American Ancestry and Identity

(And a Postscript on Recent Discussion of the South)

US-Government-We-People-FlagThe Daily Mail has The map that shows where America came from: Fascinating illustration shows the ancestry of EVERY county in the US:

Melting pot: This map shows the ethnic heritage of Americans
First, as I noted the other day:  maps are cool.

Second, it is striking that the dominant color on the map corresponds with German ancestry, not English.  Indeed, it is not just that the number of counties are dominated by descendants of Germany, but according to the census data used to create the map:  “By far the largest ancestral group, stretching from coast to coast across 21st century America is German, with 49,206,934 people.”

The second largest is African-American (41,284,752).  English is actually fifth (26,923,091).

Given the recent discussions here at OTB about symbols of the CSA (here, here, and here), the southern states in this map strike me as quite fascinating.

First, the only part of the country with a large number of counties dominated by persons claiming “American” ancestry is concentrated in southern states (although not exclusively former CSA) states.  This choice of self-identification is intriguing, and reminds me of Sarah Palin’s reference to “pro-America areas of this great nation” (a statement made at a North Carolina campaign stop).  The write-up with the map notes this in the following way:

The surprising number of people across the nation claiming to have American ancestry is due to them making a political statement, or because they are simply uncertain about their direct descendants. Indeed, this is a particularly common feature in the south of the nation, where political tensions between those who consider themselves original settlers and those who are more recent exist.

I must confess, my inclination is to interpret the identification of American ancestry as a statement of political identity, although more actual study would be needed to confirm this.  This is the part of the country that tends to be the most patriotic and conservative.

Second, these are also the states (and in this case predominantly former CSA states) which have large number of counties dominated by African-Americans.  Those  who claim that things like the confederate battle flag are simply “symbols of southern heritage”* are rather baldly ignoring huge swaths of the population who live in southern states and live where they live now because their ancestors were brought to the locations in question as slaves.  The dark purple on that map corresponds to the Black Belt, a section of the US that has dark soil that is amenable to agriculture, including cotton cultivation (this is still a common term in Alabama, where the local weatherman will take about storms “across the Black Belt” and so forth).  It has taken on a dual meaning because these areas are clearly now also areas heavily populated by African-Americans.  Flying a huge battle flag on I-65 (just on the northern edge of the Black Belt) is pretty much a huge middle finger to a large percentage of the local population and certainly supports a view of “southern” heritage that excludes them.

Back to the identification of “American” as noted above.  It is a bit ironic that in the part of the country that have a concentration of persons who self-identify as having American ancestry we also have people seeking to claim symbols of a rebellion as their own.

*Like a commenter on this thread who was quite insistent on this issue.

FILED UNDER: *FEATURED, US Politics
Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is a Professor of Political Science and a College of Arts and Sciences Dean. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter

Comments

  1. Tony W says:

    It is a bit ironic that in the part of the country that have a concentration of persons who self-identify as having American ancestry we also have people seeking to claim symbols of a rebellion as their own.

    Ironic, but unsurprising. Cognitive dissonance (to put it kindly) is a core element of some folks’ identities.

  2. Moosebreath says:

    “First, the only part of the country with a large number of counties dominated by persons claiming “American” ancestry is concentrated in southern states (although not exclusively former CSA) states. This choice of self-identification is intriguing, and reminds me of Sarah Palin’s reference to “pro-America areas of this great nation” (a statement made at a North Carolina campaign stop).”

    I recall Nate Silver’s analysis of 2008 voting patterns noted this as a very significant issue. Areas with a plurality of people self-identifying as of “American” ancestry tended to prefer Hillary to Obama by a large margin in the primaries, and were nearly all of the counties where McCain’s share of the vote increased from Bush’s in 2004.

  3. DC Loser says:

    That’s funny. As an Asian-American, when (usually white) people ask me what’s my nationality, I say “American.” Then they go, “No, I mean what country did you come from?”

  4. john personna says:

    Boy am I an outsider. I’m fractionally English, but mostly Danish/Icelandic [not even on the map]. And of course this whole Southern thing is like a TV show to me …

    In a Modern American Family sense … I, a Danish Lutheran, date a Vietnamese Buddhist, but we make sure her son gets to Hebrew school. Do I win the thread?

  5. john personna says:

    @DC Loser:

    Yeah, where do “you” come from is really harsh. Probably a few are just interested in culture .. and probably a lot are interested in food.

  6. James Pearce says:

    Both my folks were mutts, so I always say my familiy’s old country is Oklahoma.

    In truth, though, on my Mom’s side, they were Germans who first migrated to Russia of all places (apparently Catherine took a lot of her countrymen with her*) and then to Kansas. German-speaking Russians. Go figure.

    I think along the way, of course, we did have some Southerners who fought for the CSA, but they were scoundrels and we have forgotten their names.

    * True story: Catherine the Great was German.

  7. Rob in CT says:

    IIRC, that map shows the top ethnic background for each county. So you see that many counties in CT show up Italian. And, sure enough, there are indeed many folks of Italian descent in CT (makes for excellent pizza, btw. If anybody tells you that NY pizza is the best, they’re close but not quite right).

    Anyway, the limited point I want to make is that this is a pretty quick ‘n dirty way of displaying the data. You could have a county that is 40% italian, 30% english, etc, and the map just shows it as italian. If you want to really think about this stuff, you’d need to see a breakdown that included the 2nd, 3rd, 4th… all the way down the list for each country, and then totals by state/region/country.

