#204: Presidents, Etc.

204.1  Not counting fathers, sons, grandfathers and grandsons, which two American presidents are the most closely related?

204.2   No brothers or first cousins have ever been president. In recent times, the Kennedys were of course a near miss, and Jeb Bush bears watching. A research project for another day would be to investigate siblings and first cousins with presidential aspirations…the Tafts and Rockefellers are two recent families worth looking at…wealthy clans for whom public service was of special importance. ch 736 204.3  Chart 736 shows the direct descendants…John Adams and his son John Quincy Adams, and the Bushes. John Scott Harrison is the only individual whose both father and son were president, which just another way to say that William Henry Harrison and Benjamin Harrison are the only grandfather/grandson pair. The “middle” Harrison served 4 years in the House representing Ohio, and after death was the victim of a bizarre grave-robbing scheme, which see. 124 re 204.4  Beyond these, the most famous collateral presidential relationship would be Theodore and Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who were fifth cousins. FDR’s wife Eleanor was Teddy’s niece, the daughter of his brother Elliott, making FDR and his First Lady fifth cousins once removed. And there are some fascinating twists and turns here, like FDR’s father James Roosevelt’s blood relationship to his first wife, and his courting of another relative…you can read about that here: Related How Again #35. Franklin and Eleanor were one of those unusual couples who had the same surname before they married. But the Roosevelts are not the closest collaterals… 

204.5  …because that would be 4th president James Madison and 12th president Zachary Taylor who were second cousins. Say “second cousins” today and you often get a blank stare in response. Hopefully, constant readers of this blog will find their own stares becoming less and less blank! But just as “first cousins” means two of their parents are siblings, “second cousins” simply means two of their grandparents are siblings, no more, no less. ch 737 204.6  As per Chart 737, Madison’s paternal grandmother Frances Taylor Madison and Zachary Taylor’s grandfather, also named Zachary Taylor, were siblings. And although the elder Zachary was 7 years older than his sister, their presidential grandsons were born 33 years apart, hence 11 presidents and 32 years between their administrations. ch 738 204.7  Oddly enough, when ranking the closeness of collateral presidents, 8th president Martin Van Buren was actually more closely related to Teddy Roosevelt than FDR was, owing to their Dutch ancestry. Van Buren was a 3rd great grandchild and Teddy a 6th great grandchild of one Cornelis Laurens. As third cousins three times removed, they are 1/1024 related, twice as close as the two Roosevelts at 1/2048. Genealogically significant, genetically not so much.


204.8   We’re having an argument at work. I say a man can be your first cousin while his son is also your first cousin. Everybody else says I’m nuts. Who’s right?

204.9  You, of course! But before I explain why, a couple of stipulations. It is common for someone to refer to their first cousin as their “cousin”…and their first cousin’s child also as their “cousin,” a simplification of the correct “first cousin once removed descending.” So in this sense, father and son could both be your “cousin.” I will approach your question from the literal viewpoint…both father and son must literally be a first cousin to you. Further, we’ll try to do it without any interbreeding, which is to say, nobody is our scenario has married a close blood relative…capeesh?

204.10  So…let’s say you have a first cousin named Bart and he has a son Sam. Now without knowing anything else about your family tree, we can say that you and Sam are first cousins once removed. But the fact is that two people, in this case you and Sam, can be related in more than one way…since everyone has two sets of non-related ancestors: their father’s side and their mother’s side. ch 739 204.11  We will suppose that you and Bart are first cousins because your fathers are brothers, as per Chart 739. All we need is for Sam’s mother and your mother to be sisters, and you and Sam are also first cousins. That almost seemed too simple, didn’t it? And as a bonus, since Bart is married to your aunt, so in a sense Bart is your “uncle” as well as your first cousin.

204.12  Thus you are Bart’s first cousin on your fathers’ side, Sam’s first cousin on your mothers’ side. Do you get the nagging feeling that Bart married a blood relative? No such thing. Bart married his blood uncle’s wife’s sister. It’s unusual, but assuming his uncle didn’t marry a relative, neither did Bart.


 204.13  Watching some of my favorite cheesy sci-fi movies from the 1950s and 60s, the name of novelist and screenwriter Ib Melchior sometimes pops up. But what the heck kind of name is “Ib”?

204.14  Oh, yeah…Reptilicus, Angry Red Planet, Robinson Crusoe on Mars, Journey to the Seventh Planet, The Time Travelers, Planet of the Vampires…wonderful. He was from Denmark, and was born Ib Jørgen Melchior. But Ib is in fact a Danish nickname for Jakob or Jacob, as is Jep and Jeppe. Right now you might be asking, well, why isn’t it “Ob”? I don’t honestly know, but then I don’t mind a little mystery in life, know what I mean? inset 1 204.15  But wait…now that I think about it, you ought not confuse Ib Melchior with Disney cartoonist Ub Iwerks. He was born in the province of Frisia in northwest Germany, close to Denmark, so it should come as no surprise that his given name Ubbe is a Danish form of Urban or Urbanus. But when it came time to put credits on the screen, “Ub” was unusual enough that it was sometimes thought to actually be two letters, appearing as U.B. Iwerks.


Copyright © 2015 Mark John Astolfi, All Rights Reserved


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