As the United States takes its census, there are enormous questions being raised. Fortunately, unlike the Bible story, people do not have to return to their place of birth to be counted. This is, I expect a very good thing in the time of the Covid virus.

We are all being told to be sure to be counted. I myself have received 2 phone calls, and three mailings to fill out so that I can be sure to be counted.

In earlier issues of the Scotia News there have been articles about the nature of ethnicity and so the problems of ethnicity in the census data can be complicated and has an impact on many things. This issue’s quiz was going to have as its opening question “How many presidents of the United States have been of Scottish or Scots Irish descent? This should be a simple enough question but no such luck. According to

“Did you know, that of the 44 men who have served as US President, an astonishing 34 have been of either Scottish or Ulster-Scots descent? This includes George Washington, Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton. According to genealogists, even Barack Obama's ancestry can be traced back to William the Lion who ruled Scotland from 1165 to 1214.”

On the other hand, Wikipedia lists only 25! Who are the missing eleven? No idea. Wikipedia lists their 25, but Scotland,org does not.

Assertions are at best difficult, but consider the following information about the number of people Scots and Scots Irish descent from the Wikipedia article found here.

“The number of Americans of Scottish descent today is estimated to be 20 to 25 million (up to 8.3% of the total US population), and Scotch-Irish 27 to 30 million (up to 10% of the total US population), the subgroups overlapping and not always distinguishable because of their shared ancestral surnames.”

Immediately adjacent to this statement is a chart showing the population of Scots and Scots Irish from the census that was taken in previous years:

Scottish origins
Year Population Percent
1980 10,048,816 4.44
1990 5,393,581 2.2
2000 4,890,581 1.7
2010 5,460,679 3.1
Scotch-Irish origins
Year Population Percent
1980 16,418 0.007
1990 5,617,773 2.3
2000 4,319,232 1.5
2010 3,257,161 1.9

So the number of Scots in the 2010 census is given as 5,460,679. The number of Scotch Irish is given as 3,257,161. Totaled, the number of people with ancestry in both groups is 8,717,840 – only about a third of the numbers (20 to 25million) given in the text.

In a comparison of the 1790 estimates and the 2000 census, there appear to be twice as many Scots Irish as Scots in the 1790 estimate, while the two are neck and neck in the 2000 census (although the Native American population of an estimated 50,000 appears to have vanished (despite the census showing over 10,000 in New York City alone)

Comparison between the 1790 and 2000 census
1790 estimates 2000 Census
Ancestry Number Percent Ancestry Number Percent
English 1,900,000 47.5 German 42,885,162 15.2
African 750,000 19.0 African 36,419,434 12.9
Scotch-Irish 320,000 8.0 Irish 30,594,130 10.9
German 280,000 7.0 English 24,515,138 8.7
Irish 200,000 5.0 Mexican 20,640,711 7.3
Scottish 160,000 4.0 Italian 15,723,555 5.6
Welsh 120,000 3.0 French 10,846,018 3.9
Dutch 100,000 2.5 Hispanic 10,017,244 3.6
French 80,000 2.0 Polish 8,977,444 3.2
Native American 50,000 1.0 Scottish 4,890,581 1.7
Spanish 20,000 0.5 Dutch 4,542,494 1.6
Swedish or other 20,000 0.5 Norwegian 4,477,725 1.6
Scotch-Irish 4,319,232 1.5
British (Total) 2,500,000 62.5 British (Total)
36,564,465 12.9
United States   3,929,326    100 United States   281,421,906    100

Of course, how this all works out is complicated since people get to declare what they are. You don’t have to prove anything. Maybe citing that says you are 23% Native America (how is that possible???) would be sufficient.

Other difficulties lie in that fact that most people have many different ethnicities in the backgrounds – some of which they may or may not choose to identify with at any given moment. Many surely have backgrounds that they are unaware of. If everyone lists more than one ethnicity and they are counted in all the ethnic groups they listed, the number of people in the U.S. would be much greater than it is since some people might be counted several times. I recall some statistics some years ago in which a report listed that in Japan out of 120 million people, 92 million people claimed to be Shintoists, while 89 million claimed to be Buddhists. 92million and 89 million add up to 181 million not 120 million. This fine though since Japanese has no problem with people belonging to several religions simultaneously, just as the west permits belong to several ethnicities simultaneously. This raises once again an interesting question about what does it mean to be a member of an ethic group – is it simply and “identity” which changes from moment to moment. What does it mean to identify oneself as ethnically something if the person has no experience with the “home” culture or even the hyphenated version found in places away from the source culture?

All these questions) and more raise issues about the relationship between cultures and identity which are raised by drawing this kind of information from census data. So we will see what we will see as this year the government attempts to discover how many people it rules over.