    Also, IIRC “American” is for folks who don’t like “hypenated American” being a thing. Sort of like “hey, I’m colorblind” or “I don’t care about race” even though, well, yeah, not so much.

    Since folks seem to be mentioning it, my extraction looks like this: about 3/5 English (with some confusion over whether a small portion of that is Scot), 1/4 Italian (Sicilian), 1/10 Croat. Or, as I like to put it sometimes: mutt. We’re all mutts, really, and it’s good.

  8. @Rob in CT:

    the limited point I want to make is that this is a pretty quick ‘n dirty way of displaying the data.

    Agreed. There is also the national aggregated data that is of interest.@Rob in CT:

    Also, IIRC “American” is for folks who don’t like “hypenated American” being a thing. Sort of like “hey, I’m colorblind” or “I don’t care about race” even though, well, yeah, not so much.

    I think that this is part of the motivation, yes.

  9. Mikey says:

    @James Pearce:

    German-speaking Russians. Go figure.

    Not that uncommon. There were also plenty of German-speaking Czechs (Sudetendeutschen) and Polish-speaking Germans. My wife’s grandmother was one of the latter, having grown up in Beuthen, Germany, which is now Bytom, Poland. She and her 10 children fled west at the end of World War 2, displacing to escape the Russian advance. They survived the firebombing of Dresden and ended up in Nuremberg, in the American sector, where they lived in a displaced persons camp for 10 years. The eventual happy result, for me, was meeting my wife while I was stationed near Nuremberg.

    Anyway, that was a bit of a digression…my wife immigrated to the U. S. from Germany in 1993 shortly after we got married. So if someone asks her “what country did you come from?” she can truthfully answer “Germany.”

    My father’s parents came over from Italy in 1927. Ancestry on my mother’s side is traceable to mid-17th-century Boston.

  10. Second, it is striking that the dominant color on the map corresponds with German ancestry, not English. Indeed, it is not just that the number of counties are dominated by descendants of Germany, but according to the census data used to create the map: “By far the largest ancestral group, stretching from coast to coast across 21st century America is German, with 49,206,934 people.”

    This leads to something that actually makes me smile every time I hear one of those “English as America’s official language” types. Thankfully for them our nation decided not to have an official language, because when the country was originally founded, the movement to make German the official language was much larger than the one to make English the official language.

  11. First, the only part of the country with a large number of counties dominated by persons claiming “American” ancestry is concentrated in southern states (although not exclusively former CSA) states.

    And for the record, most of the people in those “American” counties are of Scotts-Irish ancestry.

  12. john personna says:

    When you get to language, the nice thing about “English” is that it isn’t fixed and defined in “England”

    It is “Globish” at this point.

  13. This is the part of the country that tends to be the most patriotic and conservative.

    Yeah, because you can’t possibly love this country unless you run around 24/7 waving a flag and chanting “USA! USA! USA!” at the top of your lungs.

  14. Dave D says:

    Having grown up in Milwaukee I remember in fourth grade, the year we learned about state history, our teacher asking the class to raise their hands if they didn’t have any German ancestry. The only white kid besides me was my friend who’s family was always touting being 100% Irish. My family comes from the peninsula of Wisconsin, which was the only site of mass Belgian migration in the country. My dad was the first generation of his family where English was his first language despite the fact our family originally came over in the 1830’s. The only reason he learned English first instead of Walloon is because my grandmother’s family left Croatia during The Great War. Ironically the fact that he isn’t 100% Belgian almost kept my mom’s parents from allowing them to be married.

  15. The dark purple on that map corresponds to the Black Belt, a section of the US that has dark soil that is amenable to agriculture, including cotton cultivation (this is still a common term in Alabama, where the local weatherman will take about storms “across the Black Belt” and so forth). It has taken on a dual meaning because these areas are clearly now also areas heavily populated by African-Americans.

    Is the “dark soil” really the origin of the term “Black Belt”, or is that just a backformation created to rationalize the continued use of a racially provocative term?

  16. Rob in CT says:

    @Stormy Dragon:

    No, I really think it was the soil.

  17. @Stormy Dragon: It is my understanding is that the soil issue was the origin of the term.

  18. Ken says:

    This is the part of the country that tends to be the most patriotic and conservative.

    You misspelled “claims”

  19. PD Shaw says:

    “By far the largest ancestral group, stretching from coast to coast across 21st century America is German, with 49,206,934 people.”

    As long as its clear that this is claimed ancestry, not actual ancestry. People are forced by the question to give a single answer to what may be a complicated answer. Recency effect and uniqueness preferences boost non-Anglo-Saxon claims over their actual numeric contributions.

    Claiming “American” ancestry is common throughout the country, just more common in the South:

    Averages:

    South: 11.2 %
    Midwest: 6.5 %
    West: 4.1 %

    Maine also has significant claims to “American” ancestry (>7.2%)

  20. wr says:

    @Stormy Dragon: “Yeah, because you can’t possibly love this country unless you run around 24/7 waving a flag and chanting “USA! USA! USA!” at the top of your lungs. ”

    While demanding that your representative destroy the US economy and shut down the government to make sure “those people” can’t see a doctor.

  21. @Ken: A fair point. I was alluding to self-identified patriotism.

