#53: Can-o-Worms!

Dear Stolf: I read in the paper that Mitt Romney is related to the Bushes…10C 1R to 41 and 10C 2R to 43…did they get that right?   …Greenie, in Stickemsville

Dear Stolf: Now that it’s looking like Romney vs Obama this November, I’m wondering about the talk of polygamy in his family tree…is it for real? And if so, just a footnote, or significant?  …Lola, in Damnyankeesburg

53.1  It seemed natural to lump these 2 questions together. In answer to the first, the Bush-Romney connection comes from the folks at Ancestry.com…and as far as I can tell, it checks out. Trouble is, this once again highlights a major flaw in our kinship terminology.  If I were to say Abe is Zack’s uncle, this positions them precisely in their family tree: they have a common ancestor…Abe’s father and Zack’s grandfather, who of course is also the father of Zack’s father. Abe is “closer” to this common ancestor than Zack is…1 generation for Abe, 2 generations for Zack. All neat and tidy, nez pah?

53.2  Sadly, not so if Abe and Zack were 1st cousins once removed…again, they have a common ancestor, and because of the “removed,” one is closer to that ancestor than the other. But there is no way to know which! Genealogists solve this problem by calling the closer one “ascending,” and the other one “descending,” but it’s a cumbersome system, not used in general parlance.

53.3  Now considering the Bushes and Romneys…suppose all we knew was that Mitt and 41 were 10C 1R…there would be 2 possibilities, depending on which was ascending and which descending. In other words, given 2 individuals who are 10C 1R, we know that one is the 10th cousin of the other’s father, we just don’t know which.

53.4  Fortunately, in this case people who understand kinship do know which, because 41’s son 43 is Mitt’s 10C 2R, so Mitt must be ascending…if he were descending, he and 43 would be 11th cousins, the sons of 10th cousins. Mind you, this is just a “serving suggestion” to demonstrate how it works…the common ancestor is religious rights crusader Ann Marbury Hutchinson, but her line could be thru one or both of the mothers, not fathers…which it actually is I leave to you as an exercise, as they used to say to school.

53.5  But God bless computers in general and the internet in particular…the profusion of genealogical data has made such discoveries a thousand times more accessible. Remember when Bush 43 and John Kerry were announced as 9C 2R*? And in this case, we did know the lines…Kerry was indeed the 9th cousin of 43’s grandfather Prescott. And Obama and McCain were, at the very least, both 22C 2R and 24C 6 R…but recall, everybody alive today is at least 50th cousin to everybody else, so that’s midway 😉 😉

* I hate to show off, but what can you do…they were also 10C 1R 2 ways…10C 2R…11C 1R…12C 1R…12C 2R…14C…and who knows what else. BTW, this is said to be typical for any 2 living individuals with colonial New England forebears. 


53.6  As to the issue of polygamy, it’s worm-time, folks! For the brainless Media, the rule is “If it bleeds, it leads.” And they also operate on the nonsensical principle that if a relative of yours does something gnarly, well, you must be guilty too…they won’t come out and say it, but wink wink, nudge nudge. It could be a parent, a sibling, a niece or cousin, or even a long distant ancestor…doesn’t matter…gotcha!!!!

53.7  I saw this one commentary…well, I have to admit it was good to see an old-fashioned word like “rife” being utilized…but what can one make of this: “Polygamy has been absent in his family background for more than two generations.” Does that mean “3 generations” or something else? And where do you start counting generations, with Mitt or with his father? What an utterly useless statement…and shabby journalism to boot.

53.8  Here’s what they should have said: “The last occurrence of polygamy was in Mitt Romney’s great grandfather’s generation.”  See there, now you know something!

53.9  But in answer to the question, it is far from a footnote in the family history, but central to the whole story of Mitt’s line. Why was Mitt’s father George born in Chihuahua, Mexico? Because George’s father Gaskell Romney had resettled there with his polygamous parents in 1884, to escape religious persecution in the US…one of 9 Mormon sanctuaries or “colonies” established across the border. (2 still exist today.)  You may recall that the LDS Church elders ultimately issued their anti-polygamy “Manifesto” in 1890, the price they were willing to pay for Utah statehood. Mitt’s family returned to Utah in 1912.

53.10  What’s really wormy is that polygamous relationships still exist in the US, flying at various levels under the radar, depending on the place…and in a time when there is such a push to redefine marriage as something beyond the traditional one man/one woman, they must wonder what sort of social justice allows their honest beliefs to be ignored, if not outright condemned. At any rate, should Romney become the candidate, all this will be dissected in salacious detail, you betcha. Still, history is history, and I find it fascinating…while oddly enough feeling not the slightest urge to be judgmental…but that’s just me.

53.11  So Chart 184 gives you a simplified overview. Mitt’s 2G grandfather Miles Romney was born in England, and interestingly converted to Mormonism 2 years before emigrating to the US. His wives and children are marked with an asterisk because there is some dispute. Church records list 12 wives, but uncharacteristically there are no further details as to wives or children, leading some researchers to believe this is an error. The Salt Lake Tribune reports there were 6 polygamists in Mitt’s family, and they counted 41 wives. I found all 6, and granting Miles 12, I count 39 wives. It should also be mentioned that engaging in plural marriages was not an individual’s choice, but decided for you by LDS Church elders.

53.12  Other notes: I’m guessing Mitt’s Uncle Lawrence had a middle name, but I didn’t find it. His sister Jane’s middle name appears to be a re-spelling of their mother’s maiden name. Mitt and Jon Huntsman’s father are 3rd cousins, making the 2 candidates 3C 1R. And yeah, I’m sure Obama comes in there somewhere…we’ll see, won’t we? Next week, more from the bottomless mailbag…peace and love.


Copyright © 2012 Mark John Astolfi, All Rights Reserved


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