Branching Out: Roots by the Numbers

By Diane Haddad Premium

If you’ve got German ancestors, you’ve got company. According to the US Census Bureau’s Ancestry: 2000 report <>, about 43 million (one in six) US residents identified their roots as German — making it the United States’ most commonly reported ancestry for the third time. (See the October 2004 Family Tree Magazine for help tracing your German roots.) The census bureau starting asking about ancestry in 1980.

Other large ancestry groups are Irish (10.8 percent), African-American (8.8 percent), English (8.7 percent), Mexican (6.5 percent) and Italian (5.6 percent). Twenty million people, or 7.2 percent, simply called themselves “American.” (Not to be confused with American Indian, which another 7.9 million people reported.)

Irish, Italian and German ancestries (in that order) dominate in the northeastern United States, with 30 percent of residents claiming at least one of the three. You’re most likely to meet descendants of Germans in the Midwest, where nearly a quarter of census respondents have Deutschers in their pasts. African-American and “American” heritages are most common in the South, with 14 percent and 11.2 percent, respectively. In the US Southwest, Mexican (16 percent) and German (13.3 percent) ancestries top the list.

Fewer Americans claimed the three largest ancestry groups in 2000 than in 1990, when 23 percent reported German roots; 15.6 percent, Irish; and 13.1 percent, English. The Census Bureau says the highest growth rates since 1990 occurred in groups that provided a general heritage, such as “European” (and the ubiquitous “American”), rather than a specific country of origin. Why? The bureau didn’t cite a reason for the trend. But it could be that Americans know less about their heritage as they become more removed from the immigrant generation — or perhaps they just haven’t yet discovered the joys of genealogy.
From the December 2004 issue of Family Tree Magazine.