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Old 08-11-2019, 01:54 PM
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why so few descendants of US presidents?


I admit that I haven't done detailed research into this. But it seems strange to me that there seem to be far fewer descendants of US presidents than I would expect.

I do a lot of genealogical research into my own family, and for most ancestors that I've found in the 1800s, I can often track hundreds or frequently thousands of descendants. I would assume that on average the elected presidents came from wealthy families, which had decent access to the best health care available at the time, and so their birthrate (and the birthrate of their descendants) would be higher than average.

I know that there are no living ancestors of George Washington, James Madison, Andrew Jackson and Abraham Lincoln (and others mentioned here).

Are they outliers? Is the number of presidents too small a set to be statistically significant? Any other reasons?
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Old 08-11-2019, 02:00 PM
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I know that there are no living ancestors of George Washington, James Madison, Andrew Jackson and Abraham Lincoln (and others mentioned here).
I don't think there are any living ancestors of any current or past President.

Last edited by Chronos; 08-11-2019 at 02:00 PM.
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Old 08-11-2019, 02:13 PM
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Ha - ok, sorry about the mistake. (Can that be corrected to "no living descendants"?)
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Old 08-11-2019, 02:33 PM
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It may depend on whether you think adopted children and their descendants should count. It seems to me that the thinking has changed over the centuries. Washington legally adopted his wife's orphaned grandson, George Washington Parke Custis, and GWPC has living descendants. Yet GW is often said to have had no descendants. On the other hand, no one seems to doubt that Michael Reagan is really and truly the child of Ronald Reagan, even though he is adopted.
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Old 08-11-2019, 02:47 PM
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It may depend on whether you think adopted children and their descendants should count. It seems to me that the thinking has changed over the centuries. Washington legally adopted his wife's orphaned grandson, George Washington Parke Custis, and GWPC has living descendants. Yet GW is often said to have had no descendants. On the other hand, no one seems to doubt that Michael Reagan is really and truly the child of Ronald Reagan, even though he is adopted.
The descendants of Robert E. Lee are also descendants of George Washington Parke Custis, because Lee married Custis's daughter, Mary Anna.
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Old 08-11-2019, 03:01 PM
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I know that there are no living ancestors of George Washington, James Madison, Andrew Jackson and Abraham Lincoln (and others mentioned here).

Are they outliers? Is the number of presidents too small a set to be statistically significant? Any other reasons?
First, I recall hearing somewhere that Washington was not able to father children - the children he helped raise were those of his wife from a prior marriage. So... no descendants because no swimmers.

Lincoln had four children but only one lived to adulthood (well, OK two if you count 18 as adult, but Tad died at 18 without fathering any children). This was, unfortunately, not an terribly unusual occurrence prior to the 20th Century. Robert Todd had three children, two of which lived long enough to be adult. It seemed to be a pattern with the Lincoln descendants that they didn't produce a lot of children and thus the line ended in 1985.

Madison may have been sterile, like Washington, or his wife may have been infertile as she had on-going chronic health problems dating from before the time they met.

Jackson is not known to have any biological descendants from his marriage, although both while his wife was alive and after he sure seemed willing to take people in and raise them (including, ironically, Native orphans).

In the case of both Madison and Jackson there may be a bunch of black descendants that have never been acknowledged as both were slave owners and had access to women not allowed to say no to them.
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Old 08-11-2019, 03:38 PM
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I know that there are no living ancestors of George Washington, James Madison, Andrew Jackson and Abraham Lincoln (and others mentioned here).

Are they outliers? Is the number of presidents too small a set to be statistically significant? Any other reasons?
The article says that thirty-five of the forty-four men who have been President have living descendants. That doesn't sound too unusual. It also notes that the most recent President with no living descendants is McKinley; this probably reflects the fact that child mortality rates were significantly higher prior to the 20th century and that would have made family lines dying out more common.
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Old 08-11-2019, 04:24 PM
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There's survivor bias in your comparison of number of descendents of Presidents, with the people who are your own ancestors - those people have at least one descendent (you). People living a couple of hundred years ago would generally today have either zero descendents or lots - rarely just one or two. So your observations from your restricted pool of examples isn't going to tell you anything much about how likely it is for a random person from any era to have absolutely no descendents today
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Old 08-11-2019, 04:49 PM
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I think the current occupant of the White House has lots more descendants than people realize.
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Old 08-11-2019, 04:59 PM
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Quoth Broomstick:

