German v. Austrian Ethnicity.

I am a little confused about lineage and ethnicity. Specifically mine.

My father was three-quarters French and 1/4 German. My mother was 3/4’s Polish and one-quarter Austrian.

Anyway that makes me three-eighths Polish and three-eighths French. I realize that. But what about the German/Austrian part? Can I just add them together?

I guess what I am asking is are Austrians and Germans ethnically the same?

They speak the same language. German. They both typically have German surnames. Austria borders Germany. I believe they share a similar history. Some Germans welcomed Hitler, who was Austrian, as liberator. (I know that last one was unfortunate. But it does support my point:).) I guess the main difference is religion. Austrians are predominantly Roman Catholic.

So ethnically (I am talking ethnically)? (I realize geographically they are separate countries.) Are they the same thing?

BTW and FWIW my mother said I should consider myself a Pole. I was a little closer to my mother’s side of the family and I did love her very much. But this thread is not meant to address that (i.e., what I should feel in my heart).


Austrians are usually considered a “German” ethnic group, in the sense that they speak German and descend from central European “Germanic” peoples.

That said, ethnicity often has no objectively defined meaning. You’re just as likely to meet an Austrian who insists they are an “Austrian,” in the sense that they have their own culture and history. There is no litmus test that objectively confirms ethnicity. The only real question is: With which group do you identify?

With modern DNA technology, this kind of question is more complex and nuanced than it was 100 years ago when you could just say, “I’m 1/4 German.” Now that 1/4 German could be from a number of different sources. You could get a better idea by taking a DNA test. I looked at a DNA map and the composition of Germany and Austria have overlap but are not identical.

I’m not an expert on this, but is it not the case that “Germany” did not exist until about 200 years ago? Austria was just one of the richer, more successful states. Austria, Prussia, Bavaria, Hanover, etc. were independent states or some were occasionally loosely federated. (There were dozens?) Much the same with “Italy”. So it would seem logical that the common ethnic group would be Germanic.

There isn’t any right or wrong- but I will say as a fellow part-Austrian, how I describe myself depends on who I am describing myself to. To most people, I describe myself as German- otherwise they start talking about koalas and kangaroos. If I’m talking to someone from NYC, I will probably say I am Austrian. But if I am describing myself to someone from the neighborhood I grew up in, well, then I’m Gottscheer. ( my ancestors came from a region settled by German-speaking Austrians that is currently in Slovenia, but has at other times been part of other countries including the Austrian Empire, Yugoslavia and I think Italy)

Yes, I have pictures of the kangaroos in Austria just to prove a point… :slight_smile:

Just like Australia, I also never saw any outside of a zoo.

What can DNA possibly tell you about how close or distant actual Austrians feel about Germany, Prussia, or Hungary? Ethnicity is not transmitted as some sort of genetic memory.

Austrians are as similar to Germans ethnically as many groups presently included in Germany are similar to each other. For example, northern Germany is mostly Protestant, while southern Germany, like Austria, is more Catholic. And the dialects spoken in southern Germany are closer to Austrian than those in north Germany. (In fact, from the map the dialect of German spoken in Austria is considered a form of Bavarian.) So it would be proper in the broad sense to just consider Austrians a variety of German. Although if you want to make the distinction when speaking of your own ancestry, there wouldn’t be a problem with it.

The fact that Austria is presently a separate country from Germany is a matter of historical happenstance. Germany didn’t become united until the second half of the 19th century. Most German speaking states, including Austria, were part of the German Confederation in the early 1800s. The fact that Austria was excluded from the German Empire was largely due to rivalry between Prussia and Austria for leadership of German-speaking lands.

Three of my great-great grandparents were from Germany in the broad sense, and one was from the German speaking part of Switzerland. But when they emigrated to the US, a unified Germany didn’t exist. One came from Wurttemburg, one from Bavaria, and one from Berlin, all part of separate kingdoms at the time. So when I say I am part German I am lumping what were separate nationalities at the time.

Swiss is a little bit different, since Switzerland has existed as a multi-ethnic confederation for much longer. Also Swiss German is quite different; I am told it verges on a separate language (though is similar to dialects spoken in southwest Germany).

Famed ethnologist Prof Jones notes they say goodbye very differently.

It should be noted that the name of the country, Österreich, means “eastern realm” or “eastern kingdom”, and derives from a description of the land in the late 900s AD as being the eastern portion of Bavaria. The Austrians themselves are just saying, “We are the eastern (Upper)Germans”.

Gorgeous country, btw, if you’ve never been there. Totally worth the price of admission.

I guess it depends on why one asks the question in the first place. I don’t see a question in the OP about how his ancestors felt about Germany, Prussia, or Hungary.

DNA is relatively objective. Ethnicity is not always. If your grandparent was “Austrian” does that necessarily mean they were ethnic Austrian, or from some other ethnic group resident in Austria, or some mix of both? The answer you need depends on why you are asking. Are you asking about genealogy of the origins of your family as far back as you can trace, or about the cultural customs and social norms of your ancestors?

