New Jersey Residents’ Ancestral Roots are All Over the Map

Italian, Irish and German heritages account for over 40% of population, 20% are Hispanic or Asian, while 40% list background as ‘other’

Data are from the US Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, averaged for the years 2008-2012. This shows the most common ancestry by municipality. People were able to answer with multiple ancestries, so the totals of all ancestries typically exceeds the number of residents.

Based on the number of parades and celebrations held in New Jersey leading up to St. Patrick’s Day, it may seem hard to believe that most New Jerseyans are not Irish.

In fact, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, only 15 percent of New Jerseyans, or 1.3 million, have any Irish ancestry.

Italians dominate in the state that has become well-known for the TV series “The Sopranos,” which chronicled the life and times of a fictional Italian mobster from New Jersey and his families, both real and in the Mafia. The Census estimates roughly 17 percent of New Jerseyans, or 1.5 million, are of Italian heritage.

Germans, who number more than 1 million, place third, and are the only other ancestry claimed by more than 1 in 10 state residents.

While large, those well-established groups pale in comparison to the ranks of the “others,” according to the Census estimates, drawn from its 2008-2012 American Community Survey data released last year. Four in 10 New Jersey residents, or more than 3.5 million, have some heritage other than the 100 or so specifically measured by the Census’ ACS. That’s due in large part to the way the bureau reports information on race and ethnicity.

The ACS counts some more obscure ancestries, include Zimbabwean (134 in New Jersey), Cajun (152) and Basque (190, specifically excluded from the category French, which also excludes French Canadian).

However, it does not report the countries of origin of Hispanics here, as recognition of the federal government’s treatment of Hispanic origin as separate from race. Estimates for those from Mexico, Puerto Rico, Cuba and other countries in South and Central America are reported separately. While the Census considers Asian to be a race, it includes separate estimates for the number of people from Japan, China, India and other Asian countries, as well.

New Jersey has large populations of both Hispanics (almost 18 percent) and Asians (more than 8 percent), so it makes sense that so many people would have an “other” ancestry.

There are 60 municipalities in which “others” comprise more than half the population. At the top of that list is Lawnside, a borough in Camden County, where more than 90 percent of the reported ancestries are “others.”

By contrast, of the three most commonly named ancestries, only German dominates in any community and that is in only one, tiny Pine Valley, where the ACS estimates all 14 residents are of German ancestry.

Fairfield in Essex County has the greatest percentage of those with Italian heritage, while West Wildwood in Cape May has the greatest percentage of people with Irish roots– about 40 percent in each case.

In only two communities did some other specific ancestry predominate. About 18 percent of reported ancestries in Beach Haven, in Ocean County, were English, while in Peapack and Gladstone in Somerset, about the same percentage reported being “American.”

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