In the case of both Madison and Jackson there may be a bunch of black descendants that have never been acknowledged as both were slave owners and had access to women not allowed to say no to them.
And Thomas Jefferson wasn't mentioned, but it's now almost certain that he has descendants via at least one of his slaves.
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Old 08-11-2019, 05:19 PM
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I'm assuming that by "descended", the OP means direct descendants. One can be related without being a descendant.
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Old 08-11-2019, 06:02 PM
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I'm assuming that by "descended", the OP means direct descendants. One can be related without being a descendant.
I share a great x grandfather with Lincoln. His 3rd great grandfather is my 6th great grandfather.
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Old 08-11-2019, 06:04 PM
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I'm assuming that by "descended", the OP means direct descendants. One can be related without being a descendant.
Indeed, the internet routinely reminds me that actor Tom Hanks is a relative of Abraham Lincoln’s mother, Nancy Hanks.

Last edited by Moriarty; 08-11-2019 at 06:05 PM.
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Old 08-11-2019, 06:53 PM
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I think the current occupant of the White House has lots more descendants than people realize.
To the best of my knowledge, Donald Trump has five children and nine grandchildren. Are you suggesting he has other, presumably illegitimate, descendants? I know there's a rumor that he had a child with a maid who worked for him but no substantial evidence has been offered to support this.
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Old 08-11-2019, 08:27 PM
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I think the current occupant of the White House has lots more descendants than people realize.
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Old 08-11-2019, 10:10 PM
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John Tyler, our 10th president, had 15 children from two wives, the last one when he was in his 70s. That son also had two children when he was in his 70s himself who are still alive.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Tyler

Correction: His 13th child, Lyon, was born when he was 63. He was the father of the two surviving grandsons.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lyon_G...#Personal_life

Last edited by nearwildheaven; 08-11-2019 at 10:13 PM.
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Old 08-11-2019, 10:38 PM
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There are apparently rifts within the Jefferson descendants. The white ones balked at recognizing Sally Hemings's kin. "It's not because we're racists, it's because we're snobs."

A couple of Tafts have had very distinguished careers in public service. My brother served in the Navy, Vietnam-era, with a Roosevelt heir.

Julie and David Eisenhower are parents (one daughter, an actress) and grandparents (one granddaughter).

Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg has three children in their 20s, who were raised quite separately from Bobby and Ted's freakshow grandkids.
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Old 08-11-2019, 11:50 PM
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There are apparently rifts within the Jefferson descendants. The white ones balked at recognizing Sally Hemings's kin. "It's not because we're racists, it's because we're snobs." .
Quite the opposite actually.

https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.nyt...dants.amp.html
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Old 08-12-2019, 12:07 AM
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I would assume that on average the elected presidents came from wealthy families, which had decent access to the best health care available at the time, and so their birthrate (and the birthrate of their descendants) would be higher than average.
There's several assumptions there.
1) that more expensive medical care was better. Not even true now, even less true before doctors started systematically washing their hands between patients.
2) that birthrate equals survival to adulthood.
3) that survival to adulthood equals reproduction.
4) that everybody involved was of normal or high fertility.

My own paternal 1800 ancestor has barely a dozen descendants in my parent's generation. There were generations when only one or two people got to adulthood, and several of these went into religious life so no descendants of their own.

