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Thread: Your DNA Is Not Your Culture...

  1. #151
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    Quote Originally Posted by flower View Post
    My ethnic identity is American. My genetic ethnicity is English. This has been so since I was a child because I've always known that's where the majority of my ancestors originated. I look genetically English, as did my father who I'm a female copy of. I wouldn't stand out in England unless I speak. Just like my mom and her siblings look more gentically Scot and Irish, which they are. What I didn't know until recently was how many German ancestors I have. I enjoy learning history - that's the point of a DNA test (besides people searching for their bio families which is the main reason people do them) - but it changes nothing. At the end of the day I'm American, whatever the hell that means. I like to drink lattes from Starbucks and order shitty cardboard delivery food like Dominoes lol. I'm not going to start drinking tea made from water heated in an electric kettle, eating biscuits, chugging giant mugs of German beer, or wear lederhosen.
    I don't think there are any major phenotypical differences between Irish/Scots and English people, only very minor traits like English people being more associated with blonde hair, Irish and Scottish with red hair for example. Every native English person can pass as a native in Ireland/Scotland and the reverse is also true.

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  3. #152
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    I agree.

    Attempting to learn a foreign language from the youth does partially change your identity, I think.
    And fully learning a language, starting from a very young age, like 6 years old, might change your identity even more.
    Moving in a different country, from your native country and living there for more than 10 years, or even more, might make more close to that country ethnicity, than to yours.
    But that depends on the person, if changing his or her cultural identity and adopting a new cultural identity more or less.

  4. #153
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    In my opinion, the people most likely to think that they're "just" Americans are most likely to have English ancestry than any other. Because the 13 colonies that eventually formed the U.S. were at core English colonies, there's a sense in which they have been able to consider themselves as "belonging" for a longer period of time.

    This might also be true for other British Americans, to some extent; but I think it's more true for English Americans than for anyone else.

    To explain what I'm talking about, I'll note that on the 1980 census the most-commonly-claimed ancestry was English. Other 1/4 of respondents made this response. But from 1990 onward, a curious thing began to happen. More and more people claimed "American" not only as their nationality, but even as their ancestry. They certainly weren't saying their ancestors were all indigenous. They were simply saying, I believe, that whatever Americans are, even their immigrant ancestors were more or less already that. I think it means that they didn't perceive a meaningful difference between colonial American "ethnicity" and their own contemporary American "ethnicity".

    So by 2000 -- or certainly by 2010 -- German overtook English as the most-claimed ancestry. This was not because somehow the "English" had all died off or gone back to England. It's just that, at heart, American culture is a sub-species of British culture.

    I'm not claiming we don't have our differences. But most of that is due to the years we've been separated, and the fact that the rest of Europe isn't right next door as an influence. We don't speak English as a people because we thought it was cool or had the language forced on us. We speak [English because]* people who already spoke English brought the language with them when they came over, and taught it to their children. (Who may still sound as much like their forebears as today's English sound like theirs. Maybe more. A classic example of change on the British side of the pond is the word "herb". No, we Americans didn't drop the "h" sound. The British added it. Don't believe me? Check out the entry in the Oxford English Dictionary.)

    My point is, there's a sense in which American culture is still largely English culture. And even if your ancestors were here two or three hundred years ago, if they weren't English (or to some extent, at least British), then they were foreigners. But if they were English, they might have been newcomers, but they were never foreigners. (Despite the fact that the soil they were living on used to belong to someone else.)

    Consider two different "founding fathers": John Adams and Frederick Muhlenberg. Both were there at the very foundation of the U.S. as an independent country. But to many people, Adams can be "just" a founding father in a way that Muhlenberg can never be. He'll always be a German American founding father, even though he was also the very 1st Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives. (Whereas Adams was just the 2nd President. Of course, to be fair the Adams family had already been in America for over a hundred years by the time the Muhlenberg family showed up.)

    I'm not saying that it's good or bad to be an English American or a German American (I'm actually both). I'm simply suggesting that there's a sense in which English American can be seen as synonymous with "just American" in a way that German American cannot.

    EDIT:

    I might add that I think what your surname is may make a difference. If you happen to have some German ancestry, but not a German surname, it may be easier to think of yourself as something else. If your name is Conrad Schultz, it may not matter how many generations your ancestors were here. You're going to have a hard time ignoring the connection.

    But, it might also make a difference where you grew up and how old you are. I'm not old enough to remember WWII -- I wan't born for a little over a decade after the war ended. Yet growing up I knew adults who'd taken part, and it was still very much in the national consciousness. (With the "Cold War" being understood as a direct outgrowth of the war, even though our main adversary had been our ally.)

