Dutch / English / Old American ancestry

Greg Cochran writes:

When responding to the Census, more than five million Americans claim to be of Dutch descent. And they mostly are, at least a little. Now you might wonder how they compare with the Dutch back in the Netherlands: you might wonder about the relative academic or economic success of these two groups, which presumably have a common ancestry. But you would be wrong to do so. You would be comparing apples and House of Orangemen.

There were four or five different Dutch waves of settlement in this country. The first is pretty well-known, the Dutch colony in New York. Of course, it was only about half Dutch in origin: the rest were Walloons and French Huguenots. Lots of people have some ancestry from that group, including people I know. Why, if there was any justice, Henry Harpending would own a fine farm on Manhattan Island right now.

Of course, Henry isn’t all that Dutch. His surname is. He comes from an area of New York State that really did have some Dutch settlement. The thing is, white Protestants in this country have been intermarrying rather freely for several hundred years: it is rare to find someone in that category whose ancestors all come from one ethnicity. I would be surprised if Henry is 1/8th Dutch. In much the same way, my patrilineal lineage is Ulster Scot (who fears mention the battle of the Boyne!?) but the rest includes English, Welsh, Scottish, Green Irish, and a component that, I suspect, only became Dutch in 1918, and was Bavarian before that. We’re talking about ye olde Americans, not Ellis Island types. Not that they haven’t mixed as well, but less so… [. . .]

Most of the people who self-identify as Dutch-Americans are mostly something else. Why? Sometimes a family tradition, or a surname, but more than anything else, fashion.

Fashions change. For example, the fraction of Americans who report English ancestry has dropped drastically since 1980 – so much that so that you would have to wonder about secret death camps if you took it seriously. But it’s fashion. I looked at the census numbers for my home county, and then looked at the phone book: Census result was 20% English ancestry, real number was more like 80%. Of course this means that people in the US claiming a particular ethnicity can not only have limited ancestry from that group, but be oddly unrepresentative as well.

Henry Harpending confirms:
I would probably put “Dutch” on a census form if an answer were required. I am either 1/32 or 1/64 Dutch, and worse the supposed Dutch ancestor was a Huguenot or something like that, so I am likely really 0% Dutch. No matter…….
I've commented on this phenomenon before (e.g.), but a periodic reminder is useful. I don't see a problem with someone identifying with his patrilineal national origin for census purposes while remaining aware of his overall ancestry. What I find irritating is the eagerness of some with American ancestry to identify as "Scotch-Irish" after reading a review of Albion's Seed, or "Celtic" in the name of Celtic Southronism, or "German" because they had a German great-grandfather, and then declare themselves at war with or at least safely distinct from evil/culpable "WASPs" / "Anglo-Saxons" (which appellations in reality describe the core of the breeding population from which the newly self-identified Borderer/Celt/German sprung).

5 comments:

hailtoyou said...

Being of Colonial American stock should count as an ethnicity.

One could say "I am half Colonial-Yankee, a quarter German, and a quarter French". Trying to split hairs about a Colonial-American's ancestors' origins seems not only silly, but counterproductive towards trying to actually understand how a person sees himself.

As such, when I wrote the snapshot of Mitt Romney's ancestral stock, it went like this:

Mitt Romney: Ethnic Ancestry Summary
40.6% England — Mostly Northwest England, partly W.Midlands.
18.8% Scotland
26.6% Colonial-Yankee
12.5% North-German
1.5-3% French, Acadian and possible Huguenot

n/a said...

Hail,

I think we're in general agreement.

Anonymous said...

I don't see a problem with someone identifying with his patrilineal national origin for census purposes while remaining aware of his overall ancestry. What I find irritating is the eagerness of some with American ancestry to identify as "Scotch-Irish" after reading a review of Albion's Seed, or "Celtic" in the name of Celtic Southronism, or "German" because they had a German great-grandfather, and then declare themselves at war with or at least safely distinct from evil/culpable "WASPs" / "Anglo-Saxons" (which appellations in reality describe the core of the breeding population from which the newly self-identified Borderer/Celt/German sprung).

Well, it doesn't help when you have people like Andrew Fraser over at TOO insisting that unless you're 100% English, you're part of the problem. Naturally that kind of thing is going to encourage people (even who have a lot of colonial American blood) to view "WASPs" with hostility.

n/a said...

'unless you're 100% English'

As far as I know, Fraser is a highland Scottish name. In any event, he's not American and doesn't speak for me. I was disappointed with his book, which I think gets some important points wrong and relies too heavily on "New Right"-filtered continental anti-Americanism and anti-Anglo-Saxonism.

Note: Mild anti-Americanism/anti-Anglo-Saxonism is fine for French people in France. Ingroup biases are normal. Using some other group's biases as a starting point for understanding one's own group, however, seems to me less than sensible -- particularly if the end goal is to rally or advance the interests of one's own group.

Also: the trend I'm speaking of predates anything Andrew Fraser ever published on "WASPs". My point is that irrespective of how people choose to identify, there does exist an ethnic core in America, consisting of the descendants of primarily English colonists and assimilated Northwestern Europeans. When a member of this group decides to set himself apart with some boutique minority identity and attack the majority, he is ultimately undermining his own interests, regardless of whether it makes him feel better about himself in the short run. As for actual minorities living in Anglo-Saxon countries, it's to be expected that they will behave this way. Members of the ethnic core should be aware of this dynamic before allowing themselves to be too influenced by these types (Moldbug, wintermute, etc.).

Vanishing American said...

n/a, I really agree with the last paragraph of your post.
Albion's Seed in particular is a real source of all this recent 'Scots-Irish' and 'Celtic South' trend. And the larger point about how people choose to self-identify, even in contradiction to their actual ancestry, is something I find very irritating and counterproductive as it splits us up based on all these arbitrary self-chosen identities.
-VA