Scandinavian Descendants in the United States

Torben G. Jeppesen continues his research about Scandinavian immigrants and their descendants in the United States.

In 2000 Torben G. Jeppesen published the book Dannebrog on the American Prairie (in a Danish edition and an American).

The book focuses on a group of Danish immigrants who came to Wisconsin in the middle of the 19th century. After the Civil War they founded the Danish Land and Homestead Company, approved by the State of Wisconsin. The Company found a suitable place to locate a colony north of Grand Island in Nebraska. In the book the process of the founding of the Dannebrog colony and village is described and analyzed, including the need of the founders to work together with Americans. The book includes a description of the land laws of the time, Homestead Act, Timber Land, Railroad Land etc. Also included is a description of the archival holdings of land records by Historical Societies, County Court Houses, Union Pacific, Burlington, U.S. Land Offices etc.

In 2005 the book Danske i USA 1850-2000 was published (in Danish). Based on data from U.S. Census, immigration statistics and a number of other statistical and economic sources the book gives a survey of the Danes and their descendants in the United States during 150 years.

Filled with maps, tables and diagrams the book is on one side a detailed description of settlement patterns and living conditions for the Danes and on the other side an analyze of how the Danes were adapted in the American society with so huge regional differences in population, climate, way of living and economic conditions. In the final chapter it is concluded that the Danish-Americans are well-integrated but still most of them choose to live together with descendants of people of Northern Europe both in neighbourhood and in marriage.

Right now Torben G. Jeppesen is following up with a study of Scandinavian descendants in the United States today. By using data from U.S. Census, American Community Survey, Current Population Survey, General Social Survey, American National Election Study and Wisconsin Longitudinal Study the aim of the book is to describe and analyze the descendants’ settlement pattern, socioeconomic status, life course and political and religious opinions and attitudes. The results are compared to the American population in general. The main question of the research is to analyze if there still are differences between Scandinavians and main stream America? And if so are these caused by the roots in Scandinavian (values, religion etc.) or by the origin areas where the immigrants settled in the 19th century (mostly Upper Midwest and where many still live)? In the Upper Midwest there is no doubt that Scandinavians and people from Northern Germany (North Europe in general) have formed in an interaction with the landscape and climate the society and culture of that region in the United States. On the other hand it is interesting to follow all the descendants who have left the Upper Midwest for the West Coast during the 20th century – and today for the new fast growing areas in Southwest and South: Arizona, Florida, North Carolina etc. Do Scandinavian descendants bring their values with them from Scandinavia and/or the Upper Midwest or do they integrate totally in the main stream? And do these movers adopt the status and values of the area or region, or do they impact with their own? The book’s questions can be formulated: Are Scandinavian descendants still ethnic groups – or ‘core Americans’? And will they be part of European Americans or just Americans in the future?

The book’s results will be compared with results from Stanley Lieberson’s and Mary C. Waters’ book: From Many Strands. Ethnic and Racial Groups in Contemporary America, (1988), based on census 1980. It is interesting to see what had happened during nearly 30 years.

In the final chapter the situation of Scandinavian and other European descendants will be discussed in the view of the contemporary United States, where the white population (of European origin) is down to 66 % compared to 80 % in 1980.

On chapter will focus only on Wisconsin. Based on Wisconsin Longitudinal Study it is possible to follow the life course of more than 10.000 high school graduates from 1957 and until today. A good portion of these graduates are descendants of Scandinavians and the chapter will be very interesting because of the possibility to trace whole life courses during a transferring period from the time where the United States’ population more or less had roots in Europe and until today where the ethnic and race background is much broader and the country is achieving lot of immigrants again.

The book will be well illustrated by maps, diagrams, tables, photos and lot of fact blocs and short sentences from living descendants of Scandinavians from several regions in the United States. The book will be published in Danish and in an American edition in 2010.  

The research project is funded by Augustinus Fonden and receives a great help from Minnesota Population Center, American National Election Study, General Social Survey, Wisconsin Longitudinal Study and University of Wisconsin-Madison.





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