Where did Wisconsinites come from?
This first column is about the ethnic background of people native to Wisconsin.
After living one year in America’s Breadbasket (the Midwest), also known as the Badger State, also known as the Dairyland State, I want to share some interesting facts learned from living in Wisconsin. I will be submitting this regularly and thought a good start would be the origin of the people here.
Early French explorers were among the first people in Wisconsin; in fact, the state’s name is an English version of a French adaptation of an Indian word – Ouisconsin. Indeed, there are some towns and cities with French names, such as La Crosse, Prairie du Chien, Eau Claire, and Fond du Lac.
There are many European ancestry groups, the largest by far being German. Next are Irish, Polish, and Norwegian (Scandinavian).
After hearing and seeing common last names in the area where I live (Sparta – in the southwestern corner of the state), I would learn which type of ancestry it was, according to either the spelling or the pronunciation.
German names commonly end in “erg”, “ein”, “der”, or “rich.” Some examples are Schroeder, Klein, Gebhardt, Goldberg, and Heinrich.
Irish names are a bit easier to me, like MacDonald and Kelly.
Polish names end in “ski”, “lak”, or “zyk.” Examples are Kowalski or Walezak.
Norwegian (Scandinavian) names end in “son” or “sen”, like Nelson, Olsen, Eriksson or Gunderson.
After beginning my first job in Wisconsin, I had to request people to repeat or spell their last names, which they courteously did, commenting that I must not be from here, with my accent. I didn’t know I had one! The native population here does have a slight accent, to me. I have not heard any foreign phrases or expressions like there are in Louisiana, but one local idiom is “stop-and-go-lights” for traffic lights. Perhaps I will hear more the longer I live here. No German is spoken, as the French do back home.
There are many other ethnicities besides those main ones. They are: Native Americans, (like the Ho-Chunk Indian tribe who have casinos), Italians, Belgians, Swiss, and Finnish. And, more in the twentieth century, Hispanics, African Americans, and Hmongs (Asians after the Vietnam War).
I will be writing more facts about Wisconsin’s culture, climate, attractions, and other unique particulars, so stay tuned!