THE CLUB that Barack Obama now joins has traditionally been far more exclusive than just all white and all male. There has never been an Italian, Hungarian, Lithuanian, Russian, Greek, Spaniard, or Hispanic elected to the White House. No descendent of the great waves of immigration from southern and eastern Europe that washed over this country in the 19th century has ever made it. Most presidential ancestors came from earlier, 18th- and 17th-century British immigrations in which the few names ending in vowels were mostly Scottish or Irish.
Michael Dukakis, of Greek ancestry, went up to the clubhouse door but wasn't allowed in. Nor have there been any Swedes, Danes, or Norwegians. Walter Mondale, of Norwegian descent, didn't come close. In more than 200 years there has never been a Jew, and only one Catholic, John Kennedy.
The genealogical background of presidents has been conspicuously narrow. Many are distant relatives of each other. The Bushes are allegedly related to 16 presidents and Franklin Roosevelt to 17.
All presidential surnames, save five, derive exclusively from the British Isles. The exceptions are the two Roosevelts and Martin van Buren from Holland; and Herbert Hoover (Huber) and Dwight Eisenhower (Eisenhauer) from Germany. And even then, both Teddy Roosevelt and FDR were only one-quarter Dutch. Most of their ancestors were English, Irish, or Scot.
Glance into the deep gene pools of our presidents and you will see the majority of their ancestors clustered into this same northwestern corner of Europe, with a few Frenchmen, mostly Protestant Huguenots, thrown in.
Even the two presidents whose presidential names were not their original surnames fall into the same ancestral corridor. President Clinton, originally William Jefferson Blythe, and Gerald Ford, originally Leslie Lynch King, took the names of stepfathers, but the old names, like the new, came from the British Isles.
There may be no more roots-conscious group in America than the Irish, and politicians are quick to claim Irish connections. The Blythes may have come over from England, but Bill Clinton said: "I've always been conscious of being Irish . . . It means a lot to me." Ireland lays claim to anywhere from 16 to 23 American presidents, depending on who is doing the counting.
Protestant Northern Ireland, however, has the edge, many presidents having descended from the traditionally feisty Scots-Irish. They originally came from the Scottish borders, where they were deeply involved with fighting the English. Recruited to put down the Catholics in Ulster, many then participated in one of the earliest mass immigrations to America, where they were in constant conflict with Native Americans. John McCain says he is descended from Scots-Irish stock.
Genealogy shops in Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic are often competitive, but there was a time when both were willing to let the other have Richard Nixon.
Genealogists say that both Adamses, Taylor, Grant, Garfield, and FDR were descended from the Mayflower settlers in 17th-century Massachusetts. Nixon, Ford, and the two Bushes have Mayflower connections.
Some presidents can claim royal blood. Clinton is said to share ancestry with Henry III on his mother's side, and may be related to both presidents Harrison as well as Ford and Carter.
George Washington, FDR, both Bushes, and Coolidge are said to descend from a 15th-century Englishman named John Spencer from Warwickshire - as was Diana, the late Princess of Wales.
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