    And, I might be more sensitive about the issue since I not only have German ancestry, I was also born there. (As a U.S. Air Force brat.) That was enough that I learned not to tell other kids where I was born -- not if I didn't wanted to be called "Kraut". (One of my parents' good friends used to call me "Heiny", and for some reason I couldn't stand the guy.)


    But again, if your name is Baumgartner or Showalter your German roots will be kind of hard to miss. If it's Smith, that's another story -- even if it once was Schmidt, Schmitt, or Schmitz. (Which is why I find the thought of Kyle Merkle concluding from his Ancestry DNA test that his family was "not German at all" to be absolutely nuts.)

    *words inadvertently omitted in original post
    Last edited by geebee; 02-11-2019 at 07:35 PM.
    Besides British-German-Catalan, ancestry includes smaller amounts of French, Irish, Swiss, Choctaw & possibly Catawba. Avatar picture is: my father, his father, & his father's father; baby is my eldest brother.

    GB

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  6. #154
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    I think in addition to English a lot of the just American people in the census are likely Scots-Irish (although probably mixed with English too, my Scots-Irish branches did, and even German) based on the locations where they are most common. For someone like me, an ancestry question seems weird too, as it's all mixed up, so I can see saying American vs. picking one to identify with. ("Well, I'm probably mostly English, some Welsh, some Swedish, some German, some Irish (but that actually could be Scottish or English, and one of my English lines seems to have some Scottish roots), and then there's the French and it seems a little Dutch but that's not totally confirmed" vs. "just American, most of my family has been here a long time.")

    I also think there's a distinction between how "German-American" you feel depending on whether it's German from the second big wave (mid 1800s) and from the first (pre Revolution) for most (although I understand you are an exception). In many or most cases people who have German ancestry from the 1700s have no clue and it would have been mixed with lots of other (mostly British Isles) ancestry for many, many years unless you were part of a separated community (like the Amish, etc.) or some other less usual circumstances. This is something I've heard from lots of people doing genealogical research, and it was true for me. Of course, as you say, some names are German, but many German names got Anglicized or were simply similar to English names to begin with, and if it's not the surname line or a surname of a closer relative, that wouldn't tip you off anyway.

    All of my grandparents' names appear to be British Isles (they all are but for my maternal grandfather's, which might be, might not be, but if German it's corrupted from a different name and in its current form it exists in England). Definite German names in my tree (although I wouldn't have known any of these growing up) are Albaugh, but as you can see it got modified, and Miller. Other possible German names, but not necessarily, are Clouse and Haws. Most of the German is on my mother's side, but if you'd asked her her ancestry she would have said "don't know, just American" (her mother would have said "English and Scottish," my grandfather "part Swedish").

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  8. #155
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    Most of my great grandparents were the immigrants, and they came from Norway, Sweden, England, Wales, and three separate German states. One great grandparent came from a likely colonial line. Some kept up their ties to relatives in the old country, some deliberately did not. None of them passed on a hyphen; while there are items passed on (a piece of embroidery, a Christmas ornament, etc) there wasn't any sense that they considered themselves anything but Americans. It's not a lack of identity but an acceptance that my ethnicity is American, an acceptance passed on by those immigrant ancestors.

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  10. #156
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    Quote Originally Posted by msmarjoribanks View Post
    I think in addition to English a lot of the just American people in the census are likely Scots-Irish (although probably mixed with English too, my Scots-Irish branches did, and even German) based on the locations where they are most common. For someone like me, an ancestry question seems weird too, as it's all mixed up, so I can see saying American vs. picking one to identify with. ("Well, I'm probably mostly English, some Welsh, some Swedish, some German, some Irish (but that actually could be Scottish or English, and one of my English lines seems to have some Scottish roots), and then there's the French and it seems a little Dutch but that's not totally confirmed" vs. "just American, most of my family has been here a long time.")

    I also think there's a distinction between how "German-American" you feel depending on whether it's German from the second big wave (mid 1800s) and from the first (pre Revolution) for most (although I understand you are an exception). In many or most cases people who have German ancestry from the 1700s have no clue and it would have been mixed with lots of other (mostly British Isles) ancestry for many, many years unless you were part of a separated community (like the Amish, etc.) or some other less usual circumstances. This is something I've heard from lots of people doing genealogical research, and it was true for me. Of course, as you say, some names are German, but many German names got Anglicized or were simply similar to English names to begin with, and if it's not the surname line or a surname of a closer relative, that wouldn't tip you off anyway.

