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From the Green Valley News, Sunday October 24 2010, page C3

Genealogy Today, by Betty Lou Malesky, CG

Are You Related to President Obama?

Earlier this month, announced that President Barack Obama is distantly related to Sarah Palin and also to Rush Limbaugh. My first thought was, "who cares?" Then curiosity took over. What are the chances of being related to a president?

It seems Obama is a 10th cousin to each of the above, who are not related to each other. During the last presidential campaign Obama's relationships to George W. Bush and to Dick Cheney, neither of whom is related, were also publicized. 10th cousins would have a common 9th great grandparent meaning they are 12 generations apart.

The mathematics of relationship is mind boggling. If you can trace your ancestry back 20 generations, you'll find 1,048,576 ancestors. Go back 30 generations for an amazing 1,073,741,841 ancestors, assuming there were no marriages between cousins.

Marriage between cousins, common when population was sparse and travel difficult, causes "pedigree collapse," a case of the same ancestors appearing more than once on your family tree. This means a family tree keeps expanding until a certain point when it starts to shrink, assuming a sort of diamond shape. Geneticists estimate that none of us is more than 50 generations removed from any other person.

The entire population of Europe during the reign of Charlemagne (768-814) approximately 30 generations ago is estimated at 25 to 30 million persons, yet we each have over a billion ancestors. Obviously, we have a mathematical nightmare and we can all claim descent from Charlemagne.

Once your line is traced to colonial America, about twelve generations back for most of us, you share ancestry with a multitude of living 10th cousins in all walks of life. For instance, it's estimated that over 10 million persons alive today are descendants of the 52 Mayflower passengers who had children.

John Howland, the most prolific Mayflower passenger, had 10 children. His descendants alive today currently number over 25,000. Historical figures with ancestry to Howland include Franklin D. Roosevelt, George H. W. Bush and his son George W., Edith Roosevelt (wife of Theodore), Barbara Bush, Sarah Palin, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Humphrey Bogart, and so on. Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford and Winston Churchill are descendants of Howland's brothers Arthur and Henry.

These distant relationships are not easily found by the average researcher. They can only be identified by tracing back from, for instance, President Obama, and then looking for others who have previously been linked to one of his ancestors. To trace all descendants of a person who lived in the 1600s would take more than one lifetime.

In the Howland example above, several researchers have been working on identifying all his descendants for years. To date they have published four volumes of descendants of only four of his children through only five generations, a total of 2195 print pages.

On Saturday, November 20th, the Green Valley Genealogical Society is holding a Genealogy Fair at the Latter Day Saints Church, 17699 S Camino de las Quintas, Sahuarita, from 9 a.m. until 1 p.m. Come and see family history in action. Visit booths and displays, meet local researchers, bring your questions and "ask the experts" for help, attend classes to educate and inspire you, or just enjoy the refreshments. The Genealogy Fair is free and open to the public.

Of course, if you run for president your ancestry will be explored and shared with the world by experts. Obama seems to be related to everyone - aren't we all if we go back far enough?

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