From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
American ancestry
Total population
19,364,103 (5.93%)
2021 estimates, self-reported [1]
Regions with significant populations
Southern United States and Midwestern United States, especially Arkansas, Kentucky, Tennessee, and West Virginia
English ( American English dialects)
Predominantly Christianity (mainly Protestantism)
Related ethnic groups
White Southerners and other American ancestries

American ancestry refers to people in the United States who self-identify their ancestral origin or descent as "American", rather than the more common officially recognized racial and ethnic groups that make up the bulk of the American people. [2] [3] [4] The majority of these respondents are visibly White Americans, who are far removed from and no longer self-identify with their original ethnic ancestral origins. [5] [6] The latter response is attributed to a multitude of generational distance from ancestral lineages, [3] [7] [8] and these tend be Anglo-Americans [7] of English, Scotch-Irish, Welsh, Scottish or other British ancestries, as demographers have observed that those ancestries tend to be recently undercounted in U.S. Census Bureau American Community Survey ancestry self-reporting estimates. [9] [10]

Although U.S. census data indicates "American ancestry" is most commonly self-reported in the Deep South, the Upland South, and Appalachia, [11] [12] a far greater number of Americans and expatriates equate their national identity not with ancestry, race, or ethnicity, but rather with citizenship and allegiance. [13] [8]


The earliest attested use of the term "American" to identify an ancestral or cultural identity dates to the late 1500s, with the term signifying "the indigenous peoples discovered in the Western Hemisphere by Europeans." [14] In the following century, the term "American" was extended as a reference to colonists of European descent. [14] The Oxford English Dictionary identifies this secondary meaning as "historical" and states that the term "American" today "chiefly [means] a native (birthright) or citizen of the United States." [14]

Historical reference

Cartoon from Puck, August 9, 1899 by J. S. Pughe. Uncle Sam sees hyphenated voters and asks, "Why should I let these freaks cast whole ballots when they are only half Americans?"

President Theodore Roosevelt asserted that an "American race" had been formed on the American frontier, one distinct from other ethnic groups, such as the Anglo-Saxons. [15]: 78, 131  He believed "(t)he conquest and settlement by the whites of the Indian lands was necessary to the greatness of the race...." [15]: 78  "We are making a new race, a new type, in this country." [15] Roosevelt's "race" beliefs were not unique in the 19th and early 20th century. [16] [17] [18] [19] [20] Professor Eric Kaufmann has suggested that American nativism has been explained primarily in psychological and economic terms to the neglect of a crucial cultural and ethnic dimension. Kauffman contends American nativism cannot be understood without reference to the theorem of the age that an "American" national ethnic group had taken shape prior to the large-scale immigration of the mid-19th century. [18]

"Nativism" gained its name from the "Native American" parties of the 1840s and 1850s. [21] [22] In this context, "Native" does not mean indigenous or American Indian, but rather those descended from the inhabitants of the original Thirteen Colonies ( Colonial American ancestry). [23] [24] [18] These " Old Stock Americans," were predominantly Protestants from England, Sweden, the Netherlands, and even modern-day Russia and Finland. They saw Catholic immigrants as a threat to traditional American republican values, as they were loyal to the papacy. [25] [26] This form of American nationalism is often identified with xenophobia and anti-Catholic sentiment. [27]

Flag of the Know Nothing or American Party, c. 1850

Nativist outbursts occurred in the Northeast from the 1830s to the 1850s, primarily in response to a surge of Catholic immigration. [28] The Order of United American Mechanics was founded as a nativist fraternity, following the Philadelphia nativist riots of the preceding spring and summer, in December 1844. [29] The New York City anti-Irish, anti-German, and anti-Catholic secret society the Order of the Star Spangled Banner was formed in 1848. [30] Popularised nativist movements included the Know Nothing or American Party of the 1850s and the Immigration Restriction League of the 1890s. [31]

During the antebellum period (pre-Civil War), between 1830 and 1860, Americanism acquired a restrictive political meaning due to nativist moral panics. [32] Nativism would eventually influence Congress; [33] in 1924, legislation limiting immigration from Southern and Eastern European countries was ratified, also quantifying previous formal and informal anti-Asian previsions, such as the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 and the Gentlemen's Agreement of 1907. [34] [35]

Modern usage

Statistical data

According to U.S. Census Bureau; "Ancestry refers to a person's ethnic origin or descent, 'roots,' or heritage, or the place of birth of the person or the person's parents or ancestors before their arrival in the United States." [36]