    All of my grandparents' names appear to be British Isles (they all are but for my maternal grandfather's, which might be, might not be, but if German it's corrupted from a different name and in its current form it exists in England). Definite German names in my tree (although I wouldn't have known any of these growing up) are Albaugh, but as you can see it got modified, and Miller. Other possible German names, but not necessarily, are Clouse and Haws. Most of the German is on my mother's side, but if you'd asked her her ancestry she would have said "don't know, just American" (her mother would have said "English and Scottish," my grandfather "part Swedish").
    You make some valid points, but one thing I know is that the number of people who claimed "American" as their ancestry on the census went up at the same time that the number of people claiming English went down. Obviously, the number of people claiming German ancestry went up, so that it's now the most-commonly-reported ancestry.

    You may be right about many with German ancestry from the 18th century being unaware of it -- but I suspect that's only if they don't have that much to being with. In my hometown in Pennsylvania, maybe a 3rd or more even have recognizably German surnames. I don't think they generally think about having German ancestry, but they know they do.

    Would they self-identify as German American? Probably not, for the most part. Their identity is very much "American", as is mine. But in my case I could hardly identify as German American, anyway, without some sort of qualifier. I'm less than half (say 35%) Palatine German by ancestry. But I'm less than half anything, unless you want to just say "European" (by ancestry).

    My Spanish ancestry is much smaller, but I don't think an eighth is entirely trivial, and that still leaves about an eighth for "everything else". So I'm most European by ancestry -- and mostly northwestern European at that. But I still wouldn't identify as anything but American.

    However, to me identity and ancestry are entirely different things. I would find it strange to refer to my ancestry as "American". The 2% who were actually native to this continent really predate the concept of "America", and those who weren't native obviously originated in Europe. Since I know roughly where in Europe, that's what I say. Typically, if we're talking about the census I think I put down three groups. But I don't remember for sure.

    I would certainly agree with the premise that "your DNA is not your culture", since regardless of test results and even my paper trail, my "culture" is small town "white" American -- whatever that means. And I'm really not entirely sure, and I'm not sure anyone else is, either. I don't think it's actually quite the same in every part of the country, or for every person.

    At the same time, any new information has the potential to affect a person's cultural identity -- and why not? This might be particularly true of someone who was adopted, and previously had no clue to his or her ancestry. Whatever clues there might be in features or complexion are generally ambiguous at best -- which is one reason for the ban on "guess my ethnicity". And of course, while all full siblings have exactly the same ancestors -- and typically very similar DNA -- they can often look very different. In any case, having an ancestry analysis may be new information, and therefore might potentially impact a person's cultural identity -- but only if they choose for it to. An example of this would be Kyle Merker's switch from lederhosen to a kilt -- even though I find that an absurd thing to have done. But my point isn't whether he's succeeded in changing his "cultural identity" -- or whether I think he should even try to do so. It's just that the DNA results have led him to make that effort. In his case, it's probably a pretty trivial effort. For someone else, it might not be.

    I remember watching a movie about a woman who'd been raised Jewish by her adopted family, but learned at the age of 43 that she was actually full-blooded Navajo. She'd apparently been taken from the hospital against her mother's wishes. She was able to find and reconnect with her Navajo relatives, although her mother had died by this point. In the movie, she ending up making the choice to learn to be Navajo. (Of course, in a sense she always was; but not culturally.)

    Obviously, this story didn't involve DNA testing. But what if it had? What if the test results led someone to do further research, and in the end to make a conscious effort to change his or her identity? My point is, your DNA is not your culture, but neither are a lot of other things. The language you speak, for example, may be related to your culture or your ethnicity, but it doesn't determine it.
    Last edited by geebee; 02-11-2019 at 06:15 PM.
    Besides British-German-Catalan, ancestry includes smaller amounts of French, Irish, Swiss, Choctaw & possibly Catawba. Avatar picture is: my father, his father, & his father's father; baby is my eldest brother.

    GB

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  12. #157
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    Geebee, overall a very thoughtful post.
    As someone who lives in another place colonised by English I agree with you.
    And one section, in particular, brings up frame of reference.

    Quote Originally Posted by geebee View Post
    I'm not claiming we don't have our differences. But most of that is due to the years we've been separated, and the fact that the rest of Europe isn't right next door as an influence. We don't speak English as a people because we thought it was cool or had the language forced on us. We speak people who already spoke English brought the language with them when they came over, and taught it to their children. (Who may still sound as much like their forebears as today's English sound like theirs. Maybe more. A classic example of change on the British side of the pond is the word "herb". No, we Americans didn't drop the "h" sound. The British added it. Don't believe me? Check out the entry in the Oxford English Dictionary.)
    American films and TV delight in calling some English modern usage "quaint", when the Americans involved are still using some words and phrases unchanged since Shakespeare.
    Some Australian usages of my childhood preserved rare regional English words, phrases and usages of the time that they left.
    Yes, using the same yardstick, I do consider them quaint.
    (Most have recently been replaced by American usage - sometimes those ancient English phrases, sometimes a more recent infusion to American culture, from German or Yiddish, from Italian or African languages.)

