If You Were a Pie Chart …

If You Were a Pie Chart …

While working on an article on ethnic heritage and genealogical societies (look for it in the forthcoming November 2011 Family Tree Magazine) I was inspired to figure out what, exactly, Leo is, heritage-wise.And by “exactly,” I mean “theoretically,” because: you never know what proportion of genes you...


While working on an article on ethnic heritage and genealogical societies (look for it in the forthcoming November 2011 Family Tree Magazine) I was inspired to figure out what, exactly, Leo is, heritage-wise.

And by “exactly,” I mean “theoretically,” because:

  • you never know what proportion of genes you ended up with from each ancestor after the DNA-combining process
  • geopolitical developments and population shifts can mean ancestors’ ethnicity is different from the country whence they came (Your ancestor from Russia would actually be German, for example, if he was one of the many “Volga Germans” who settled in Russia’s Volga River valley.)
  • nonpaternity events, such as adoption and children fathered—unbeknownst to you—by someone other than the person named in records
  • a lack of documentation or incorrect documentation about an ancestor’s origins
  • all those ancestors yet to be discovered (unless you’ve found ‘em all)

With that caveat, figuring out Leo’s theoretical heritage combo involves first determining Mom’s and Dad’s percentages. Three of my husband’s grandparents came from Germany and one from Hungary, so we’ll estimate him at 75 percent German and 25 percent Hungarian. I’ll go back to my great-grandparents’ origins: I’m half German, a quarter Lebanese (the source for my last name), and one-eighth each English and Irish.

I just divided each of our percentages, added up the common German heritage, and came up with these numbers for Leo (I generated the pie chart online using Kids Zone):

He’s pretty typical as far as American ancestry: In the 2000 census, German was the heritage most often claimed by Americans and by his fellow Cincinnatians. He also shares in the second- and fourth-most-commonly reported ancestries: Irish and English, respectively.

Download the Census Bureau’s Ancestry: 2000 report as a PDF here.

What’s your theoretical heritage combo?

Update: Apparently you can order a t-shirt boasting your ancestry pie chart from MeonaTee.com. Great idea! (Thanks to Megan Smolenyak for mentioning.)

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  1. Hi Diane, I’ve always been interested in figuring this out for myself. Why did you use your husband’s grandparents and you used your great-grandparents? Why wouldn’t you use all the heritages that might be there, like say, your 6th great-grandmother was from Sweden and her husband was from Norway? Wouldn’t you consider them when you are calculating your heritage? This has been rather confusing for me over the years, to figure out my heritage.

    Thank you.
    Marsha Baker

  2. Hi, Marsha,
    My husband and I haven’t done much research on his side, so I looked at ancestors as far back as we know with confidence.

    I have information on ancestors before my great-grandparents, but their heritage is reflected in that of my more-recent ancestors. Before my great-grandparents, the ethnic variety in my tree doesn’t change much (that I and other family genealogists have discovered). If my great-great-grandparents, for example, were from a dozen different places, I would have looked at their generation in determining my ethnic makeup. Does that make sense?

    As I said in the post, this is definitely an inexact science! But I found it a fun exercise.

  3. Hi Marsha, I have a slight problem in that all 16 of my great, great grandparents were born in this country; plus I have not been able to verify all of their heritages yet. It gets sticky statistically does it not?
    Thank you, Harve Wolfe