Question: What % of white Americans have colonial roots?

  • #1
StatGuy2000
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Hi everyone. One of my pet hobbies/interests is in history, and I've done some background reading on early American and Canadian history, including the history of immigration to the US.

One of the questions that I have is what percentage of white Americans are descended from those Europeans who arrived during the colonial period (i.e. prior to the US gaining independence in 1776, so primarily during the 17th and 18th centuries), and those who arrived in later immigration waves (the 3 waves documented are the first half of the 19th century, the period between 1880s to 1920, and the post-World War II period).

I tried to do a Google search, but I haven't found any source or reference identifying what it is. My own suspicion is that a vast number of white Americans descend from later waves of immigrants and that only a minority descend from the early colonial period (although this may well differ depending on what state one lives in). Any thoughts?
 
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  • #2
phyzguy
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How would you define "descended from"? 1776 was about 240 years or 8 generations ago. So we each can have as many as 2^8 = 256 ancestors from that period. If one of them was "colonial" does that mean I am "colonial"? If your question is, "Am I descended from immigrants from the colonial period or from immigrants from the later waves?" for the vast majority of us, the answer is "Both".
 
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  • #3
fresh_42
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Do the Latin Americans count who now live in the US, and who have a Spanish, Portuguese or other European individuals in their tree? How would you count them? I doubt there is a statistic. And there is still the open question, whether parts of America have been settled by Europeans along the east coast, instead of merely the migration over the Bering Straight along the west coast. But even them might have had European ancestors in their trees. I guess, you also want to define a lower bound for migration. All in all, the entire question lacks of good definitions, not the least because there aren't any meaningful possible.
 
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  • #4
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Non-hispanic whites number about 200M and, while I cannot find a direct source, the number everyone on the Internet references is that there are 35 million living descendants of Mayflower passengers, so there is a lower bound.
 
  • #5
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Also very few whites with roots in the South and West came in later waves of immigration, that is primarily a Northeast phenomenon
 
  • #6
StatGuy2000
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Do the Latin Americans count who now live in the US, and who have a Spanish, Portuguese or other European individuals in their tree? How would you count them? I doubt there is a statistic. And there is still the open question, whether parts of America have been settled by Europeans along the east coast, instead of merely the migration over the Bering street along the west coast. But even them might have had European ancestors in their trees. I guess, you also want to define a lower bound for migration. All in all, the entire question lacks of good definitions, not the least because there aren't any meaningful possible.

Most Latin Americans who now live in the US are essentially multiracial (being a mix of European, Native American/indigenous American, and sub-Saharan African ancestry, depending on the specific country they are from), and the majority are relatively recent immigrants, so I would not count these people among the white Americans.

The exception would be the descendants of Spanish colonists who settled in northern New Mexico and southern Colorado during the 16th and 17th centuries (who are often referred to as Hispanos). And yes, these people I would definitely count as being of colonial heritage, the same as French Canadians, Cajuns and Louisiana Creole peoples (all descended from French colonists who had arrived in parts of what is now the US and Canada under French control during the 17th and 18th centuries).

As for your other statements, is there credible evidence (apart from Vikings who had settled Greenland and parts of Newfoundland in Canada) of Europeans who had settled in the Americas before the 16th century?
 
  • #7
StatGuy2000
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How would you define "descended from"? 1776 was about 240 years or 8 generations ago. So we each can have as many as 2^8 = 256 ancestors from that period. If one of them was "colonial" does that mean I am "colonial"? If your question is, "Am I descended from immigrants from the colonial period or from immigrants from the later waves?" for the vast majority of us, the answer is "Both".

If even one of your ancestors have roots from Europeans who arrived in what is now the US prior to the 19th century -- in the context of the US, that would be someone of British ancestry, but also including people of Dutch ancestry who settled in what is now New York and New Jersey, descendants of German settlers in Pennsylvania (the Pennsylvania Dutch), descendants of French Protestants or Huguenots, Spanish colonists in northern New Mexico and southern Colorado, French colonists in Louisiana -- then yes, you are indeed a "colonial".
 
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  • #8
StatGuy2000
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I think there is a clarification I need to make here.

I am trying to ask what proportion of the white American population (that is, those in the US who self-identify as "white") have very deep roots in the US (and by "very deep", I mean those who can trace their roots before the 19th century). Part of the reason I'm curious about this is because the United States is often described as a "land of immigrants", but if one's roots in the country date back before the massive immigration waves in American history (during the 19th and 20th centuries), they may not consider themselves to be descended from immigrants (whether that is accurate or not).
 