    And with DNA, many Americans with mostly early Colonial roots have preserved the DNA of the 1600s and reinforced it by generations of intermarriage with similar people.
    Last edited by Saetro; 02-11-2019 at 06:33 PM.

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  14. #158
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    Quote Originally Posted by geebee View Post
    You may be right about many with German ancestry from the 18th century being unaware of it -- but I suspect that's only if they don't have that much to being with. In my hometown in Pennsylvania, maybe a 3rd or more even have recognizably German surnames. I don't think they generally think about having German ancestry, but they know they do.
    It probably does vary by location.

    Would they self-identify as German American? Probably not, for the most part. Their identity is very much "American", as is mine. But in my case I could hardly identify as German American, anyway, without some sort of qualifier. I'm less than half (say 35%) Palatine German by ancestry. But I'm less than half anything, unless you want to just say "European" (by ancestry).
    This was my point about people being all mixed up. I do agree with your distinction between ancestry and ethnicity, but I'm looking at this as someone who has researched my ancestry. Before I did this, my experience was more than someone would say "so what are you?" meaning ancestry, and I'd shrug and say "just American" or maybe "mixed, mostly English and Welsh." With a census question, I wouldn't know how to answer unless they let you list lots of different ancestries, and it just seems silly to pick just one for many of us with less recent immigrant ancestors who lived in places that had people of multiple ancestries all living in close proximity. So I get the default to "just American" again, although it's technically a kind of misunderstanding of the question.

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  16. #159
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    Quote Originally Posted by morganman3 View Post
    I don't think there are any major phenotypical differences between Irish/Scots and English people, only very minor traits like English people being more associated with blonde hair, Irish and Scottish with red hair for example. Every native English person can pass as a native in Ireland/Scotland and the reverse is also true.
    Indeed. Phenotypic traits found in Ireland and Britain can be found elsewhere in Europe. It's not exclusive and limited to specific groups.

    In regards to Canada, identifying as Canadian became more popular when it was added to the census, but we also draw our Canadian identity from historical, residential and cultural connections. IMO it doesn't matter where your family may have been from before. In terms of culture, Canadian culture is influenced by several others namely European cultures (namely British, French, Irish etc at the earliest points), First Nations cultures and finally American culture.

    My maternal grandparents were Dutch immigrants and their children were 1st generation Canadians. I've never heard any of them call themselves anything other than Canadian. I also have never referred to myself as a "insert nationality-Canadian". It's rather clunky and those countries where my ancestors have come from are not part of my daily experience and my life is not directly influenced by them (at least on a perceptible in your face level).

    I think parallels can be drawn with current trends in identifying as American or Canadian or whatever to what we can see in Roman history. Throughout Rome's history several non-Romans acquired citizenship, such as Gaius Julius Civilis, the Batavian rebel or his nephew Julius Briganticus. Or even more famously the half-Vandal Flavius Stilicho. Stilicho was the descendant of a Vandal cavalry officer and a Roman woman, despite his "barbarian" ancestry what we seem to understand is that he likely identified as nothing other than a Roman. Or perhaps we can look at the descendant of Areobindus the Goth and Aspar the Alan who were both barbarians serving in the Roman army whose descendant was another Areobindus who was of a rather noble position. Is this all that different from today? Ethnicity is dependent on more than genetics and I think how people identify themselves has been more fluid in the past.
    Last edited by spruithean; 02-12-2019 at 02:55 AM.
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  18. #160
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    I think what bothers me about the current apparent popularity of using hyphens it that it seems to carry an implication that, to me, is sort of insulting, not to mention misleading. Turn it around: that infamous Ancestry commercial where the man switches from lederhosen to a kilt. Does one become German by wearing lederhosen, or Scottish by wearing a kilt? I have one family from Bavaria in my tree but I've never seen a picture nor heard of anyone in that family here even owning any. I was raised in a very German Lutheran church, some still have services in German, but even that isn't a German institution, here it's not a state church and no one not a member has to pay taxes for it. I've learned Hardanger embroidery, I have a piece my great grandmother made but that doesn't make me Norwegian. The post above I think touches on it, with the Roman examples. DNA is one thing, living a culture is another and the more important part. A Vandal considering himself a Roman would be one living as a Roman with all that implies, DNA notwithstanding.

    All of the nationalities in my tree fought with, against, or shunned each other at one time or another, and yet here I am. Several of the families came here to get away from all that, and I don't like to see the apparent resurgence of national "sorting" here based on nothing more than DNA.

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