North Shore is 40 Shades of Green. But What’s Up With Boxford and West Newbury?


It’s March 17, a perfect day to eye your coworkers or neighbors suspiciously. And wonder if they are Irish.

Could it be that they are something worse,* like Italian? Or, heaven help us all, English?

While you may know what ancestry your circle of friends and neighbors claim, some research is needed to see what background is claimed by towns on the North Shore.

Thankfully, that has been provided by the U.S. Census Bureau’s Community Data Survey. This is done every year, and data is released around a year after the survey.

It turns out that most North Shore communities are mostly Irish. The town with the highest share is Topsfield, at 32.7 percent. Newburyport is next, at 31.4 percent.

But there are exceptions. Boxford and Gloucester are mostly Italian, at 33.2 percent and 22.6 percent, respectively.

Rockport and West Newbury residents mostly claim an English background. Their percentages are 20.8 and 23, respectively.


In all, there were 27 ancestries in the data. The survey is an attempt to measure where a person’s ancestors came from before they arrived in the United States, the census bureau said.

However, it was not a checkbox question, like most questions about race on forms. The racial question was also handled, but this was broader: White, black, Latino, etc.

The Census Bureau’s ancestry question was handled by a blank space that let people write in whatever they wanted. This allowed people to claim one or more ancestries — and explains why totals for many towns top 100 percent.

Some of the answers were country specific while others are more general such as Arab.

The Arab World is a big place—22 countries in all. However, percentages of people of Arab origin are low right across the North Shore. The highest group is in Danvers, but that accounts for just 1.3 percent.

Another interesting heritage was American. This one was all over the place. It went from a low of 0.8 percent in Boxford to a high of 12.8 percent in West Newbury. Other towns with high percentages included Ipswich (10.2 percent), Rowley (11.6 percent) and Rockport (11.2 percent).

An increasing number of respondents are choosing American ancestry, according to the bureau. No reason was given, but it could have to do with how far people are removed from their immigrant ancestors.

Another may have to do with how many countries a person’s descendants came from. If your four grandparents were immigrants, picking an ancestry might be easy. But if you have to go back further, you have eight great-grandparents to chose from.

Further still, and things might start getting lost in the mists of time, or just wildly complicated.

Another odd statistic is how few Germans are represented across the North Shore. In the 2000 census, this was the largest single heritage claimed nationwide, at 15 percent of the population. On the North Shore, however, the highest percentage was 11.8 (in Wenham).

Another interesting aspect of changing demographics can be found in urban areas. European ancestry, for example, is smaller in Lynn, but it is tiny in Lawrence.

But even there, Irish backgrounds are most common — 15.3 percent in Lynn and 5.1 percent in Lawrence. St. Patrick would be proud.

*Many people would argue that being Italian or English is better than being Irish. Whether they are better than each other is another matter.