A. Just as newspapers prepare obituaries of aging celebrities for use at a moment’s notice, genealogists ready family trees of presidential candidates for release as the race to the White House heats up. Political junkies, celebrity-philes and royal watchers also trace and publish famous pedigrees. Like any research, the reliability depends on the genealogist’s sources and how well she connected the dots.
Exponential math is one reason presidential genealogies show so many notable figures. Everyone has four grandparents, eight great-grandparents, 16 great-great-grandparents and so on. Add up 10 generations, and that’s 1,024 ancestors—just think of all the collateral relatives (cousins, aunts, uncles). Odds are, any given tree has a few well-known members among the average Joes. As we’ve noted in Family Tree Magazine, 100 million Americans are related to presidents.
Then there’s luck. Despite American ideals about equal opportunity, almost all US chief executives boast prestigious backgrounds. A wealthy, well-connected family is practically a presidential prerequisite, especially in these times of $500-a-plate fundraisers and million-dollar campaign coffers. Most presidential families—including those of 2004 incumbent George W. Bush and his opponent, John Kerry—are descendants of early English immigrants (that’s where links to royalty come in). Americans with New England ancestry likely are related to presidents; Quaker and Southern roots also are advantageous.
Families of German or Scots-Irish immigrants, on the other hand, have a slim chance of being connected to presidents. That’s because more-recent immigrants usually left their homelands to escape overwhelming poverty, and their families have had less time to establish themselves in the United States.