  22. al-Ameda says:

    The surprising number of people across the nation claiming to have American ancestry is due to them making a political statement, or because they are simply uncertain about their direct descendants. Indeed, this is a particularly common feature in the south of the nation, where political tensions between those who consider themselves original settlers and those who are more recent exist.

    “original settlers”? Wasn’t Georgia originally settled by way of a British prison release program?

    Also, my experience is that whenever someone says “I don’t care about race,” you can be sure that they care a lot about race.

  23. Dave Schuler says:

    Identity and reality are strikingly different things. When many of the ancestors of today’s Americans of German descent arrived here, there was no Germany. The census records of the time record any number of different principalities as places of origin: Bavaria, the Rhineland-Palatinate, Bohemia, and so on.

    Additionally, my experience has been that identity tends to follow the maternal line. Consequently, although I’m an eighth Swiss, maybe a quarter from the Rheinland-Pfalz, an eighth Swabian, maybe a quarter Irish, and an eighth or so French, I identify mostly as Irish (since my mother identified as Irish) or Swiss (since that’s the origin of my surname).

    Like most people in the United States regardless of how they identify, I’m actually a mutt. In the dog performance competition world mutts are sometimes jokingly referred to as “All-Americans”. Under the circumstances I don’t think that identifying as American is that outrageous.

  24. CSK says:

    It’s very common in the northeast to find people who claim one-half Irish, one-half Italian ancestry, or one-half Irish, one-half German ancestry. Which half prevails? I suspect whichever the surname is, is the one that registers on the map. And what about people who have, say, a French surname, but are mostly of non-French descent? Are they counted as French?

    Interesting factoid: Jacqueline Bouvier, despite her surname, was mostly of Irish ancestry.

    I have a friend whose children are Irish/Sicilian/Swedish/Armenian. In other words, all-American.

  25. Dave Schuler says:

    @al-Ameda:

    Wasn’t Georgia originally settled by way of a British prison release program?

    Not exactly. In the 18th century a substantial number of English criminals escaped the gallows by being transported to colonial Georgia where they served as indentured servants until they’d served out their sentence.

    When Georgia became, er, unavailable in the late 19th century the new colony of Australia was used instead.

  26. @Dave Schuler:

    Identity and reality are strikingly different things

    Indeed. But, identity has powerful political implications.

  27. Rob in CT says:

    If somebody asked me “what is your ancestry” and wanted a 1-country answer, I’d be stumped. Sure, English is #1, but how do you explain my family w/o mentioning the Sicilian? You can’t. A quarter Sicilian goes a long way…

  28. john personna says:

    @al-Ameda:

    “original settlers”? Wasn’t Georgia originally settled by way of a British prison release program?

    Well, it isn’t just “American” that is a questionable answer. “English” is hardly a pure culture or genetic inheritance. Agles, Saxons, Romans, Danes, Poles, Pakistanis ….

    Some people have stayed close to home, but some people have traveled, and traveled far, since forever. People just walk across continents today. It was possible as far back as you want to look.

    Also, my experience is that whenever someone says “I don’t care about race,” you can be sure that they care a lot about race.

    Race is a crude bucket sort. It always surprises me a little bit when “Asians” (among whom I understand all the individual cultures) just call me “white.” Or when my gf says “you like lox?” (surprised) and I say “my people have been smoking salmon for 10,000 years.” lol.

    Anyway, race is a rude shorthand for “the other.” And we shouldn’t really accept that.

  29. john personna says:

    @Dave Schuler:

    Identity and reality are strikingly different things. When many of the ancestors of today’s Americans of German descent arrived here, there was no Germany. The census records of the time record any number of different principalities as places of origin: Bavaria, the Rhineland-Palatinate, Bohemia, and so on.

    I was typing and missed this. Yes, what I was talking about also.

  30. Dave Schuler says:

    @john personna:

    my people have been smoking salmon for 10,000 years.

    Must have a powerful lung capacity. It draws kind of hard. 😉

  31. Mikey says:

    @Rob in CT:

    A quarter Sicilian goes a long way…

    I’m half Sicilian. The French/English/German/who knows what else are entirely subsumed…

  32. James Pearce says:

    @Dave Schuler:

    Like most people in the United States regardless of how they identify, I’m actually a mutt. In the dog performance competition world mutts are sometimes jokingly referred to as “All-Americans”. Under the circumstances I don’t think that identifying as American is that outrageous.

    That’s my situation. I’d call myself American in a survey simply because I wouldn’t know what else to call myself. We go way back, and came from all over.

  33. Dave Schuler says:

    @Mikey:

    Even Sicilian is a grab bag. “Sicilians” include people of Italian, Greek, Arab, Turkish, Albanian, and even German descent. My wife’s maternal grandfather was a member of a Sicilian ethnic group known as the Albanese (Frank Capra was, too). They’d emigrated to Sicily from Albania in the 13th century. Didn’t even speak Italian but a dialect of Albanian.

  34. john personna says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    Indeed. But, identity has powerful political implications.

    It has been suggested, and I agree, that the big division today is “melting pot or gumbo?”

    I happily live in a gumbo state, but sense that is not where all political commentators are coming from.

