Monday, November 10, 2008

How do you self-identify your ancestry?

Drew Smith posted a fascinating comment to my post I Knew How the Election Would Go. He wrote:

Randy, I've found another interesting connection between the recent election and genealogy. Compare the following two maps and tell me what you see:

(look at the second slide, of which counties voted more Republican)
(look at those who chose "American" in response to their ancestry question)

The second link is the real gem, for me and genealogists, of Drew's comment - the map below shows how United States residents responded to the question about their ancestry (I'm not sure of the exact wording) in the 2000 census. The map shows the highest percentage reported in each county:

Drew's point was that the areas of the country that voted in 2008 more for Republicans this time than in 2004 self-identified as "American" (the light yellow in the map), rather than as having ancestry from a specific country. We need to remember that the map shows only the highest percentage of responses, and that not everybody in each county identified as the highest percentage. In many cases, the highest percentage of respondents in a county might be less than 20%.

I also identify as "American" - how could I do otherwise? Of my 16 great-great-grandparents, 12 were born in the United States, two were born in Canada and two were born in England, but became American citizens. I understand, however, that very few non-genealogists even know the names of their great-great's, let alone their ancestry. My guess is that people recite racial or their surname origin when asked about ancestry.

What the map tells me is that many people retain an ethnic or national identity even after several generations of residence in the USA. Maybe that will "change" in the next century.

This Wikipedia page provides more information about the response to the ancestry question - it lists the percentage of responses to the racial, ethnic and ancestry questions in the 2000 census. However, some of the percentages stated are from later demographic studies. As I expected, the ancestry identification of European-Americans is broken up into smaller pieces, although they make up over 60% of the residents of the USA.

Thank you to Drew for finding these studies and pointing them out - there is a lot of demographic information available if we look for it!


John said...

The map comes from the 2000 census report

I don't recall what I filled in in the blank. I probably left it blank, as I don't consider myself one ancestry, and I consider myself only fractionally of American ancestry (Choctaw). Sure, my nationality is 100% American. But my ancestry isn't. Different words, different meanings.

Apple said...

John filled out the 2000 census form. First I asked him how he would describe his ethnic background and he said German/Italian. Then I asked what he put on the census. He thinks he put American for both of us.

All of my ancestors were in North America before 1850 so I would answer American.

I wish they'd go back to a more specific question!