German heritage in the US, cont'd

Anthea Fraser Gupta A.F.Gupta at
Sun Jun 11 08:34:37 UTC 2006

On the longer form of the 2000 census the ancestry question was free choice. There must have been a wide range of answers. I would guess that some would base it on patrilineal ancestry, others on the ancestry they saw as dominant. The answer did not look as if it could be fractional, so someone of mixed ancestry (most Americans, probably) would be most likely to choose one alternative. Despite this, 6m people chose more than one.
In 2000 15.2% of the population described themselves as of German ancestry, and 8.7% as of English ancestry (see attached, from 2000 census website). We don't know how many of those declared multiples.
But it's possible, isn't it, for 66% of Americans to have German ancestry and (picking a figure out of a hat, 'cos I couldn't find the 2000 results on the website) 75% to have 'British' (aggregated or not) ancestry? I describe myself as English but I have (that I know of) English, Scottish, Welsh, and Irish Tinker ancestry. 
I feel that there is a worldwide drive to make people have a single ancestral identity, and that these figures can disguise a history of mixing (coming from both consensual and non-consensual conception), just as a lot of figures on language background disguise bilingualism.

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Anthea Fraser Gupta (Dr) 
School of English, University of Leeds, LS2 9JT <> 
NB: Reply to a.f.gupta at 
*     *     *     *     * 


From: owner-lgpolicy-list at on behalf of Harold F. Schiffman
Sent: Sat 10/06/2006 21:57
To: Language Policy-List
Subject: German heritage in the US, cont'd

When I saw the recent message from Bill Beeman, stating that "More than
60% of all Americans have some German ancestry"  I was dubious, because I
remembered a figure of about 24% from the 1990 census. So I did some
googling, and found this:


Who's Counting?
The l990 Census of German-Americans

The results of the 1990 U.S. Census indicate that the total U.S.
population is: 248,709,873. The five major groups and their percentages of
the total population are as follows:

 1. German 57,985,595  (23.3 %)
 2. Irish 38,739,548  (15.6 %)
 3. English 32,655,779  (13.1 %)
 4. Italian 14,714,939  (5.9 %)
 5. Polish  9,366,106  (3.8 %)

The "German" category does not include Germans from other German-speaking
states and regions of Europe and the Americas. Hence, to the "German"
statistic the following can be added:

 1. Austrian 870,531
 2. Swiss-German 700,000  (this is 70% of the total Swiss statistic)
 3. Pennsylvania German 305,841
 4. Luxemburger 49,061
 5. Alsatian 16,465
 6. German-Russian 10,153

These six additional Germanic ethnic groups total 1,952,051.
The total combination then of all seven German ethnic categories is:

 German 57,985,595  (23.3 %)
 Other categories 1,952,051  (4.8 %)
 Total 59,937,646  (24.09 %)

The results clearly confirm that German-Americans constitute nearly a full
one-fourth of the population. German-Americans take pride in the fact that
they are the major ethnic group in America, just as they can be proud of
their long history, dating back to the arrival of the first Germans in
America at Jamestown, Virginia in 1608.

The 1980 Census included a map of Where in the united states
German-Americans lived...[map not included here, hs]

updated July 26, 2004   Home to Tricentennial Foundation Web Page

[addendum (hs): Previously, "British" (or even English) heritage topped
the list, but in 1980 the US census stopped aggregating British heritage,
and divided it into English, Scottish, Irish, Welsh etc., at which point
German then topped the list.

Note, however, that a category "Hispanic" does not even figure in the top
5 in 1980; and unless immigration from all Spanish-speaking countries is
aggregated, it still may not...

If you go to an on-line US census page you get some statistics
on language use in the US, which of course is different from "heritage"
or "ancestry":  the largest percentage of a language other than English is
of course Spanish, with 28 million, followed by "other Indo-European
languages".  Chinese is spoken by 2 million...

Hal Schiffman]

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