Sunday, May 4, 2014

Where Did All The German-Americans Come From?

Although more Americans claim to have German ancestry than any other point of origin, we are not seeing this reflected in the various "ancestral" products from DNA testing companies. The map below shows the largest claimed ancestry in US counties in the 2000 census. Unfortunately for future genealogists, that data was not collected in 2010. 

Almost 50 million Americans claimed German ancestry. They were the largest ancestral grouping in the counties colored in baby blue above. The second largest group overall was African-Americans with about 40 million. 

In spite of this large Germanic presence, this grouping is hard to identify in test reports from Ancestry Composition (23andMe), DNAAncestry and now from myOrigins (FTDNA).

The individual whose test results and ancestral predictions are described below descends from 5 (of 8) great-grandparents who immigrated from Germany/Prussia to the Chicago area in the last half of the 19th century. Their points of origin were were in Northern Germany/Prussia from Ostfriesland in the west near The Netherlands to Westpreussen near Danzig. 

Note that the Germanic ancestry is not very prominently represented in any of them. DNAAncestry combines France and Germany into a category called Europe West.


Even if this segment is combined with Europe East, the two do not add up the even half of the expected 62.5%. However, Ancestry did note that the actual component for Europe West could range from 0% to 40% and that the component for Europe East could range from 3% to 20%. However, even if the most generous numbers from each range were taken, this would only begin to approach the expected amount.

Ancestry Composition (23andMe), even at its "Speculative" setting does not allocate much specifically to German and Eastern European. Even if all the Non specific European and Northern European were added, it would still be short of the amount suggested by paper trails. 

Ancestry Composition

With myOrigins (FTDNA in Beta) the predicted origins are also shown to be 78% from the British Isles rather than the continent.

I have noted with other individuals in my extended family that the predicted origins seem to overemphasize the Isles at the expense of the areas from whence German-Americans came. This seems to be true whether they originated from the Palatine or from more northern regions. What has been the experience with those in your families?


  1. One of the reasons German/French ancestry is going to be difficult to trace specifically is because the borders and ethnic backgrounds of the region has changed many times through the centuries.

    1. Hi JD,

      You are correct. Borders in Europe have changed many time just since North America was settled by Europeans. One extreme example is Poland which was only a state of mind during the entire 19th century. Of course Polish people and Polish culture have been around for many centuries.

  2. I am a little confused by the category "American" what ethnic group is that as they identify native(Indian)American? Light yellow color.

  3. Hi Dust Bunny,
    This was data self reported to the Census. The light yellow is definitely NOT Native American. That is orange. Many of the light yellow counties were probably of Scots Irish descent. However, to generalize this is dangerous.

  4. Thanks for the reply! Interesting map,I have just started adding DNA to my Genealogy.So much to learn!

  5. Don't think the borders have anything to do with it. As I understand it, the reference populations, which are people who have been documented as living in a specific area for many generations, are pretty small,on the order of one or two thousand.
    My last name is German, and I know one of my great-grandfathers is from Prussia, but I have almost no German (or West European) in my DNA analysis (British & Scandinavian instead).
    I speculate that there may be a class factor - perhaps the German reference population is the more established upper class, with the perhaps more mobile and less-well-documented lowest classes not making it into the reference populations.