The United States, first populated by Native Americans, rediscovered by Europeans and colonized under the flags of the Spanish, English and French, is now filled with Germans.

More than half of the nation's 3,143 counties contain a plurality of people who describe themselves as German-American, according to a Bloomberg News compilation of data from the Census Bureau's 2010 American Community Survey.

The number of German-Americans rose by 6 million during the past decade to 49.8 million, almost as much as the nation's 50.5 million Hispanics.

"A lot of people aren't aware that German is the largest ancestral group in the country," said Don Heinrich Tolzmann, author of "The German-American Experience. It's an eye-opener."

While Hispanics and Asians make up the fastest-growing segments, the rise in those identifying themselves as German-American underscores the nation's European roots. It also reflects the use of new ancestry-tracking tools, a longing for identity and a surge in ethnic pride after the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, more than four decades after Nazi Germany's defeat.

Germans have been immigrating in significant numbers to the United States since the 1680s, when they settled in New York and Pennsylvania. The bulk of them arrived in the mid-19th century; they've been the predominant ethnic group since at least the 1980 census.

The 49.8 million German-Americans are more than triple the 14.7 million Asians in the 2010 census. Mexican-Americans and Chinese-Americans make up the largest share of the Hispanic and Asian groups.

Americans of German descent top the list of U.S. ethnic groups, followed by Irish, 35.8 million; Mexican, 31.8 million; English, 27.4 million; and Italian, 17.6 million.

Pennsylvania has the largest population of German-Americans and is home to one of the group's original settlements, Germantown in 1683. The state has 3.5 million people claiming German ancestry -- more than in Berlin.

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