  • #9
fresh_42
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and the majority are relatively recent immigrants
Not true for the south west as NM, AZ or TX, probably CA, too.

And what makes Spanish or Portuguese ancestry non European?
 
  • #10
DavidSnider
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I think there is a clarification I need to make here.

I am trying to ask what proportion of the white American population (that is, those in the US who self-identify as "white") have very deep roots in the US (and by "very deep", I mean those who can trace their roots before the 19th century). Part of the reason I'm curious about this is because the United States is often described as a "land of immigrants", but if one's roots in the country date back before the massive immigration waves in American history (during the 19th and 20th centuries), they may not consider themselves to be descended from immigrants (whether that is accurate or not).

Why don't you consider the pre-19th century colonists as "immigrants"?
 
  • #11
StatGuy2000
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Not true for the south west as NM, AZ or TX, probably CA, too.

Most white Americans (that is, those who self-identify as such) in New Mexico, Arizona, or Texas are indeed descended from either "recent" immigrants (i.e. immigrants who arrived in the US during the 19th century and afterwards), OR descended from those of colonial British descent from eastern United States. The exception would be the Hispano community (i.e. descendants of Spanish colonists who arrived in northern New Mexico during the 16th and 17th centuries).

And what makes Spanish or Portuguese ancestry non European?

I have never said that Spanish or Portuguese ancestry is non-European. What I did say is that most Latin Americans (i.e. Mexicans, Guatemalans, Cubans, Dominicans, Chileans, Peruvians, Brazilians, etc.) are multiracial/multiethnic. That means that they are a varying mixture of European (i.e. Spanish or Portuguese, and other European), Native American (i.e. the indigenous or aboriginal peoples of North and South America), and/or sub-Saharan African ancestry, depending on the particular country.
 
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  • #12
StatGuy2000
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Why don't you consider the pre-19th century colonists as "immigrants"?

Well, yes, they were "immigrants", but these people migrated to the United States before the United States became an independent country. What I'm trying to ask is what proportion of the white American population arrived in what is the United States when that area were still British colonies (or in the case of certain areas like Louisiana or Texas, French or Spanish colonies).

I frankly don't understand why this question is so confusing to so many people here.
 
  • #13
DavidSnider
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Well, yes, they were "immigrants", but these people migrated to the United States before the United States became an independent country. What I'm trying to ask is what proportion of the white American population arrived in what is the United States when that area were still British colonies (or in the case of certain areas like Louisiana or Texas, French or Spanish colonies).

I frankly don't understand why this question is so confusing to so many people here.

I don't think that is what people are referring to when they say "nation of immigrants".
 
  • #14
StatGuy2000
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I don't think that is what people are referring to when they say "nation of immigrants".

Perhaps not, but frankly that isn't relevant to my question or the topic I'm trying to raise.

To make this topic more personal (and perhaps more easy to relate), let's take you as an example. I'm assuming that "David Snider" is your real name (based off of your PF handle). Are you American? If so, how much do you know of your family history/genealogy? Do you know when your ancestors arrived in the United States?
 
  • #15
DavidSnider
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Perhaps not, but frankly that isn't relevant to my question or the topic I'm trying to raise.

To make this topic more personal (and perhaps more easy to relate), let's take you as an example. I'm assuming that "David Snider" is your real name (based off of your PF handle). Are you American? If so, how much do you know of your family history/genealogy? Do you know when your ancestors arrived in the United States?

My moms side is native american \ hard to track european, my fathers side came here around the 1700s.
 
  • #16
StatGuy2000
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My moms side is native american \ hard to track european, my fathers side came here around the 1700s.

I see. Then based on my question above, I would consider you to be an American with colonial European and Native American roots.
 
  • #17
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If even one of your ancestors have roots from Europeans who arrived in what is now the US prior to the 19th century [...] then yes, you are indeed a "colonial".
I know of one great-great-great-grandfather who was born around 1790, probably in Pennsylvania, and served in the War of 1812, so I fit your definition. No, he wasn't a Bell, although family lore had it that the original Bell in my father's patriarchal line did indeed come from somewhere in the UK in colonial times. I really should try to trace that line back further than great-great-grandfather.

However, probably only about 1/8 of my ancestry at most might be traceable to the colonial period. My father also had among his ancestors Swiss, Irish and German immigrants from the mid 1800s, who settled around the northern tip of West Virginia. Their descendants often moved to the industrial towns of northeast Ohio, as my grandfather did. My mother's parents both immigrated from Finland (by way of Canada) in the early 1900s.