I think the idea of linking a language to ethnic identity, and then using that identity as the basis for a nation state was invented specifically for the German language/people (who spent the start 19th century fragmented in the remnants of the Holy Roman Empire, largely under French control).

I am not an expert on that bit of history but I assume Austria was not included in the 19th Century German state not because the German Nationalists didn’t think they were ethnically German, but because they were dominant state in the Austro-Hungarian empire at the time. So it wasn’t feasible or desirable for them to join it.

Last statement is true but I just think the two have next to no relationship, DNA and ethnicity, not when it comes to different peoples of Europe anyway. The question wasn’t about how ancestors felt about Hungary etc, but it was about ethnicity (in italics in one place :slight_smile: ). German v Austrian or German speaking people from various other parts of Europe has nothing to do with DNA IMO.

I agree as another post said you might distinguish German speakers in Switzerland from other Germans because of a long history of (relatively speaking) co-equal confederation of language groups in Switzerland as distinctly Swiss. Between Germany and Austria the difference is a lot more historically tenuous. Austria was part of Germany within the last century at the behest of at least a significant element of the population that felt that was natural. And before that as was mentioned Austrian Germans were mainly the rulers of subject peoples elsewhere under the Austrian Empire, then a half assed and ultimately failed attempt to create a single multi-ethnic nation under ‘Austria-Hungary’. Not the same degree of distinction from just ‘German’ as German speaking Swiss (which isn’t 100% distinct either).

I would say the short approximately correct answer is that German and Austrian is the same thing ethnically.

To some extent this is true, but parts of Prussia were not German-speaking (they had been taken from Poland especially). These were not included in the German Confederation but became part of the German Empire. As I said, Austria was excluded in large part due to rivalry with Prussia. The Austro-Prussian War in 1866 served as a pretext for Bismark to promote the formation of alliances with the other German states under Prussian leadership, eventually leading to creation of the German Empire.

Generally, to the last. However I will note there was a tendency, if at times a weak one, to refer to everyone living in the 19th-20th century Austro-Hungarian empire as “Austrian”. Witness my great-grandfather who emigrated to the US around 1910. His entry papers list him as Austrian as a citizen of that state. But ethnically he was a Serb from Croatia ;).

It would be nice if “Germanic” was the unambiguous word to cover this.

Unfortunately, this may bring to mind the term “German language” which covers Norwegian, Danish, etc. as well as good old English.

I think your last question has been answered pretty well. But I do want to add to your first question: Can you add 1/8 of German and 1/8 of Austrian to get more than zero?

What I mean is: I’m guessing neither of your parents grew up in a German speaking environment (please correct me if I’m wrong).
I also wonder where exactly those 2/8 originated. Did they live in Alsace? In Prague?
What I want to say: How far back do you have to go to find someone that was actually ethnically German, in the sense that it was discussed in this thread? And would you say that their ethnicity has survived in you in a meaningful way?

My great grandfather on my father’s side was German. My great grandmother on my mother’s side was Austrian. I don’t know what my great grandparents thought about their ethnicity. My mother’s family always thought of themselves as Polish. And my father, French. In fact my father used to brag his mother could understand French but not speak it. (How can a person understand a language but not speak it?) I do know FWIW my mother spoke almost fluent Polish, and would often talk this way with her sister. :slight_smile:

It’s very common. It’s generally much easier to understand a foreign language than to speak it yourself. You can get the gist of what’s said to know by knowing individual words without knowing enough grammar to construct a sentence yourself. As a Spanish speaker, I can often get the gist of lectures in Portuguese, although I don’t know enough to carry out a conversation readily.

Ignoring the question of whether you’re adding like things together, I wouldn’t add together ethnicities from different sides of your family and create a smaller denominator for the fraction. I personally am 3/4 Polish as 3 of my 4 grandparents are fully Polish in ancestry, but if I had 6 of 8 great-grandparents who were fully Polish in ancestry and they weren’t all married to each other to produce 3 of my grandparents, I would consider myself 6/8 Polish.

In reality, you should scrap the idea that you’re some percentage of your European ancestry and call yourself ethnically American, or Canadian, or Australian, whatever the case may be. There are plenty of people in the US who have completely lost track of their ancestry that identify as such. Happening to know the exact percentages of admixture doesn’t make you any less of a mutt. I personally think I have a very strong claim to being fully Polish in ancestry despite that missing grandparent precisely because the remaining one was of such mixed ancestry he was just known as “Canadian”, and that certainly didn’t include much if any First Nations, so the identifiable heritage I have is entirely Polish in nature and makes up more than half by ethnic heritage meaning that both parents had some. You have 3 or 4 different heritages, none of which are even half; while your parents may have shared one broad ethnicity in their ancestors, they are clearly not a shared heritage by any stretch of the imagination. While your parents had strong claims to one ethnicity, you pretty much don’t. While it might be interesting to keep track of it all to pass down to your kids, do you really think your grandchildren would appreciate it much knowing they inherited from you being 3/16 French and so on?