Multiracial and Multiethnic Trees

New York Times: Mixed America's Family Trees
New York Times: Mixed America’s Fam­ily Trees

The New York Times has an arti­cle and an accom­pa­ny­ing inter­ac­tive fea­ture that allows users to explore the Amer­i­can phe­nom­e­non of mul­tira­cial and mul­ti­eth­nic families.

The story points out that the gov­ern­ment uses sta­tis­tics on race and eth­nic­ity to address race– and ethnic-based inequities, how­ever the increas­ingly com­plex nature of fam­ily back­grounds is caus­ing a shift from tra­di­tional “select one” to more accu­rate “select all that are appro­pri­ate” mea­sures. The story fea­tures a young woman, “Michelle López-Mullins — a uni­ver­sity stu­dent who is of Peru­vian, Chi­nese, Irish, Shawnee and Chero­kee descent” and notes that the Edu­ca­tion Depart­ment would clas­sify her as “His­panic.” This obvi­ously over sim­pli­fies her back­ground, and thus, from my point of view makes the data and con­clu­sions drawn from it ques­tion­able. The US Cen­sus tracks 63 com­bi­na­tions of racial and eth­nic cat­e­gories, and allows peo­ple to select as many as apply to them.

Accord­ing to the arti­cle, things have changed dra­mat­i­cally to the extent that cur­rently 1 in 7 mar­riages in the US are mul­tira­cial or mul­ti­eth­nic. The cur­rent wave of immi­gra­tion, as well as falling bar­ri­ers between eth­nic and racial groups, as well as dimin­ish­ing of stig­mas regard­ing mul­tira­cial and mul­ti­eth­nic families.

If you click on the image to the Multiracial and Multiethnic Categorizationright, you will see some of the dif­fer­ent ways one indi­vid­ual is cat­e­go­rized. (In addi­tion to gov­ern­ment cat­e­gories, the Times gives us an idea of what Ms. López-Mullins, her father, and one of her friends think about her background.)

This is of crit­i­cal impor­tance to geneal­o­gists. In the future, some­one min­ing gov­ern­ment doc­u­ments of their ances­tors will be enabled, if the infor­ma­tion is accu­rate and detailed enough, to get new clues. If the infor­ma­tion is watered down or con­fus­ing, with mul­ti­ple stan­dards within Fed­eral agen­cies, not to men­tion across the states, the work of the future geneal­o­gist will be more difficult.

The inter­ac­tive fea­ture I men­tioned allows you to share a small fam­ily tree along with the eth­nic and racial back­grounds that make it up, with pic­tures, if you have some handy. You may also add an audio file of up to 10 MB of audio explain­ing the tree.

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