by John

In many respects this month has been one to remember presidents. We have observed the 150th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address and the 50th anniversary of John F. Kennedy’s assassination. We also recall the many presidential proclamations establishing Thanksgiving as a national holiday.

There is a great deal about our presidents to interest genealogists. A few of us can actually claim a president among our direct ancestors. Those presidents who have living descendants include the following: John Adams, Jefferson, Monroe, John Quincy Adams, Van Buren, William H. Harrison, Tyler, Taylor, Andrew Johnson, Grant, Hayes, Garfield, Cleveland, Benjamin Harrison, Theodore Roosevelt, Taft, Wilson, Harding (through an illegitimate daughter), Coolidge, Hoover, Franklin Roosevelt, Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, George H W Bush, Clinton, George W. Bush, and Obama. Others never had children (like Washington, Polk, and Buchanan) or have had their lines die out, including most notably Lincoln and Arthur. One, Andrew Jackson, has descendants (though not of his blood) through an adopted son, while Reagan’s only grandchild is through an adopted son.

Even if you are not a direct presidential descendant, you may be related to a president through a common ancestor. Many presidents trace their ancestry who immigrants who arrived in the colonial era, and from them, many Americans also claim descent. The Genealogy Center has several books that attempt to trace exhaustively the known ancestors of presidents. Perhaps the best book is Gary Boyd Roberts’s Ancestors of American Presidents (2009 edition) (GC 929.11 R54ab). This work catalogs the ancestry of all of the presidents through Obama, contains kinship charts among presidents, and also shows the royal descents of some presidents. Craig Hart’s book, A Genealogy of the Wives of the American Presidents and Their First Two Generations of Descent (973 H251g), attempts to trace the ancestry of First Ladies, though this work is not as comprehensive as the Roberts book.

If your interest is in the descendants of American presidents, you may wish to examine Burke’s Presidential Families (second edition, 1981) (929.11 B915), or American Presidential Families (1993) (929.11 Am352). The latter book lists descendants of collateral relatives of those presidents who do not have living descendants, but neither work is documented. Some presidents appear in larger published genealogies. For example, in 1990, the Theodore Roosevelt Association published The Roosevelt Family in America: A Genealogy (929.2 R67rf), an extensive genealogy of this extended New York Dutch family.

New research is continually being published, and sometimes new discoveries are made with some fanfare, such as the discovery of President Obama’s Irish ancestry several years ago. In 2011-2012, Michael Thomas Meggison and R. Andrew Pierce compiled a multi-part article on descendants of Timothy Bush of Connecticut, the paternal ancestor of the Bush family, which continued over three issues in two volumes of The Genealogist (973.005 G2855), published by the American Society of Genealogists. Their research brings to light much new information about this colonial family, which, until recently, has not been fully investigated.

The Genealogy Center has much to offer anyone wishing to determine if they have a presidential cousin, but be advised that being related to one doesn’t make you part of an elite club. Millions of Americans share kinship with at least one or two. The best part of being a relative is that you can sometimes benefit from the research on your family being done by these professionals.