  35. OzarkHillbilly says:

    On my mother’s side English/Scots, Baptist, old south (Texas) and monied. My father was born of turn of the century Catholic immigrants from Slovenia. 10 kids, and dirt poor. When ever we kids would complain about how old fashioned pop was, mom would remind us that his parents got off the boat in 1900 and that was the way he was raised. When they got engaged my maternal grandmother threatened to disown my mother if she married “that papist polack from Chicago”.(the only thing she had right was the papist, my old man was from Joliet) My mother’s reply was, “Well I guess I better start packing.”

    A spine of steel and a will to match, my mother. In the end, her mother grew to love my old man as much as either of her own.

  36. grumpy realist says:

    @john personna: Actually, there’s a marvelous article written by Casimir (he of the Casimir Effect) about how the most popular language in the world for scientific communication is Broken English.

    I also love the stories I’ve heard about absent-minded physicists giving tri-lingual lectures. (Paul Dirac supposedly did this while waving his pipe.)

    Since we’re all giving our backgrounds–on mother’s side: total mutt. Family supposedly originally Belgian, but I’ve got a Portuguese great-grandmother and a great-grandfather Swedish sea captain thrown in there. And on my father’s side originally Ukrainian. Family seems to have migrated to Poland, which then turned into Russia as the maps got redrawn in Europe. I do know my father learned Russian when growing up. He was midway through the string of children they had, but supposedly the first born in the US.

  37. Phillip says:

    @Dave Schuler:

    there was no Germany

    Indeed, my family has long held their primary (approx. 60%) ancestry as Prussian, specifically from Dusseldorf. I suspect that largely has to do with when they emigrated, as well as from where.

  38. grumpy realist says:

    P.S. It sort of puts the kibosh on looking up your ancestors when you discover via Google that the most famous of them was a Nazi war criminal.

  39. gVOR08 says:

    @James Pearce: North Dakota and Minnesota have a lot of people my Norwegian grandfather referred to as “Rooshuns” who were ethnic Germans pushed out of, IIRC, the Ukraine.

  40. rudderpedals says:

    Give the distribution would it be fair to construe “American” responses as “Scots-Irish”?

  41. Mikey says:

    @Dave Schuler:

    Even Sicilian is a grab bag. “Sicilians” include people of Italian, Greek, Arab, Turkish, Albanian, and even German descent.

    From one melting pot to another. Kinda cool.

    Yes, there’s plenty of Arab in every Sicilian. It shows up in our features–skin tone, nose, lips, etc.

    For example: Prior to late 1990, my father had worn a moustache for decades. Why late 1990 to shave it off? Because when he had it, he looked just like Saddam Hussein. I don’t mean a merely passing resemblance, either. It was scary.

  42. Rafer Janders says:

    @James Pearce:

    In truth, though, on my Mom’s side, they were Germans who first migrated to Russia of all places (apparently Catherine took a lot of her countrymen with her*) and then to Kansas. German-speaking Russians. Go figure.

    Largely forgotten now, but until the 1945-1946 ethnic cleansing at the end of World War II, there were German communities throughout all of Eastern Europe; in most cases they had been living there for hundreds and hundreds of years. Among the many consequences of the war was a massive ethno-linguistic resorting of half of the continent which upended 500 years of settlement patterns.

  43. Rafer Janders says:

    @Stormy Dragon:

    Thankfully for them our nation decided not to have an official language, because when the country was originally founded, the movement to make German the official language was much larger than the one to make English the official language.

    I’m afraid this is a much-propagated but untrue myth. At the time of the Revolutionary War the vast overwhelming population of the country were English-speaking former British subjects of the British Empire; most German migration to the US happened during the 19th century. The Founding Fathers were all native English, not German, speakers.

  44. Rafer Janders says:

    This is the part of the country that tends to be the most patriotic and conservative.

    I strongly object to calling any part of the country “most patriotic”. Everyone’s an American here. If a part of the country is called “most patriotic” that implies that there are parts of the country that are “least patriotic” — care to tell me where that is?

    If by “most patriotic” you mean most loud-mouthed about it, then maybe. But if we’re going to go that route, I’ll stake New York City as the most patriotic part of the whole country — with about 40% of our population being foreign-born, we’re full of people who actually CHOSE to move here, unlike the South, where people just got lucky and were born there.

  45. @Rafer Janders: As I noted above, I meant that to be in a self-identified sense, not an absolute sense. A poor choice of words on my part.

  46. Rob in CT says:

    @Dave Schuler:

    There’s always the famous scene in that movie (was it Reservoir Dogs?) about people of Sicilian extraction…

    Your version is more polite, of course. 😉

  47. Rafer Janders says:

    @PD Shaw:

    As long as its clear that this is claimed ancestry, not actual ancestry. People are forced by the question to give a single answer to what may be a complicated answer. Recency effect and uniqueness preferences boost non-Anglo-Saxon claims over their actual numeric contributions.

    Actually, I’d guess that German ancestry is even higher than reported, precisely because Germans were so successful at assimilating. When they immigrated to the US, Murphys stayed Murphys, Ginsbergs stayed Ginsbergs, Gandolfinis stayed Gandolfinis, Menendezes stayed Menendezes — but lots of Schmidts and Schneiders and Brauns became Smiths and Snyders and Browns. There must be millions of German-descended Americans who, because of their last names, now think they are of English rather than of German descent.

  48. john personna says:

    @Rafer Janders:

    My father, 100% Danish, had a middle name of Mueller before WWII. Or whatever the Danish spelling was. He became Miller in about 1945.

