Sunday, February 19, 2017
How Presidential Were Your Ancestors?
This weekend—in the United States, at least—is a three-day holiday weekend, thanks to the holiday-conserving legislation back in 1971, moving the traditional observance of our first president's birthday from the actual day (February 22) to the third Monday in February. And voila! Instant three day weekend.
This always brings up the question—at least in my mind, and especially as the observance moves from just focusing on one president to honoring the office of president in general—do you have any presidents in your family history?
I've always known I've come close, thanks to meeting a fellow researcher online who pointed out the fact that some in-laws among my maternal grandmother's ancestry were related to Ulysses S. Grant. Other than that, the best I've come up with is distant cousins who once were state governors.
Thinking of relationships with notable historic figures brings up the app offered by Ancestry.com, known as "We're Related." Of course, any blog-reading genealogist will, in the same breath, bring up mention of genea-blogger Randy Seaver's regular commentary on that app, in which he reviews each of the app's suggested cousin relationships on a weekly basis.
On his analysis this past Friday, the app suggested that he is related to U. S. President Calvin Coolidge (see his entry number thirteen here). As is his usual style, Randy systematically reviewed the documentation to make his assessment whether the predicted relationship is Likely, Possible, Unlikely—or (drum up the Bronx cheer for this one) Highly Unlikely. I've watched Randy go through the paces to determine each suggested relationship, step by step, and more often his conclusions land closer to the Highly Unlikely rank than the Highly Likely side. Surprisingly, considering that track record, Randy judged his relationship to President Coolidge to be Likely.
It's not my style to reach for an app to determine such relationships, but I can safely say, if you keep your eyes open to history as well as surnames, you will usually get a sense of whether your line gets close to something presidential. Since I make it a point to research collateral lines on my family tree, I have stumbled upon names that perk up my ear. Familiar sounding names, plus a quick lookup in history timelines, helps point out some also-rans in the Presidential derby: senators, governors and others who tried their hand at running for the land's top office in years gone by. I may not be related to any presidents, but at least I've come close.
Perhaps your research has led you to some famous names, and you're certainly entitled to brag about that. (I'd love to hear about it here!) Whether presidents, generals, representatives in Congress or state houses, or people well known in their own time, they make up the ones who become our carrots to dangle in front of our family and friends when they wonder what we see in this pursuit called genealogy. There's nothing like discovering a person is related to someone interesting, no matter who it might be. And face it, isn't it because we're always up for a fascinating story?
Above: "Washington's Birthday—Fifth Avenue at 23rd Street," 1916 etching by American impressionist artist Childe Hassam; courtesy Google Art Project via Wikipedia; in the public domain.