Map of American counties by largest ancestry, 2000

American Ancestry in Maps

Recently, an old census map has been making the rounds of social media.  The map, pictured above, is from the “Ancestry: 2000” Census 2000 Brief of June 2004, and depicts the answers to the question “What is this person’s ancestry or ethnic origin?”  According the Census Bureau, the question as it is currently worded “allows everyone to give one or two attributions of their “ancestry or ethnic origin,” and in doing so, enables people to identify an ethnic background, such as German, Lebanese, Nigerian, or Portuguese, which was not otherwise identified in the race or Hispanic-origin questions.”

Many people found the map questionable because are so many counties where ancestry is dominated by those of German origin.  But this just means that people aren’t remembering the history of immigration to this country.  Review the section “Settling the Middle Colonies” from Chapter 3: Emergence of a Unique American Culture in American History I.  Some questions to ask your students: what are the advantages for immigrants of living in a community dominated by their culture group? what are the disadvantages? what other events in world history might have influenced the emigration of particular ethnic groups to the United States?

In this particular case, read World History B Chapter 1: The Impact of Nationalism and the section “Unification of Germany” for an event that precipitated emigration and then look at this map of population with German ancestry from 1872:

German Population 1872
From The Statistics of the Population of the United States, Compiled from the Original Returns of the Ninth Census, 1872.

German people from this era appear to have moved to areas of the United States where there were strong existing communities of German ancestry.

And the phenomenon persists — these areas are still largely German in ancestry.  An updated version of the map using 2010 census data was created by the Demographics Research Group at the University of Virginia:

Map of American counties by largest ancestry, 2010
Map of American counties by largest ancestry, 2010

A key difference in this map is that some ancestries were grouped together so they would be better represented on the map. In particular the Scandinavian ancestries Norwegian, Danish, Swedish, and Finnish are all shown in green which highlights how common they are in the Upper Midwest.

BulbgraphOnOffClicking on “Questions for Thought” in the overview brings up questions to focus poor readers on the section’s content.

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Dr. Annelies Kamran is V.P. for Content and Product Development at WorldView Software, Inc.

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