So What Does it Mean to be a Fifth Generation American?

So What Does It Mean to be a Fifth Generation American?

In my last blog post, I posed the following statement and questions:  

You’re a fifth generation American. What does that really mean?

Actually, I said a fifth generation Floridian, but somewhere during the debate, the conversation became nationwide. So for this post, I’ve changed everything to read American.  

Now, back to the questions.

Does it mean that your great-great grandparents moved to the USA and became the first generation American in your family?



Or does it mean that the person who said this was the fifth generation of their family to be born in America? The first one born here being the second generation American to have lived here.



In your opinion, what does it mean to be a fifth generation American?  

I asked you to please answer with an explanation of how you arrived at your answer. I had my own answer and rationale, but I wanted to hear yours.  

Also, I truly believed and still believe there is no right or wrong answer. We can debate the issue, but I believe there’s really two answers. Different strokes for different folks.

The answers came not only on this blog, but also on Facebook, Twitter and in private emails. They fell on both sides.
Many said that it is determined by birth, end of question. They felt that only a person born in this country could be called a first generation American.

My cousin who is a fishing guide in Florida and is known on Facebook as Becky Captain Campbell said the following, “I read the article before I responded. I was taught we counted the ones who were born here. So am I also 6th through (the) Hamrick(s)?” She and I share this common lineage, and the question was for me.  

She was not alone. Several had a very similar comment.

Karen Strawbridge said, “I am the 5th generation…children the 6th……grands the 7th and now greatgrands the 8th…..<3…..if you count the ones who brought us here….I am the 6th………Rawls…Locklear…Keen…..Edwards……”

On the other side, one person said that she thought the first person naturalized was the first generation American.  

Sylvia Alderman had this to say, “Cindy Roe Littlejohn, there is a difference between the term ‘native Floridian’ and ‘first generation Floridian.’ I can’t claim to be a native but I can claim first generation. Maybe that is confusing some folks.”

Later, she must have discussed it with her husband, because she wrote back and added, “P.S. My husband, who is a fifth gen Floridian (counting from the first BORN here), and is an expert on everything, says I’m wrong so I guess I’m not first generation anything. But, at least with one line that is documented I am 8th generation Cuban, counting from those born there. That probably counted for something before Cuba went to hell in a handbasket. Oh well. Such is the plight of the exile. You start over and don’t even count. However, I am very happy to be here.”

Sylvia came here as a young girl when her family had to flee the Castro regime almost sixty years ago. Her mother brought her here, and her father got out as soon as it was safe to follow. If he had tried to flee with them, it would have endangered his family. He had been a high official, and it wasn’t as easy for him to leave.

I wrote back to Sylvia. I said, “I think differently. I believe you are second generation American. Your parents brought you here. How can we leave out the generations that suffered so much to bring us here?  

I added, if you believe your husband, then all the military brats born overseas to American parents are not considered Americans. I’m with you, but there really is a debate about this. In our family we have a saying. You count the one who ‘brung’ you.

So I guess I’ve already given away my opinion on this issue. And like Sylvia the difference may be if they were born here or had lived here.

I sincerely believe that the one who brought us here was the one who made all the sacrifices. I believe he and she count.  
Some of us have ancestors who fought in the American Revolution, yet they were born in another country. I couldn’t in good faith say that they were not first generation Americans, when they gave so much.

Eight of the 56 signers of the Declaration of Independence were born elsewhere, and yet they wouldn’t be considered the first generation of their family to be American?  

Three of my Florida ancestors voted to make Florida a state in 1843; but they were not born in this state, yet many of us today would not consider them to be true Floridians. All three would be considered South Carolinians.

In my book “Palmetto Pioneers”, two of these men are characters; and it is hard for me not to consider them the first of my Florida generations. Those years when Florida was a territory were hard, very hard on these first settlers. 

They were the ones who brought us here, who traveled so far with everything they owned. They were the ones who sacrificed so much, and some sacrificed all. One of my first ancestors was massacred by Indians, another died young of malaria. I cannot in good conscience say that they were not as Floridian as their offspring.  

That is why in my family, they count.

So I believe as my family taught me and as my research has deepened my belief that those first Florida pioneers are to be counted as our first Floridians. And I likewise believe that the first American to live here in any family should be counted as their first American generation, too.  

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  1. I will be reading that book too. Have you read “A Land Remembered?” Another good book on Florida history.