The plurality (not majority) ancestry background in each county in the US in 2000:
German English Norwegian Dutch Finnish Irish French Italian
Mexican Native Spanish American African American Puerto Rican

According to 2000 U.S. census data, an increasing number of United States citizens identify simply as "American" on the question of ancestry. [37] [38] [39] The Census Bureau reports the number of people in the United States who reported "American" and no other ancestry increased from 12.4 million in 1990 to 20.2 million in 2000. [40] This increase represents the largest numerical growth of any ethnic group in the United States during the 1990s. [2] The state with the largest increase over the past two census was Texas, where in 2000, over 1.5 million residents reported having "American ancestry." [41]

In the 1980 census, 26% of United States residents cited that they were of English ancestry, making them the largest group at the time. [42] In the 2000 United States Census, 6.9% of the American population chose to self-identify itself as having "American ancestry." [2] The four states in which a plurality of the population reported American ancestry were Arkansas (15.7%), Kentucky (20.7%), Tennessee (17.3%), and West Virginia (18.7%). [40] Sizable percentages of the populations of Alabama (16.8%), Mississippi (14.0%), North Carolina (13.7%), South Carolina (13.7%), Georgia (13.3%), and Indiana (11.8%) also reported American ancestry. [43]

Map showing areas in red with high concentration of people who self-report as having "American" ancestry in 2000

In the Southern United States as a whole, 11.2% reported "American" ancestry, second only to African American. American was the fourth most common ancestry reported in the Midwest (6.5%) and West (4.1%). All Southern states except for Delaware, Maryland, Florida, and Texas reported 10% or more American, but outside the South, only Missouri and Indiana did so. American was one of the top five ancestries reported in all Southern states except for Delaware, in four Midwestern states bordering the South (Indiana, Kansas, Missouri, and Ohio) as well as Iowa, and in six Northwestern states ( Colorado, Idaho, Oregon, Utah, Washington, Wyoming), but only one Northeastern state, Maine. The pattern of areas with high levels of American is similar to that of areas with high levels of not reporting any national ancestry. [43]

In the 2014 American Community Survey, German Americans (14.4%), Irish Americans (10.4%), English Americans (7.6%), and Italian Americans (5.4%) were the four largest self-reported European ancestry groups in the United States, forming 37.8% of the total population. [44] However, English, Scotch-Irish, and British American demography is considered to be seriously undercounted, as the 6.9% of U.S. Census respondents who self-report and identify simply as "American" are primarily of these ancestries. [9] [10]

Academic analysis

Reynolds Farley writes that "we may now be in an era of optional ethnicity, in which no simple census question will distinguish those who identify strongly with a specific European group from those who report symbolic or imagined ethnicity." [37]

Stanley Lieberson and Mary C. Waters write "As whites become increasingly distant in generations and time from their immigrant ancestors, the tendency to distort, or remember selectively, one's ethnic origins increases.... [E]thnic categories are social phenomena that over the long run are constantly being redefined and reformulated." [39] [45] Mary C. Waters contends that white Americans of European origin are afforded a wide range of choice: "In a sense, they are constantly given an actual choice—they can either identify themselves with their ethnic ancestry or they can 'melt' into the wider society and call themselves American." [46]

Professors Anthony Daniel Perez and Charles Hirschman write "European national origins are still common among whites—almost 3 of 5 whites name one or more European countries in response to the ancestry question. ... However, a significant share of whites respond that they are simply "American" or leave the ancestry question blank on their census forms. Ethnicity is receding from the consciousness of many white Americans. Because national origins do not count for very much in contemporary America, many whites are content with a simplified Americanized racial identity. The loss of specific ancestral attachments among many white Americans also results from high patterns of intermarriage and ethnic blending among whites of different European stocks." [8]

The response of American ancestry is addressed by the United States Census Bureau as follows:

Some people identify their ancestry as American. This could be because their ancestors have been in United States for so long or they have such mixed backgrounds that they do not identify with any particular group. Some foreign born or children of the foreign born may report American to show that they are part of American society. There are many reasons people may report their ancestors as American, and the growth in this response has been substantial. [47]


A 2015 genetic study published in the American Journal of Human Genetics analyzed the genetic ancestry of 148,789 European Americans. The study concluded that Inferred British/Irish ancestry is found in European Americans from all states at mean proportions of more than 20% and represents a majority of ancestry (more than 50% mean proportion) in states such as Mississippi, Arkansas, and Tennessee. These states are similarly highlighted in the map of the self-reported "American" ethnicity in the US Census survey, which might reflect regions with lower subsequent migration from other parts of Europe. [48]

