slave trade, with smaller numbers having immigrated since then from Africa or the Caribbean. The ancestral national origin of most African Americans has been difficult to trace until recent DNA analyses. Most African nations were named centuries after slaves were imported the Americas, and most slave owners generally did not keep track of the slaves' ethnicity. Therefore the continent of Africa serves as an indicator of geographic origin and a descriptive term. African-Americans who know their ethnic origin are generally from post-slave trade era migration such as Barack Obama, who is of Luo Kenyan descent and Hakeem Olajuwon who is Yoruba Nigerian ancestry.
U.S. Census Bureau statistics depend entirely on self-reported ancestry. An analysis of census forms in 1980 and 1990 suggests that self-reported ancestry was influenced by the order of choices listed on the form. In 1980, 'English' was near the top of the list and was chosen by 49.6 million people; in 1990 it was less prominent and was chosen by only 32.7m respondents. 'German' and 'Italian' were higher on the list in 1990 than in 1980, and the number choosing them increased by 20 per cent.
Many citizens listed themselves as "American" on the census (7.2%). They are generally assumed to be of predominantly English stock though some are likely to be people of several other different European ethnicities who are unable or unwilling to choose one. Many people who trace their ancestry to the colonial period or the slavery era consider themselves to be of "American" ancestry. It is estimated that 53 percent of White Americans are the descendants of colonial ancestors. In the late 18th century, 85 percent of White Americans were of British Isles ancestry, 9 percent were German, and 3 or 4 percent were of Dutch origin.
The census is based upon questionnaires and have been compiled from answers given by a sample group. Therefore the answers given will reflect what the individual knows about their ancestry. Many U.S. citizens do not know their ancestry entirely; partly for that reason, a large proportion simply call themselves "American" ancestry (not including American Indians) or know that a part of their ancestry is Irish or at least has an Irish name and will therefore say 'Irish' as their ancestry, when in fact most of their ancestry is English.
An analysis of Census information and immigration records would suggest that 62 percent of White Americans today are of British Isles descent, and a total of 86 percent are of Northwestern European origins. Approximately 14 percent of U.S. whites are of southern and eastern European ancestry.
The only way to get a true picture of what the U.S. ancestry is would be to do several hundred thousand genetic background analyses, which at the moment would be particularly expensive. Based upon last names however, the top 100 last names in the U.S are mostly of British or Irish background — the top 5 being Smith, Johnson, Williams, Jones and Brown. Most African Americans have English or Irish surnames, which were assigned to their ancestors during slavery, or adopted by them as freedmen, or else inherited through union between people of African and European ancestries.
Some common German last names, for example Braun, Schmidt and Müller, have been anglicized into Brown, Smith and Miller. The common Swedish last name Johansson, as well as the Norwegian/Danish names Johansen and Jensen, have also often been anglicized into Johnson. To add further weight, a World War II ethnic background of the U.S. put the top four backgrounds as 36 million British (English, Scottish, Welsh, Cornish), 32 million German, 29 million Irish, 17 million Italian and 10 million Polish.
Of these four ethnic backgrounds, none committed any significant (and certainly not significant enough) immigration to the US to make up the difference, as a percentage, between the 2000 census and wartime statistics. These are obviously somewhat different from the latest census data. Which is more accurate, for the time in question, is in some debate. Some of the people currently from the countries which Americans descend from may not regard some Americans as anything but "Americans".
It should also be noted that persons of Jewish ancestry are not counted as such in the United States Census. This may be due to a lack of consistency in how criteria of ethnicity are applied. A person who identifies with Arab ancestry may also have the choice of identifying as of Lebanese ancestry. A person of Jewish ancestry whose family came from the Tsarist pale of Jewish settlement may not have his Jewish ancestry recorded in the U.S. Census. One reason may be that "Jewish" may be taken to suggest religious beliefs, which have never been officially recorded in the United States Census.
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These images display frequencies of self-reported ancestries, as of the 2000 U.S. Census. Regional African ancestries are not listed, though an African American map has been added from another source.
Frequency of American ancestry
Density of Asian Americans
Percent of Asian Americans
Density of African Americans
Percent of African Americans
Density of Native Hawaiian Americans
Percent of Native Hawaiian Americans
Density of Native Americans
Percent of Native Americans
Density of White Americans
Percent of White Americans
Density of Hispanic ancestry
Percent of Hispanic ancestry