    (There was a real family mill associated with that name, around Randers, Jutland, IIRC)

    Anyway, add Muellers/Millers to likely shifts.

  49. Ben says:

    The “Identity vs Reality” conversation definitely hits close to home for me. I am definitely a mutt, but my ancestry is far more French (via Canada) than any other, but my surname is Germanic, as are my looks and my personality (so I’m told). So I often self-identify as German, even though it is but a sliver of my actual makeup.

    Although it does allow me to make the joke that the French half of my family surrendered to my German great-grandfather

  50. Rafer Janders says:

    @Dave Schuler:

    Identity and reality are strikingly different things. When many of the ancestors of today’s Americans of German descent arrived here, there was no Germany. The census records of the time record any number of different principalities as places of origin: Bavaria, the Rhineland-Palatinate, Bohemia, and so on.

    Not to mention that besides the Germans arriving from what is today present-day Germany but was then an agglomeration of smaller states, many other ethnic Germans arrived from areas that are today Italy, Poland, Ukraine, the Baltic States, Russia, Romania, Hungary, etc. 21st century political maps don’t often correspond to 18th and 19th century ethnic-linguistic population distributions.

  51. Rafer Janders says:

    @Phillip:

    Indeed, my family has long held their primary (approx. 60%) ancestry as Prussian, specifically from Dusseldorf.

    That’s very odd. Duesseldorf is in North-Rhine Westphalia, in western central Germany, a part of the country that is specifically NOT Prussian. It’s kind of like claiming, in American terms, that your family is Texan, specifically from Chicago.

  52. Rafer Janders says:

    @Rafer Janders:

    Most of Prussia covered the area that is present-day Poland.

  53. PD Shaw says:

    @rudderpedals:” would it be fair to construe “American” responses as “Scots-Irish”?”

    There is a separate identification of Scots-Irish, which centers on Appalachia and the Pacific Northwest. Map. There probably is significant overlap between “American” and “Scots-Irish,” but treating them as the same would eliminate the numerous non-Scots-Irish settlers that were brought either voluntarily or involuntarily to the Virginia/Maryland Colonies before the Scots-Irish arrived in the 18th century. The servants and farm laborers were brought over to maintain the tidewater aristocracy’s feudal ambitions with indentured servants and renters. These were primarily English, but included orphans, prisoners, captured Irish Catholics, and Continental Europeans dislocated by religious conflict. The brutal working conditions often led to an early demise and the children were often raised by someone other than their parents. Or they would run-off and disappear, which is what ultimately led to the wide-scale adoption of African-American slavery.

  54. Mikey says:

    @Rafer Janders: There was a period of time when the territory held by Prussia did, in fact, include Duesseldorf (indeed, all of Westphalia). See this map and also this one.

    That is, of course, a relatively short period of Prussian history, but if Phillip’s ancestors came to the U. S. in the late 19th/early 20th century, they could indeed have been considered Prussian.

  55. DC Loser says:

    but lots of Schmidts and Schneiders and Brauns became Smiths and Snyders and Browns.

    Didn’t World Wars 1 and 2 have something to do with that? Kinda like the England’s House of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha becoming the Windsors?

  56. grumpy realist says:

    @Rafer Janders: Also, didn’t a lot of people end up changing their names during WWI? (The English crown changed their name to the “House of Windsor”, for example.)

    I wondered whether the mangling of the family name away from its strict Ukrainian form was due to an Ellis Island truncation or they making their name more Polish as the family traipsed through Poland. Looks like it was Poland…..

    P.S. I see that great minds think of the same example!

  57. Rafer Janders says:

    @Mikey:

    Ah, yes, that’s true, and a good point. But while the Rhineland was incorporated into the Kingdom of Prussia for part of the 19th century, the people of that region never thought of themselves as “Prussians.” Subjects of the Kingdom of Prussia in a political, yes, Prussians in an ethnic or regional sense, no. Germany has very distinct cultural regional identities that remain to this day (in fact, there are even specific regional dialects).

    Again, in American terms, let’s think of the fact that Americans are often called “Yankees” overseas — no self-respecting Southerner, however, would ever consider themselves to be a Yankee, even though they’re also American.

  58. Rafer Janders says:

    @grumpy realist:

    Yes, lots of Germans Anglicized their last names during or after World War I. But that again gets to my point that it was relatively easy for them to do since many of the last names in both English and German are so similar.

    And so if we have a guy named Bill Fox whose great-grandfather changed the family name from “Fuchs” in 1917, does Bill even know this? Do Bill’s kids today even know about their German ancestry or do they just look at their last name and assume they’re of English descent?

  59. Rob in CT says:

    Holy… I just noticed that old Confed flag thread reached 400+ posts! You guys kept at it for da after I bugged out. Better yet, you managed (via a slow, tortuous process) to draw out the racist’s real views and his flailing increased to epic levels. Bravo, I think.

  60. Mikey says:

    @Rafer Janders: Good points on your part, as well. And I’ve had experience with Germany’s regional dialects…

    At one point, when my German was fairly fluent (I speak–well, spoke–Franconian-tinged Hochdeutsch), I went on a field training exercise in Schwaben, about an hour from my home station. We needed to use a phone, couldn’t find a payphone, so I decided to stop at a nearby Gasthaus and ask to use theirs. The very nice lady running the place said yes, and after the call she and I had a very nice conversation in Hochdeutsch. At that point, a friend of hers walked by, and she let loose with a stream of what was to me utter gibberish. Schwaebisch dialect, spoken an hour from where I lived, and I couldn’t catch two words of it. Amazing.

