We are family

Not only is George W. Bush related to 16 American presidents, but he's kin to half the country, too.

Published March 31, 2000 5:00PM (EST)

It's hardly a secret that George W. Bush has an impressive family tree. His father was president; his grandfather, Prescott Bush, was a U.S. senator from Connecticut; and his brother Jeb is governor of Florida.

But the Republican candidate for president has a richer political pedigree than the immediate family that gathers for Christmas dinners and birthday celebrations. They are, in fact, related to 16 U.S. presidents, a slew of British monarchs and even the American Indian princess Pocahontas.

Gary Boyd Roberts, a prominent genealogist at the New England Historic Genealogical Society, documented the remarkable Bush lineage in his little-noticed book "Ancestors of American Presidents," published in 1995. According to Roberts, the list consists of George Washington, Millard Fillmore, Franklin Pierce, Abraham Lincoln, Ulysses Grant, Rutherford B. Hayes, James Garfield, Grover Cleveland, Teddy Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, Calvin Coolidge, Herbert Hoover, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford and George H. W. Bush.

Asked to comment on his remarkable family heritage, Bush issued a statement to Salon through his campaign on Thursday: "As Lincoln reminded the American people, even though he did not know much about who his grandfather was, he was much more concerned with who his grandson would become. While the past is important, we must always look to the future. In particular, I am proud of my father's service to the country. He has set a great example of serving with honor. I hope to build on his legacy and the legacy of other presidents by providing America with a new style of leadership and a fresh start for America in the 21st century."

Bush's extensive lineage dates back to ancestors who arrived here on the Mayflower in 1620, Roberts found. His connection to Pocahontas, the Indian princess who married John Rolfe (the first colonist to grow tobacco as a crop) is through a Bush ancestor who married the couple's only American great-grandchild.

Bush is also a descendant of Dr. Samuel Prescott, who completed Paul Revere's Midnight Ride in 1775. And through Rev. John Lathrop, a non-conformist and founder of Barnstable, Mass., the Bushes are related to Grant and FDR.

Howard Howland, a Mayflower passenger who died in 1673, had two children, and the direct lines from them through the years lead to four presidents -- FDR, Nixon, Ford and Bush.

Another Mayflower passenger, Thomas Mitchell of Holland, also had two children. Through them, George W. can trace his roots to the late Princess Diana and her two children Princes William and Harry. Taft, the 27th president, also comes from this lineage.

Many assume George W. Bush is also related to Franklin Pierce, the 14th president, through Barbara Bush, whose maiden name was Pierce. But the Bushes are related to Pierce though Daniel Brewer, who died in 1646, yielding a lineage that leads to both Pierce and Hayes.

George W. also descends from Agnes (Yeomans) Wheeler. Genealogists call her the mother of presidents because she is the only American female who has had four descendants elected to the office -- Garfield, Hoover, Ford and Bush.

While genealogist Roberts has extensively researched the Bush family tree, he has never been able to link the family to America's original Bush -- the first man with that surname known to arrive in America. When Bush's father was president, the Bushes contacted Roberts about this matter. A small English village had written the White House about a man in their village during the 1500s named Bush and asked whether he was an ancestor of the president.

"I had to tell the White House that I was unsure if that was the case," said Roberts.

Documentation in Roberts' book also cites Bush's relations to five kings -- Henry I, Henry II, Robert II of Scotland, William I of Scotland and Edward I of England. But Bush certainly isn't alone in his royal bloodlines. Sixteen presidents and 14 first ladies have been descended from European royalty.

In the 20th century, Bush's family didn't hobnob with kings, but they certainly mingled with presidents before taking over the White House themselves. Bush's great-grandfather was a steel and railroad magnate who became a personal advisor to President Hoover, who was in fact a distant relative. Grandfather Prescott Bush, the Connecticut senator, was a favored golf partner of President Eisenhower (not a relative). Grandmother Dorothy Walker Bush's father founded a Wall Street investment house and was a close advisor to FDR, another Bush relative.

George W. Bush spent his childhood between the Bush homes in New York, Long Island and Connecticut; the family compound at Kennebunkport, Maine; the 10,000-acre plantation in South Carolina; and the island retreat in Florida, where their neighbors were Doubledays, Fords, Roosevelts and Vanderbilts.

"He may have a lifestyle of a Texan, but George W. is a social register Greenwich boy," says Roberts. Certainly, when it comes to American politics, there is a dynastic process at work here. It would appear that the political system often rewards the candidates who have DNA advantages in the form of a respected family name. Whether this tendency also serves to undermine the ideal of representative government open to all, however, is a matter for debate.

But wait.

George W. isn't just related to 16 former presidents. It turns out, according to Roberts, that he is related, ever so distantly, to roughly half of the entire American population.

So if people vote along family lines this November, Bush should sweep to an impressive victory indeed.

By Suzi Parker

Suzi Parker is an Arkansas writer.

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George W. Bush