See also



  1. ^ "IPUMS USA". University of Minnesota. Retrieved October 12, 2022.
  2. ^ a b c Ancestry: 2000 2004, p. 3
  3. ^ a b Jack Citrin; David O. Sears (2014). American Identity and the Politics of Multiculturalism. Cambridge University Press. pp. 153–159. ISBN  978-0-521-82883-3.
  4. ^ Garrick Bailey; James Peoples (2013). Essentials of Cultural Anthropology. Cengage Learning. p. 215. ISBN  978-1-285-41555-0.
  5. ^ Kazimierz J. Zaniewski; Carol J. Rosen (1998). The Atlas of Ethnic Diversity in Wisconsin. Univ. of Wisconsin Press. pp. 65–69. ISBN  978-0-299-16070-8.
  6. ^ Liz O'Connor, Gus Lubin and Dina Specto (2013). "The Largest Ancestry Groups in the United States - Business Insider". Retrieved April 10, 2017.
  7. ^ a b Jan Harold Brunvand (2006). American Folklore: An Encyclopedia. Routledge. p. 54. ISBN  978-1-135-57878-7.
  8. ^ a b c Perez AD, Hirschman C. "The Changing Racial and Ethnic Composition of the US Population: Emerging American Identities". Population and Development Review. 2009;35(1):1-51. doi:10.1111/j.1728-4457.2009.00260.x.
  9. ^ a b Dominic Pulera (2004). Sharing the Dream: White Males in Multicultural America. A&C Black. pp. 57–60. ISBN  978-0-8264-1643-8.
  10. ^ a b Elliott Robert Barkan (2013). Immigrants in American History: Arrival, Adaptation, and Integration. ABC-CLIO. pp. 791–. ISBN  978-1-59884-219-7.
  11. ^ Ancestry: 2000 2004, p. 6
  12. ^ Celeste Ray (February 1, 2014). The New Encyclopedia of Southern Culture: Volume 6: Ethnicity. University of North Carolina Press. pp. 19–. ISBN  978-1-4696-1658-2.
  13. ^ Petersen, William; Novak, Michael; Gleason, Philip (1982). Concepts of Ethnicity. Harvard University Press. p. 62. ISBN  9780674157262. To be or to become an American, a person did not have to be of any particular national, linguistic, religious, or ethnic background. All he had to do was to commit himself to the political ideology centered on the abstract ideals of liberty, equality, and republicanism. Thus the universalist ideological character of American nationality meant that it was open to anyone who willed to become an American.
  14. ^ a b c "American, n. and adj." (PDF). Oxford English Dictionary. Oxford University Press.
  15. ^ a b c Thomas G. Dyer (1992). Theodore Roosevelt and the Idea of Race. LSU Press. ISBN  978-0-8071-1808-5.
  16. ^ Reginald Horsman (2009). Race and Manifest Destiny: The Origins of American Racial Anglo-Saxonism. Harvard University Press. pp. 302–304. ISBN  978-0-674-03877-6.
  17. ^ John Higham (2002). Strangers in the Land: Patterns of American Nativism, 1860-1925. Rutgers University Press. pp.  133–136. ISBN  978-0-8135-3123-6.
  18. ^ a b c Kaufmann, E. P. (1999). "American Exceptionalism Reconsidered: Anglo-Saxon Ethnogenesis in the "Universal" Nation, 1776–1850" (PDF). Journal of American Studies. 33 (3): 437–57. doi: 10.1017/S0021875899006180. JSTOR  27556685. S2CID  145140497. In the case of the United States, the national ethnic group was Anglo-American Protestant ("American"). This was the first European group to "imagine" the territory of the United States as its homeland and trace its genealogy back to New World colonists who rebelled against their mother country. In its mind, the American nation-state, its land, its history, its mission and its Anglo-American people were woven into one great tapestry of the imagination. This social construction considered the United States to be founded by the "Americans", who thereby had title to the land and the mandate to mould the nation (and any immigrants who might enter it) in their own Anglo-Saxon, Protestant self-image.
  19. ^ Tyler Anbinder; Tyler Gregory Anbinder (1992). Nativism and Slavery: The Northern Know Nothings and the Politics of the 1850s. Oxford University Press. p. 107. ISBN  978-0-19-507233-4.
