Through a lot of American Movies and TV shows, and also my personal experiences of interacting with people in America, I know that most White Americans are informed of their European ancestry, and are also able to locate the regions of their ancestry/descent (to a certain number of generations of which they are aware).

According to the U.S Census statistics, it seems that among all of the American population, German-Americans had the highest percentage, followed by the Irish-Americans and so on. Pardon me if I'm wrong, but I've also noticed that among all the White Americans, it seems that the English-Americans (Americans whose ancestry can be traced back to England) are the least vocal about their ethnicity? I think the U.S Census wasn't able to report an exact number of this as well. A lot of people I've interacted with make sure to explicitly specify that they're Irish, or Italian, or German and what not, but I still haven't met someone who said that he/she has English ancestry. So I was just curious to understand if/why this got phased out, considering they should logically be the community with the largest population in the U.S, and if there could possibly be any historical reasoning for this, or is it just me?

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    I think it's worth noting that America's existence came about because the Thirteen Colonies decided they didn't want to be British anymore. For Americans to brag about being descended from the very country they broke away from sounds odd to me. – F1Krazy Mar 12 '20 at 8:36
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    I attempted to edit your title to clarify your question - it isn't clear to me exactly what it is you want to know. I think the answer is simply that claiming majority ancestry doesn't provide any additional information - ancestry/heritage is useful only if it provides information to distinguish you from the herd. – Mark C. Wallace Mar 12 '20 at 9:13
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    Some Americans take great pride in claiming that they are descendants of those who came on Mayflower. This is English ancestry, is not it? – Alex Mar 12 '20 at 11:29
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    Its a matter of scale. Its easy to find those recent immigrant ancestors from the 19th century from those waves of Irish,Scandinavian or German immigrants. Its a simple matter to associate with that recent foreign family member. But to get back to an immigrant Ancestors that came over from Great Britain you have to go back much farther, 10 or 11 generations. It can take years(decades) worth of research (at least before the internet) to get back that far. – justCal Mar 12 '20 at 12:00
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    Bottom line, unfortunately, is that this is not a history question, but a question about American attitudes concerning their perceived 'ethnic' backgrounds. Note the question is in the present tense. Though I enjoy genealogy, this is not a history question. Voting to close. – justCal Mar 12 '20 at 17:45

The first United States census began on August 2, 1790. Unlike modern census questions, the early versions usually were limited to 6 questions:

name of the head of the family and the number of persons in each household of the following descriptions: Free White males of 16 years and upward (to assess the country’s industrial and military potential), free White males under 16 years, free White females, all other free persons (by sex and color), and slaves.

Place of birth was added much later, when the USA came to be a "melting pot" of immigrants. Ethnic purity was maintained for a time, but the heart wants what the heart wants and ancestry became convoluted, even for early British Americans. Distant ancestry becomes a vague memory.

Families have seemed to claim recent patriarchal ancestry. My personal example is that I grew up thinking I was Sicilian since that is what my grandfather was and my father claimed. However, I am only 1/4 Sicilian from my father and 1/2 Norwegian from my mother. So as a "white" person, which would I claim, not to mention the plethora of other nationalities thrown in the mix from my paternal grandmother who was Scots-Irish (whatever that involves). So, for me, my claim is American.

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    This answer is anecdotal. Your personal experience is not the situation all people/families share, by any means. – Dan Mar 13 '20 at 5:27

This is a complex question. I will provide you with a very generalized macro answer of one aspect of how this phenomenon came to be, but realize there are many factors in play, and that this is not a unique situation to America.

The United States has experienced several notable immigration waves, the bulk of each comprised of individuals from particular regions or nations. In other words, large numbers of people from the same cultural background coming all at once.

At the onset of the American Revolution, there was not such marked ethnic lines in the Colonies like we have in America today. An analogous identifying factor, though, was whether one considered oneself a "Patriot" or a "Loyalist." In the mind of a Loyalist, they were first and foremost British citizens. A Patriot, too, might just as well feel a strong connection to their European heitage, but to them, one's identity as something "not-" or "no-longer-British" became paramount. Overall, the Patriot sentiment would eventually win out, facilitating the diminishment of British-ness as a self-identifier. But either way, ethnic background insofar as "race" was not a divisive element, because there were no strong divisions thereof.

Subsequently, once an "American" identity had solidified, large immigrations of ethnic groups inevitably caused friction: A native New Yorker in 1820, whose New World roots go back 75 years, might not take much notice of a Irish family moving into the neighborhood. But when literally thousands of Irish move into the neighborhood, bringing their own culture and values with them, suddenly he might feel like his home is being infringed upon. And now you have racial prejudice.

When one's values feel threatened, there's push-back: people naturally cling to their traditions and cultural identities, whether we're talking about one person or a million people. But when the numbers are so large, it's easier to stand firm in your identity and resist assimilating too swiftly into the surrounding culture. As a result, notions of ethnic differences have more opportunity to become more firmly entrenched. The sheer magnitude of immigration has given America it's unique character, and has also allowed for multiple senses of pride in one's heritage.

And therein lies the difference: Before this phenomenon could manifest, a nacient American identity formed out of, and replaced, the British one, arguably because the opposite conditions existed at the time.

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