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From the Green Valley News, Sunday 17 August 2008, page A4

Genealogy Today, by Betty Lou Malesky, CG

Cousin, Cousin, Who is Your Cousin?

Every presidential election year we are treated to all sorts of speculation about the background and abilities of prospective candidates. In the past few elections, candidates’ illustrious ancestry has also been publicized as if it has a bearing on the attributes of the man running for office.

Recently Barack Obama spoke in Springfield, Missouri saying, "If Senator McCain wants a debate about taxes in this campaign, I’m ready. Wild Bill Hickok had his first duel in the town square here. And the family legend is that he is a distant cousin of mine." If McCain was struck with fear at this revelation he didn’t show it, but it did send genealogists back to their charts to confirm whether this family legend is true.

The New England Historic Genealogical Society (NEHGS), the country's oldest and largest non-profit genealogical organization is located in Boston. The NEHGS staff traces the ancestry of the current crop of candidates every election year and had already published Obama’s ancestry back to Thomas Blossom, who emigrated from Leiden, Holland to Plymouth, Massachusetts in 1629.

Coincidentally, some years ago Hickok’s ancestry from the Blossom family of Cape Cod was published in NEHGS’s quarterly journal. Finding the connection between these two Blossom descendants was a simple matter of identifying their common ancestor, who in this case is the immigrant, Thomas Blossom. The two men, Obama and Hickok are related as sixth cousins, six-times removed. A chart of their common ancestry can be viewed on the NEHGS Web site at .

Obama neglected to mention that through his mother Stanley Ann Dunham he is also tenth cousin once removed of President George W. Bush, ninth cousin of Vice President Dick Cheney, and cousin as well to former presidents Gerald Ford, Lyndon B. Johnson, Harry S. Truman and James Madison. These relationships can also be explored on the Web at

McCain’s only known claim to presidential glory is a bit less glamorous. He is the sixth cousin of Laura Lane Welch, better known as Mrs. George W. Bush. NEHGS genealogist Christopher Child reports that, "McCain’s ancestry is almost entirely southern making notable connections somewhat harder to trace because of challenges to genealogists in that region. Additional research will undoubtedly identify more interesting cousins for McCain."

Most of us would probably be surprised at how many illustrious cousins we have..In Obama’s case as sixth cousin six times removed he is thirteen generations from Thomas Blossom. Seven generations lie between Hickok and Blossom and six generations between Obama and Hickok, hardly a close tie. The probability of personally knowing a cousin that distant is remote.

The degree of cousin is determined by the number of generations from the common ancestor where your line and the cousin’s line are parallel. The degree of removal is determined by the number of generations separating you from said cousin. First cousins are of the same generation.

Distant cousins can be important in the pursuit of genealogy. The next genealogy column will show how knowing who your cousins are can be useful in solving difficult family problems.

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