What generation American am I?

+4 votes

George Washington was a 3rd generation American; Lawrence, Augustine and George.

Is Scott Lee only a 5th generation American?  Henry, Francis, Orie, Wendell, Scott.  Or am I a 11th generation because of 8 Great Grandmother Elizabeth Martiau?

Can this description only be used when using a person's paternal pedigree?

I ask this question for the reason of the proper way of writing someone's biography.  Originally, on my own genealogy website I wrote that George Washington was a fourth generation, http://inthechickencoop.us. however, his great grandfather John, although the Washington immigrant wasn't born in America, so I think George would be a 3rd generation.

Are we Amercians because we are born on this soil or by citizenship..ie. naturalized or native?  Seems to be easy to answer?

in The Tree House by Scott Lee G2G6 Mach 5 (57.6k points)
edited by Scott Lee
Good question.  If a girl's ancestors were on the Mayflower, and she marries an immigrant fresh off the boat, is their child a 2nd generation American?
George Washington was a zeroth generation American, born in a British colony.
He was born in the Americas, which made him an American.  He was a British citizen, but that didn't mean he wasn't an American.
That makes Canadians, Chileans, and Brazilians Americans, too.  I think they would object to that, despite the semantic correctness.  Did George's parents and paternal grandparents consider themselves Americans?  I would guess they described themselves as Virginians.  George's maternal grandparents were born in England, so even for him the generation count isn't clear. I think the 'nth generation' label only makes sense for the first few (at most) generations of descendants of immigrants to America.  After a couple of generations of intermarriage with the locals, the counting becomes muddied to the point of meaninglessness. Pick an ancestor who came here many generations ago to emphasize your American-ness, or pick a more recent one to claim a strong connection to the ancestral sod.

Each of our ancestral lines would give us an nth-generation figure. On my paternal, maternal, maternal, paternal side, I am "4th generation soil-born (see next paragraph!) American." On any of my mother's lines, I haven't even traced one back to "the old country!"

I think the phrase is generally interpreted to imply "born on America soil," but we could always add that information for greater clarity. We could shorten the phrase to read "nth generation soil-born American!!"

Sure, Lindy, you make my point.  If you were born in the US, and your parents elsewhere, clearly you are a first-generation American.  Second generation is trickier, unless all four grandparents immigrated, but you and your parents were born here. Otherwise, you start getting into qualifiers like 'on my mother's side.'  And so on.  I think few of us can say, simply and without asterisks,.'I am an nth-generation American.'  Most of us can count from the ancestor of our choice, to suit our mood or audience.  Take my great grandmother, for example.  Her father came from Ireland.  Her mother was born in Alabama, of a family of at least a few generations of homegrown Americans on both sides, including some pre-Revolutionary ones..  Was my ggm a first-generation American, or some higher number?  Her father and mother might have given you different answers to that question. :)  That's all I'm saying:  for the vast majority of us, the story is way more complex and interesting than we can convey with a single, ill-defined generation number.
To state, "I am an nth generation American," requires a point of reference; that point of reference is the chosen ancestral line.

We can choose the shortest line, and leave it at that; or we can determine our distance from the old country for each line.

It's an individual choice whether we choose the easy path or multiple paths.

For whichever path we choose, wouldn't we need to determine a fractional portion of "American-ness", anyway (too much math!!)? Or does even a drop of "American-ness" make us 100% American (my personal choice!)?

In the end, it's just a philosophic discussion, so we are all correct!!
I'm with you there, Lindy.  You're either an American, or you ain't.  It's not a competition.

Here's a link to a post by Lawrence Auster on THE CORRECT MEANING OF “FIRST GENERATION,” “SECOND GENERATION” , very interesting that he is using the same example (George Washington) I used in my initial question on "What generation am I?".  Thanks everyone for your input!


I can not speak for Mexicans but I can assure you that the vast majority of Canadians are fully aware of the fact that they are North American and would not take offence being describe as such. The concept that only US citizens are Americans seems to be an idea born and generated in the United States.
Good point, George.  It clears up my confusion when I read so many bios of 'first-generations Americans,' only to read further and learn they were born in Canada to parents from Europe,  :D

1 Answer

+1 vote
you can use both maternal and paternal lines,  eg you could be a 12th generation American on your mothers side, but only a first on your fathers side. it does therefore in this example in my opinion make you a 12 generation American.
by Anonymous Anonymous G2G6 Mach 3 (33.4k points)

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