    Today, I can still understand quite well and speak semi-decently, but if I’m visiting my wife’s family in Nuremberg and someone shows up from around Munich and spouts off in Bayerisch, I’m lost.

  61. Rafer Janders says:

    @Mikey:

    I’ve had the same experience. I can speak Hochdeutsch, but can only make sense of a few words in most regional dialects if I overhear a conversation.

  62. PD Shaw says:

    @grumpy realist: I have German ancestors (Palatines) that Anglicized their names before the Revolutionary War. It appeared to be a gradual process. Dropping or converting umlauts in one generation. Shortening a compound name the next generation. Adopting an English sound-alike the next.

  63. jib10 says:

    @James Pearce: Your family was probably Mennonites. I grew up in Oklahoma and knew several people who were 1, 2 or 3 generations removed from Kansas Mennonites who had originally immigrated from Russia.

    The deal Catherine the Great made with the Mennonites is that they would be exempt from the military draft if they settled on the Ukrainian steppes. That deal was recended by later Czars in the 19th century and while a lot of Mennonites stayed in Russia and served in the Czars army, a group of them left for the US where they settled on the closest thing they could find to the Ukrainian steppes, Kansas Prairie.

    FWIW, there is a long tradition of people leaving the old world to avoid military service. That ethic has been passed down through generations. It is as much an ‘American Tradition’ to avoid service as it is to serve. You dont hear too much about it in the media but I think about it ever time some talking head seems surprised that the American people are not as enthused about war as they think they should be.

  64. dazedandconfused says:

    There’s a wiki page on “German” immigrants.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/German_American

    I had been thinking much more of it was from the mercenaries which came by the thousands to fight our wars with ourselves, but it appears that was but a small part of it. I guess that should be no surprise at all. With the”Germany(s) being a total mess of bat-poop crazy petty tyrants, each running their own bat-poop nuts petty state at the time, a large percentage of the people willing to take a huge risk to get the heck out of Europe would logically be “volks”.

  65. rudderpedals says:

    @PD Shaw: Thank you for the map link and info. The servants and tenants the English brought over to the colonies, were these from the same badly treated stock they pressed into labor at their Caribbean plantations?

  66. grumpy realist says:

    @jib10: Ha! That’s the family story I got about my father’s side of the family: that my grandfather (plus family) picked up and left Poland before he was forcibly inducted into the army.

    I’m still trying to figure out how a Ukrainian-background family living in Poland before WWI ends up speaking Russian. But it was definitely Russian my father spoke, not Polish.

  67. Phillip says:

    @Mikey: @Rafer Janders: No doubt it appears that way, but I got the impression that their primary ancestry was indeed Prussian, and that they emigrated from Dusseldorf. Whether or not the family had spent generations in Dusseldorf itself, or had come from Prussian proper, is another question. They certainly saw themselves as Prussian, without question. I would suggest that they settled in Dusseldorf around the time of its incorporation into the Prussian empire(I was certainly led to believe they were fairly well-off in relation to the time and place), but I’m just speculating with that. I wish I could recall the original family name, as it was anglicized.

  68. john personna says:

    @Rob in CT:

    Holy… I just noticed that old Confed flag thread reached 400+ posts!

    Nobody look, it is too hard on OTB servers.

    Not quite Day One Obamacare bad, but pretty bad.

  69. @Rafer Janders:

    Germany has very distinct cultural regional identities that remain to this day (in fact, there are even specific regional dialects).

    I took German for five years during my schooling, starting at the junior high level and continuing at the high school level. One of my high school teachers once noted that he could tell which junior high each of the kids in his class had started at, because all of the German teachers in the district had studied near Frankfurt, except for the one at my junior high, who had studied in Berlin. All of his students arrived speaking with a notably different Berlin accent.

  70. DC Loser says:

    I’m still trying to figure out how a Ukrainian-background family living in Poland before WWI ends up speaking Russian. But it was definitely Russian my father spoke, not Polish.

    There was no indepedent Poland before WWI. It was part of the Russian empire, which absorbed Poland in the 1800s.

  71. john personna says:

    Funny story on “racial” perceptions. My mom’s friend was in Denmark, where they were having trouble filling up a Danish-only river cruise (of Russia). So, someone asked if they could invite some Norwegians. “Yes” they were told “but no Swedes, they’d ruin it.”

    No idea what that was about, but I find the idea of intra-Scandinavian stereotypes hilarious.

  72. Gavrilo says:

    I don’t think the tendency of the South to identify as “American” has much to do with patriotism or politics.

    First, race was always a much bigger divider in the South than ancestry. White southerners didn’t really care if the neighbors were of German or Irish descent. They cared that they were white. Second, most of the South wasn’t originally settled ethnically nor was the South much of a destination for large groups of immigrants like the Italians or Irish in the Northeast or Scandinavians in the Upper Mid-West. Third, the South developed a fairly unique culture of its own that overtook any cultural vestiges that contribute to how other regions self-identify. Fourth, and this ties in with culture, is religion. The dominant religion in the South didn’t correspond with any particular ancestry, allowing for more intermarriage among people of different countries or origin and further weakening ancestral identification.