Neither my father nor any of his relatives that I knew, embraced any particular ethnic heritage. They probably would have called themselves simply "Americans", or maybe "West Virginia hillbillies." :smile: My mother and aunt grew up in a neighborhood where many Finnish-Americans lived, in our home town. In addition to my mother's relatives, many of my parents' friends were from that group. The people in my mother's generation considered themselves "American", but acknowledged their Finnish heritage.
 
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  • #18
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If even one of your ancestors have roots from Europeans who arrived in what is now the US prior to the 19th century -- then yes, you are indeed a "colonial".

If there are 35M Mayflower descendants (a number I am a bit skeptical of), your number must approach 100%. After all, there were only 102 passengers.
 
  • #19
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If you figure that mayflower decendents likely had intermarried with all the other Puritan families by the time of the revolution then the 35 million number becomes simply the number of Americans with a Puritan colonial ancestor
 
  • #20
phyzguy
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Well, yes, they were "immigrants", but these people migrated to the United States before the United States became an independent country. What I'm trying to ask is what proportion of the white American population arrived in what is the United States when that area were still British colonies (or in the case of certain areas like Louisiana or Texas, French or Spanish colonies).

I frankly don't understand why this question is so confusing to so many people here.

I still think you are missing the point of how many ancestors people have. The answer to your question of "what proportion of the white American population arrived in what is the United States when that area were still British colonies?" is, "None". Those people are all dead.
 
  • #21
russ_watters
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To make this topic more personal (and perhaps more easy to relate), let's take you as an example. I'm assuming that "David Snider" is your real name (based off of your PF handle). Are you American? If so, how much do you know of your family history/genealogy? Do you know when your ancestors arrived in the United States?
My moms side is native american \ hard to track european, my fathers side came here around the 1700s.
I see. Then based on my question above, I would consider you to be an American with colonial European and Native American roots.
But this is just an example of the problem pointed out by @phyzuy in post #2. Saying "my mom's side" really just means one of a possible 128 branches on that half of your tree. So you've only covered 2 of the 256 ancestors you have at that time.

I've done some genealogy, and got my mother hooked on it. The way it generally works is that you take your family name (your fathers' last name) and your mother's maiden name (your grandfather's last name) and trace just those names back as far as you can take them. The rest of the people in the tree don't have a name you recognize, so you tend to ignore them. This makes for a very incomplete/biased view of your lineage.

Given the six degrees of Kevin Bacon, it is very likely that essentially everyone who isn't a member of a just-off-the-boat and very isolated community has ancestors at 8 or 10 generations back, from everywhere that is realistic to have relatives from. My mother's side is pretty isolated Pennsylvania German, and though we can only trace her mom's last name back to the 1880 in Germany, they settled in an area populated by Pennsylvania Germans since about 1700. It would be highly unlikely that one of my thousand ancestors wasn't in Pennsylvania at that time. But the fact that it would take me an enormous amount of work to trace back all thousand to verify it tells me it really isn't all that relevant.
 
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  • #22
russ_watters
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If there are 35M Mayflower descendants (a number I am a bit skeptical of), your number must approach 100%. After all, there were only 102 passengers.
Ehh; it's believable if families used to be a lot larger. It's about 102x2.2^16, assuming no crossing branches.
 
  • #24
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I said I was skeptical, not that it was impossible.

My skepticism arises from the fact that we just happen to live in a time where Mayflower descendants provide a substantial but not dominant fraction of the population. Remember, by 1640 there were 25,000 colonists, so Mayflower descendants were a small fraction of the total back then.
 
  • #25
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I said I was skeptical, not that it was impossible.

My skepticism arises from the fact that we just happen to live in a time where Mayflower descendants provide a substantial but not dominant fraction of the population. Remember, by 1640 there were 25,000 colonists, so Mayflower descendants were a small fraction of the total back then.

Well about half of the 25k was outside New England. Also of the 130 passengers there are only 25 male lines. Also migration to New England stopped around 1640 with the advent of the Civil War and 7-10% of New England Puritans went back the fight for Cromwell


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  • #26
russ_watters
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I said I was skeptical, not that it was impossible.

My skepticism arises from the fact that we just happen to live in a time where Mayflower descendants provide a substantial but not dominant fraction of the population. Remember, by 1640 there were 25,000 colonists, so Mayflower descendants were a small fraction of the total back then.
I feel like you are saying it has to be one or the other and odds favor being a descendent of some of the other 25,000, but not of the Mayflower passengers. But they aren't mutually exclusive. Since that's 16 generations ago, that's 65,000 ancestors (minus overlaps), so it could only be by considerable isolation that any white American* would not have many ancestors from each population. It seems like it would be difficult to not be related to a Mayflower passenger.