  20. ^ Debo, A. (2012). The American H.D. University of Iowa Press. p. 174. ISBN  978-1-60938-093-9. Retrieved August 26, 2023.
  21. ^ David M. Kennedy; Lizabeth Cohen; Mel Piehl (2017). The Brief American Pageant: A History of the Republic. Cengage Learning. pp. 218–220. ISBN  978-1-285-19329-8.
  22. ^ Ralph Young (2015). Dissent: The History of an American Idea. NYU Press. pp. 268–270. ISBN  978-1-4798-1452-7.
  23. ^ Katie Oxx (2013). The Nativist Movement in America: Religious Conflict in the 19th Century. Routledge. p. 88. ISBN  978-1-136-17603-6.
  24. ^ Russell Andrew Kazal (2004). Becoming Old Stock: The Paradox of German-American Identity. Princeton University Press. p. 122. ISBN  0-691-05015-5.
  25. ^ Mary Ellen Snodgrass (2015). The Civil War Era and Reconstruction: An Encyclopedia of Social, Political, Cultural and Economic History. Routledge. p. 130. ISBN  978-1-317-45791-6. The upsurge of the faithful fueled bigotry among Americans who demonized cities and discounted foreigners, especially Catholics and Jews, as true citizens. Old stock American nativists feared that "papists"...
  26. ^ Andrew Robertson (2010). Encyclopedia of U.S. Political History. SAGE. p. aa266. ISBN  978-0-87289-320-7.
  27. ^ Higham, J. (2002). Strangers in the Land: Patterns of American Nativism, 1860-1925. ACLS Humanities E-Book. Rutgers University Press. p. 181. ISBN  978-0-8135-3123-6. Retrieved 2023-04-29.
  28. ^ Larry Ceplair (2011). Anti-communism in Twentieth-century America: A Critical History. ABC-CLIO. p. 11. ISBN  978-1-4408-0047-4.
  29. ^ Katie Oxx (2013). The Nativist Movement in America: Religious Conflict in the 19th Century. Routledge. p. 87. ISBN  978-1-136-17603-6.
  30. ^ Tyler Anbinder (1992). Nativism and Slavery: The Northern Know Nothings and the Politics of the 1850s. Oxford University Press. p. 20. ISBN  978-0-19-508922-6.
  31. ^ Tyler Anbinder (1992). Nativism and Slavery: The Northern Know Nothings and the Politics of the 1850s. Oxford University Press. pp. 59 (note 18). ISBN  978-0-19-508922-6.
  32. ^ van Elteren, M. (2006). Americanism and Americanization: A Critical History of Domestic and Global Influence. McFarland, Incorporated, Publishers. p. 52. ISBN  978-0-7864-2785-7. Retrieved 2023-04-29.
  33. ^ Tyler Anbinder (1992). Nativism and Slavery: The Northern Know Nothings and the Politics of the 1850's. Oxford University Press. p. 272. ISBN  978-0-19-508922-6.
  34. ^ Greg Robinson (2009). A Tragedy of Democracy: Japanese Confinement in North America. Columbia University Press. p.  22. ISBN  978-0-231-52012-6.
  35. ^ Michael Green; Scott L. Stabler Ph.D. (2015). Ideas and Movements that Shaped America: From the Bill of Rights to "Occupy Wall Street". ABC-CLIO. p. 714. ISBN  978-1-61069-252-6.
  36. ^ Kenneth Prewitt (2013). What Is "Your" Race?: The Census and Our Flawed Efforts to Classify Americans. Princeton University Press. p. 177. ISBN  978-1-4008-4679-5.
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  40. ^ a b Ancestry: 2000 2004, p. 7
  41. ^ Celeste Ray (2014). The New Encyclopedia of Southern Culture: Volume 6: Ethnicity. University of North Carolina Press. p. 19. ISBN  978-1-4696-1658-2.
  42. ^ "Ancestry of the Population by State: 1980 - Table 3" (PDF). 2017.
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  44. ^ "Selected Social Characteristics in the United States (DP02): 2014 American Community Survey 1-Year Estimates". U.S. Census Bureau. Archived from the original on February 14, 2020. Retrieved November 10, 2016.
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  46. ^ Waters, Mary C. (1990). Ethnic Options: Choosing Identities in America. University of California Press. p.  52. ISBN  978-0-520-07083-7.
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