    Of course, the one exception to all of this is the French influence in Louisiana.

  73. Rafer Janders says:

    @grumpy realist:

    I’m still trying to figure out how a Ukrainian-background family living in Poland before WWI ends up speaking Russian.

    Simple: there was no independent country of Poland before World War I. The ethnic Poles were divided among areas that were controlled by the German Empire, the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and the Russian Empire. Your family was therefore probably living in an area under Russian control.

  74. Rafer Janders says:

    @john personna:

    They probably didn’t want the cruise interrupted by a dour Swedish suicide every evening….

  75. Rafer Janders says:

    @Phillip:

    Ah, OK, so they were probably native Prussians who moved to Duesseldorf, not native Duesseldorfers who stayed in place when the Kingdom of Prussia came to them.

  76. john personna says:

    @Rafer Janders:

    I found this, but was not enlightened:

    On Happy Danes, Morose Finns and Liberal Swedes

  77. PD Shaw says:

    @Phillip: You haven’t given a timeframe regarding your German ancestry. If we’re talking about ancestors in German areas prior to the American Revolution, then you have a strong possibility of having ancestors dislocated by wars or religious conflicts. Close, but to the South of Dusseldorf, the Palentine region was particularly hit hard and frequently by France, and produced a lot of German refugees to other countries.

    A theory might be that your ancestors were Calvinists, who migrated from Lutheran Prussia to Dusseldorf, which was Calvinist, but they were dislocated and fled to North America either directly or indirectly after residing in either England or the Netherlands.

  78. PD Shaw says:

    @rudderpedals: “Thank you for the map link and info. The servants and tenants the English brought over to the colonies, were these from the same badly treated stock they pressed into labor at their Caribbean plantations?”

    A few weeks ago, I finished reading Bernard Bailyn’s “The Barbarous Years: The Peopling of British North America: The Conflict of Civilizations, 1600-1675,” which is where most of my comment originated from. I do not recall specific reference to Caribbean plantations as a source of labor, but it would have been consistent for those colonists to be looking for labor sources wherever they could, however, I would tend to think that the Caribbean plantations were competitors for labor and not frequently contributors.

    One of the points I am alluding to is that for the Southern Colonies there are a whole lot of people for whom it might have always been difficult to tell where they came from. That’s quite a different experience from New England and the Mid-Atlantic colonies.

  79. Rob in CT says:

    @PD Shaw:

    I saw that book at the library recently and almost took it out. Worth reading, eh?

  80. David in KC says:

    I identify as German. Grandpa came over as a child, and grandma’s parents came over. Things get a bit muddied on my mom’s side. Grandpas parents (maybe grand parents) came over from Switzerland. My grandmother’s mother’s maiden name was Baldwin and they traced it back to pre-revolutionary war. There was a family tree at a reunion years and years ago, and somehow I am related to Abraham Baldwin who signed the constitution for Georgia. I was fairly young at the time and can no longer find anyone that still has the lineage written out. Tried doing the research myself a few years ago, but ran into a brick wall and haven’t taken the time to get around it yet.

  81. Moosebreath says:

    @DC Loser:

    “Didn’t World Wars 1 and 2 have something to do with that?”

    My grandfather came to this country from Germany in June 1914, as an 18 year old who had just finished his apprenticeship as a auto mechanic. When WWI started, one of his older brothers became a captain in the German Army (and was killed on the Russian front in 1915). The government was worried that my grandfather would be a saboteur, and while they did not deport him, they placed a restriction on his visa to prevent him from ever being within 100 yards of the Delaware River.

    He also was one of the very few people whose name became longer when he came to this country, as it included an o with an umlaut (the double dots over it). To keep the pronunciation right (like an elongated oo), he added an e after the o. My generation ignores the pronunciation he used, and pretends it is a long o.

  82. Gavrilo says:

    @Moosebreath:

    So, your grandfather’s name was Mösebreath?

  83. PD Shaw says:

    @Rob in CT: Bailyn’s a pretty big name for colonial history and this book will be important for some time, but it can be a bit of a slow read, particularly as he sifts data or references English place names with the assumption the reader know how that area might differ from another English place name. Albion’s Seed would receive a higher recommendation.

  84. Pinky says:

    @Moosebreath: Mosebreath to Moesbreath? (edited to add: Gavrilo was quicker than me on that one!)

  85. Moosebreath says:

    @Gavrilo:

    Not quite, but funny.

  86. stonetools says:

    Interesting thread. Has anyone heard of the book “Albion’s Seed?”. It argued that the political and culture of various regions of the United States was shaped by the four groups of British that originally settled the United States during colonial times. Over at Daily Kos, there was a lot of discussion that the reason Obama did so badly in “Appalachia” was that it was originally settled by “Celtic fringe British” (Scots, Scots-Irish, Welsh)-folks who were close-knit, hostile to outsiders, and who were suspicious of Obama’s racially diverse, “cosmopolitan” heritage.
    I think there is definitely something to view that America’s political culture is shaped by who settled there-especially who settled there first. I don’t think its a coincidence that areas settled by those of German and Scandinavian ancestry tend to have a more benign, communitarian view of government than areas settled by those of Scots-Irish ancestry.
    History also plays a part. The South has had a different view of government than the North since colonial times, with slavery and race relations being a big part of that since the very beginning. I’m not sure about this, but I am betting most of the Federalists were Nortnerners and most of the Anti-federalists Southerners.

