The Most ‘Unusual’ Ancestry in Every State

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About 50 million U.S. residents – about 15% of the total population – are foreign-born, making America the country with the most immigrants in the world. Even those who are second-generation or beyond often claim an ancestry other than just “American.”

In its annual American Community Survey, the U.S. Census Bureau asks Americans to identify their ancestry. Ancestry refers to a person’s lineage or ethnic origin. Ethnic composition varies heavily across the United States and is often a reflection of centuries-old migration patterns. Among those Americans whose ancestors did come from someplace else – whether hundreds of years ago or last month – many different nationalities and ethnicities are represented. (These are the countries most immigrants in the U.S. are originally from.)

To determine the most “unusual” ancestry in each state, 24/7 Tempo reviewed data from the ACS. Over 200 ancestries were ranked within each state based on location quotient, taking the largest ratio relative to the U.S. average. 

Early waves of immigrants – from the 17th century to the mid-19th century – traveled to the country seeking religious freedom and economic opportunity mostly from European countries. The U.S. shut out Chinese immigrants with the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act. 

A decade later, America opened up again to immigrants by welcoming them on Ellis Island in New York, processing the tide of immigrants from Europe who filled the ranks of factory workers as the country’s economic expansion accelerated. 

In 1965, the U.S. changed its immigration laws to end a quota-based system that favored immigrants from Europe, leading to greater numbers from Asian and Latin American countries. (Here’s a look at how many refugees the U.S. has accepted each year since 1980.)

Each wave of immigrants enriches American culture and creates unique neighborhoods and communities.  

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