I realize it is exponentially more, but I like the basic point of the Guardian article that every living European (and therefore white American) is a direct descendant of Charlemagne -- and essentially everyone else who lived and had children Europe in the 9th century.

*Again; who doesn't have a demonstrably short history.
 
  • #27
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But there would have been substantial regional isolation until recent years - it was rare for say, Southerners to marry New Englanders
 
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  • #28
StatGuy2000
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But this is just an example of the problem pointed out by @phyzuy in post #2. Saying "my mom's side" really just means one of a possible 128 branches on that half of your tree. So you've only covered 2 of the 256 ancestors you have at that time.

I've done some genealogy, and got my mother hooked on it. The way it generally works is that you take your family name (your fathers' last name) and your mother's maiden name (your grandfather's last name) and trace just those names back as far as you can take them. The rest of the people in the tree don't have a name you recognize, so you tend to ignore them. This makes for a very incomplete/biased view of your lineage.

Given the six degrees of Kevin Bacon, it is very likely that essentially everyone who isn't a member of a just-off-the-boat and very isolated community has ancestors at 8 or 10 generations back, from everywhere that is realistic to have relatives from. My mother's side is pretty isolated Pennsylvania German, and though we can only trace her mom's last name back to the 1880 in Germany, they settled in an area populated by Pennsylvania Germans since about 1700. It would be highly unlikely that one of my thousand ancestors wasn't in Pennsylvania at that time. But the fact that it would take me an enormous amount of work to trace back all thousand to verify it tells me it really isn't all that relevant.

Certainly the easiest way to trace one's genealogy is to start with your surname and your mother's maiden name (i.e. your maternal grandfather's surname) and trace those back, but I've seen people who have traced their genealogies by looking at the maiden names of both their paternal and maternal grandmothers and follow their heritage. And then follow the various 256 branches to the extent that is possible.

For me, my family's history in the US is comparatively short (compared to your family's) because all of my ancestors from my father's side came either during the mid-to-late 19th century or the early part of the 20th century (my father is an American of mixed Italian, German and French-Canadian descent; my mother is Japanese).

As an aside, one acquaintance of mine (from back in my days studying undergraduate math at my alma mater) has published his genealogy online (with hyperlinks allowing to trace different branches of his ancestry), detailing his descent to the earliest British colonists in the US dating back to the 17th century from his father's side.

http://home.poslfit.com/cgi-bin/genea2.pl?10001
 
  • #29
StatGuy2000
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But there would have been substantial regional isolation until recent years - it was rare for say, Southerners to marry New Englanders

Was it really that rare? Many Southerners, for example, migrated to the industrial centres of the northern US (particularly places like Detroit and the surrounding areas of Michigan) during the early part of the 20th century, where they would have encountered earlier settlers of New England origin. There is a Wikipedia link on the "Hillbilly Highway".

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hillbilly_Highway

I have also read elsewhere that both Southerners and New Englanders were among the settlers (along with immigrants from various countries in Europe) that settled the mid-western and western US.
 
  • #30
StatGuy2000
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I feel like you are saying it has to be one or the other and odds favor being a descendent of some of the other 25,000, but not of the Mayflower passengers. But they aren't mutually exclusive. Since that's 16 generations ago, that's 65,000 ancestors (minus overlaps), so it could only be by considerable isolation that any white American* would not have many ancestors from each population. It seems like it would be difficult to not be related to a Mayflower passenger.

I realize it is exponentially more, but I like the basic point of the Guardian article that every living European (and therefore white American) is a direct descendant of Charlemagne -- and essentially everyone else who lived and had children Europe in the 9th century.

*Again; who doesn't have a demonstrably short history.

I've read the Guardian article and I wonder if it is indeed the case that every living European (and thus white American) is a more or less direct descendant of Charlemagne, instead of just western European (e.g. British, French, German, Dutch, Belgian, etc.). For example, would, say, Finns, Ukrainians, or Polish people (who are European) be among those who are Charlemagne's descendants?

What about Ashkenazi Jews (i.e. descendants of Jews who settled in central and eastern Europe) -- given the tendency toward endogamy in that population, I would highly doubt that Charlemagne's genetic legacy (or of similar such heritage) could have entered into that community.
 

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