  87. Rob in CT says:

    @PD Shaw:

    Ok. Given that much of my family is from England, the place-name thing might not be as tough for me as others. But I’ve also heard of Albion’s Seed and should probably check that one out.

  88. grumpy realist says:

    @DC Loser: Oh, that’s right. I forgot the dismemberment that Poland had earlier undergone. A.J.P. Taylor talks about it in one of his essays. He pointed out that historically Poland had managed to protect itself by playing France and Russia against each other. The problem was when everybody ganged up together against them….

    So the Russian-speaking habits of my relatives does make sense. Good to know.

    And it must have been the Russian army that he was running away from getting nabbed for.

  89. SC_Birdflyte says:

    @James Pearce: A few years back, my wife and I were on a river cruise in Russia. One of our fellow passengers was the Catholic Archbishop of Winnipeg, who told me his ancestors were “Volga Germans” (which is how they used to refer to them).

  90. SC_Birdflyte says:

    @stonetools: Yes. Albion’s Seed is one I recommend to my American History students. However, due to its length, there aren’t many takers.

  91. sam says:

    I always describe my ancestry as Scot-Irish-English-On the lam Horsethief.

  92. My ancestors are primarily German, with just enough English to keep us from trying to invade Poland. Most them got here in the 1860s, so we’re basically Lutherans that go chased out of Germany by angry Catholics.

  93. rudderpedals says:

    @PD Shaw: And I’d just placed the interlibrary request for Barbarous Years. Hoping Albion’ll be in the stacks. This is an excellent thread.

  94. Kari Q says:

    @john personna:

    Ah, you would enjoy South Dakota then. Among the “local” books at bookstores are various Scandinavian jokes. Apparently, Swedes and Norwegians prefer to make fun of each other, but they all agree that the Dutch are the least intelligent. Sven and Ole jokes are common – and their nationality is ambiguous, and usually the opposite of the teller’s.

    On a related note, my grandfather’s family immigrated in the early 20th century, and he grew up speaking German and attended a German language school. By the time he was an adult, he was fluent in English and it was his language of choice. When he was a senior, he had forgotten most of the German that was once his native language. I think about that every time I hear one of these “Make English the official language” arguments.

    Oh, he married a Norwegian, for the record. That being my heritage, Sven and Ole are obviously Swedish.

  95. al-Ameda says:

    @PD Shaw:

    A few weeks ago, I finished reading Bernard Bailyn’s “The Barbarous Years: The Peopling of British North America: The Conflict of Civilizations, 1600-1675,” which is where most of my comment originated from.

    Oh my, I read Bernard Bailyn in college for some American Studies and American history courses. Worthwhile material.

  96. Rafer Janders says:

    @PD Shaw:

    I have German ancestors (Palatines) that Anglicized their names before the Revolutionary War. It appeared to be a gradual process. Dropping or converting umlauts in one generation. Shortening a compound name the next generation. Adopting an English sound-alike the next.

    And that’s the story of how the Schawlachtenbuergmeisterhoehenkuehnsoberreissenbisselthurnkippenbeckermannsgruennenmanns became the Shaws.

  97. Mikey says:
  98. DrDaveT says:

    I’m always awed by the smug condescension towards the people who self-identify as “American” by those whose ancestors arrived on these shores recently.

    I’m originally from the part of the country where the “German” counties border the “American” counties. Those counties in Appalachia, Tennessee, Kentucky, and the southern edges of Ohio/Indiana/Illinois were settled by people whose great great grandparents lived in Virginia and North Carolina, and whose great great great great grandparents might have as well.

    My parents are both 8th-generation American in almost every line — only one ancestor between them who arrived after 1800. They are 12th or 13th generation American in some lines. The original ancestors were Scottish, Scots-Irish, English, Alsatian, Palatine, Prussian, and Swiss, with the occasional oddball from somewhere else. It would be ludicrous to call them anything but American, even if the Scots were the most numerous among the ancestors.

    And this is not rare in those counties — that’s who these people are. Mongrelized descendants of long-ago refugees, fortune-seekers, religious crackpots, indentured servants, and criminals. In other words, Americans.

  99. James Pearce says:

    Wow, you guys are good.

    @gVOR08:

    who were ethnic Germans pushed out of, IIRC, the Ukraine

    I’m not so sure my ancestors were pushed, but they were definitely from the Ukraine.

    @jib10:

    a group of them left for the US where they settled on the closest thing they could find to the Ukrainian steppes, Kansas Prairie

    That is indeed why they chose Kansas, although whatever Mennonite streak they had did not stick.

    @SC_Birdflyte:

    told me his ancestors were “Volga Germans”

    Indeed, the family history has a chapter called “From the Banks of the Volga.” And a river cruise in Russia? That’s on my top ten list of things to do before I die.

  100. grumpy realist says:

    @Stormy Dragon: My roommate told me of a conversation she had with one of her classmates who was extremely proud of her ancestors having come over on the Mayflower, etc. Then asked my roommate where she was from. K. looked her straight in the eye and said: “I’m descended from the people your ancestors chased out of Massachusetts.”

    Said classmate wasn’t quite so loud about her ancestors after that.