Monday, August 29, 2011

Map of the U.S. by Ancestry

I ran across this fascinating map of the United States, which uses 2000 census data to depict the dominant group, by ancestry, in each American county.  There are a lot of interesting trends which the map reveals.  Who knew that the Germans dominated so much of the United States?  What's up with all the English in Utah?  Can you believe so many counties have dominant French/Finnish/Norweigian/Dutch populations?

Here is a small version of the map.  Click the link above for a much larger version, which allows a county-by-county comparison.


One of the most interesting things to me is the number and location of the counties which self-identified their ancestry as "Americans" (indicated by the cream or light yellow).  Not "Native Americans," mind you, but "Americans."  To a question asking about "ancestry," this is a strange answer coming from people whose origins were obviously in Europe.  To answer "American" suggests either that their knowledge of their ethnic origins is lost, or their current identification as "American" is so strong that it makes it impossible for them to answer the question accurately. 

These counties are largely located in Appalachia and the South.  With the exception of New England (and, obviously, the Native Americans), the residents of the counties which identify as "Americans" have generally been in North America longer than people in most other parts of the country.  But in New England, the counties are clearly identified as English, Irish, Italian, or French.  Why the difference?  My theory is that New England includes large blocks of people who have been here several centuries and more recent (100+ years) Irish and Italian arrivals.  Because they have been in the same place for a long time, or because their ancestors arrived more recently, they have a stronger ethnic identity.  But the people of Appalachia did not emigrate directly from Europe to, say, Kentucky.  They started in eastern Virginia, or New Jersey, or wherever, and then worked their way west.  They may have been in the lower Midwest or South since the early 1800s, but the longer migration disassociated them from their European origins.  They are likely largely ethnically English (or, in places, Scots-Irish), but no longer see themselves as anything other than American. 

I think that this map is also interesting because it demonstrates that while we are all Americans, there are signficiant ethnic differences between the states and regions of the country that inform our attitudes towards government, etc.  It would be interesting to match up this map with the counties which voted Republican or Democrat in the last presidential election.

Tanya Marsh

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All the English in Utah is the result of successful early Mormon missionary efforts in Great Britain - see here:,_the_Church_in

Posted by: davidak | Aug 29, 2011 9:42:30 AM

I'm one of those folks who "no longer see themselves as anything other than American."

To the best of my ability to trace my family's history, I'm 1/32 German and 1/128 Scottish. Rumor has it the other parts are Dutch, Polish, and English, but none of my genealogically-minded relatives have been able to identify who it was allegedly set sell from those lands. Even if I were able to figure out the remaining vast majority of my ancestry, I'd be shocked if any one European country accounted for more than one-quarter of my heritage. Certainly none of my family members think there's such dominance of any one ancestry.

So, if the census were to call me, I'd ask them if 1/32 German, 1/128 Scottish were an acceptable answer. It is, after all, how I answer the question if pressured. If not, I'd be listed as "American." Any single-nation response errs too much in under- and over-counting.

My known family roots are scattered across the Arkansas Ozarks (counties colored beige, for "American", in the linked map).

Posted by: Amanda | Aug 29, 2011 6:29:29 PM

"Dominant" might be overstating the case. Given the large number of nationalities, it is possible that the largest figure for a particular origin in a particular county might be 20% or 25%. That doesn't suggest "domination."

Posted by: LVTfan | Aug 30, 2011 9:34:42 AM

Re your last sentence, about voting patterns, you might appreciate Mason Gaffney's piece, entitled "The Red and the Blue," at (There is a definite property connection.) You might also appreciate his website, at

Posted by: LVTfan | Aug 30, 2011 9:40:00 AM

davidak -- Very interesting link. Thanks. Most of my Mormon friends from Utah are Scandinavian in origin, so I didn't appreciate the strong English history.

Amanda -- Thanks for sharing your experience. I agree that it is probably very typical.

LVTfan -- Regarding your first post, you are absolutely right. But the overall patterns are nonetheless very clear. Regarding your second post, thanks for the link. I will check it out.

Posted by: Tanya Marsh | Aug 31, 2011 6:11:41 AM

Thanks for the comments. I wanted to follow up on a few things, so I found the Census Bureau's "Ancestry 2000 Brief," ( which provides much more analysis of the information depicted in the chart. A few interesting nuggets:

1. The census question asked "What is this person's ancestry or ethnic origin?" Respondents were allowed to provide one or two answers.

2. 89.5% of respondents filled in an answer to the ancestry question. 59.8% of respondents filled in a single answer, and 29.7% of respondents filled in multiple answers. (I can't remember how I answered the census 11 years ago, but I suspect I filled in both German and Irish.)

3. The largest self-reported ancestry groups were German (42.8 million or 15.2%), Irish (30.5 million or 10.8%), African American (24.9 million or 8.8%), English (24.5 million or 8.7%), American (20.2 million or 7.2%), Mexican (18.4 million or 6.5%), and Italian (15.6 million or 5.6%). Remember that there is some overlap here, since people could include themselves in more than one group.

4. Regarding my original observation about the people who self identified as Americans, the Census Bureau had this to say: "The number who reported American and no other ancestry increased from 12.4 million in 1990 to 20.2 million in 2000, the largest numerical growth of any group during the 1990s. This figure represents an increase of 63 percent."

5. Regarding LTV's point, I didn't look up a county-by-county breakdown of ancestry, but here are the relative percentages on a statewide basis for a few of the states which may or may not be in the South, depending on which of Steve's maps you rely upon:

Georgia: 21.6% African American, 13.3% American, 8.1% English, 7.8% Irish, 7.0% German
Kentucky: 20.7% American, 12.7% German, 10.5% Irish, 9.7% English, 5.7% African American
North Carolina: 16.6% African American, 13.7% American, 9.5% English, 9.5% German, 7.4% Irish
Tennessee: 17.3% American, 13.0% African American, 9.3% Irish, 9.1% English, 8.3% German

contrast with

my parents' home state of Nebraska: 38.6% German, 13.4% Irish, 9.6% English, 4.9% Swedish, 4.9% Czech

and the very populous states of:

California: 22.2% Mexican, 9.8% German, 7.7% Irish, 7.4% English, 5.1% African American
Texas: 22.6% Mexican, 9.9% German, 8.7% African American, 7.2% Irish, 7.2% American
New York: 14.4% Italian, 12.9% Irish, 11.2% German, 7.7% African American, 6.0% English
Massachusetts: 22.5% Irish, 13.5% Italian, 11.4% English, 8.0% French, 5.9% German

6. Overall, about 500 different ancestries were reported to the Census Bureau.

Posted by: Tanya Marsh | Aug 31, 2011 6:35:42 AM

Yes, and all demographers know this is a serious overcount.

The majority of American whites look British isles decended. British made up 74% of the white population in 1790 while Germans were 6.9%. The greatest German surge was in 1820 - 1980 where we recieved about 7 million ethnic germans. Many of these ships included hundreds of German Jews, Slavics, as well as other German speaking minorities.

The point is, in no way is it possible when looking at German immigration statistics could they have reached 50 million while the rest declined.

The Irish number isn't even as high either. Most Irish immigrants came from Ulster, they were actualy SCOTTISH not Irish. The majority of Americans don't really know what the hell they are past 3 generations so they just pick the most recent ancestry. ALL those so called German Americans probably have colonial blood. There are no more existing German communities in the states. Nearly every actor on the German American page also has Scottish, Irish, English, or Welsh ancestry.

The majority of American whites are of British ancestry, the United States just has a lot of fantisizers.

Posted by: Jesse | Jul 16, 2012 11:36:45 AM

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