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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