Move one over, to my paternal grandmother's family, and that same generation has over one hundred people. Grandma's family also had people go into religious life, but a similar amount thus a lower ratio. Two families from the same general area, same social class, completely different family sizes thanks to different fertility rates and different survival to adulthood rates.
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Old 08-12-2019, 03:28 PM
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Julie and David Eisenhower are parents (one daughter, an actress) and grandparents (one granddaughter).
They're not the only two-presidents-as-ancestors children. There is another family out there who are descended from two 1800s POTUS's, and they didn't know this until they searched their family trees and were in for a VERY big surprise. They knew that there was a president in their genetic woodpile, but not exactly where or who until they did this search. I saw one interviewed on C-SPAN which is how I know this.
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Old 08-13-2019, 01:50 AM
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They're not the only two-presidents-as-ancestors children. There is another family out there who are descended from two 1800s POTUS's, and they didn't know this until they searched their family trees and were in for a VERY big surprise. They knew that there was a president in their genetic woodpile, but not exactly where or who until they did this search. I saw one interviewed on C-SPAN which is how I know this.
So who are the 2 presidents?
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Old 08-13-2019, 02:42 AM
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I once read an article on French nobles. (It was on Wikipedia, but I cannot find it now.) The article claimed that peasants were encouraged to marry as young as possible, while nobles were encouraged to find a "suitable" match. "Suitability" generally had more to do with social and economic advantage, than for love. As a result, aristocrats tended to marry much later in life, and to have far fewer children, than commoners.
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Old 08-13-2019, 08:40 AM
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I share a great x grandfather with Lincoln. His 3rd great grandfather is my 6th great grandfather.
Yeah, Aaron Burr had a daughter, Theodosia. She in turn had a daughter who died young. She was lost at sea before having any more children. Nonetheless, Burr is my 7th great uncle.
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Old 08-13-2019, 08:44 AM
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I don't think there are any living ancestors of any current or past President.
Reagan's children are still alive, as far as I know.
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Old 08-13-2019, 08:55 AM
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Re-read that quote.
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Old 08-13-2019, 08:56 AM
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John Tyler, our 10th president, had 15 children from two wives, the last one when he was in his 70s. That son also had two children when he was in his 70s himself who are still alive.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Tyler

Correction: His 13th child, Lyon, was born when he was 63. He was the father of the two surviving grandsons.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lyon_G...#Personal_life
I came in to mention this piece of presidential trivia. Pretty amazing, considering that Tyler was born in 1790.
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Old 08-13-2019, 10:16 AM
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And Thomas Jefferson wasn't mentioned, but it's now almoDNAst certain that he has descendants via at least one of his slaves.
DNA testing has confirmed he has a whole lot of descendants by his slave Sally....don't remember her last name. And his white descendants have include them in the family group.
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Old 08-13-2019, 10:17 AM
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Reagan's children are still alive, as far as I know.
Nope--his daughter Maureen died years ago from skin cancer.
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Old 08-13-2019, 10:24 AM
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Reagan's children are still alive, as far as I know.
But his parents are dead. John Reagan died in 1941 and Nelle Wilson Reagan died in 1962. I think it's safe to assume his grandparents and other ancestors are dead as well.
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Old 08-13-2019, 10:26 AM
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I once read an article on French nobles. (It was on Wikipedia, but I cannot find it now.) The article claimed that peasants were encouraged to marry as young as possible, while nobles were encouraged to find a "suitable" match. "Suitability" generally had more to do with social and economic advantage, than for love. As a result, aristocrats tended to marry much later in life, and to have far fewer children, than commoners.
This may have been the case in some cultures at some times, but it's the opposite of the usual pattern in early modern and pre-modern Europe. More commonly, people who had to earn a living married fairly late, while nobles and royalty could be married very young indeed (although they weren't necessarily expected to consummate the marriage immediately, and in some cases might not even meet face to face until well after the marrriage ceremony).
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Old 08-13-2019, 11:13 AM
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I think the last presidential ancestor to die was George H. W. Bush, in November of last year.
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Old 08-13-2019, 11:16 AM
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Reagan's children are still alive, as far as I know.
Barbara Bush just recently passed away.
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Old 08-13-2019, 11:49 AM
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The group's that historically have had big families haven't really been represented in office. There wasn't a lot of 10 kid Catholic guys running for office back in the day.
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Old 08-13-2019, 12:57 PM
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DNA testing has confirmed he has a whole lot of descendants by his slave Sally....don't remember her last name.
Hemings, I believe. Only four of her children are believed to have survived to adulthood, and a couple of them passed as white, at least for a while.

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Old 08-13-2019, 03:38 PM
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I don't think there are any living ancestors of any current or past President.
It wasn't that long ago that a former US president still had both his parents still living. 2018, actually, just last year
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Old 08-13-2019, 03:51 PM
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That raises another interesting question: how many people have had the distinction of being living ancestors of (current or former) US presidents? Off the top of my head, George Washington, John Quincy Adams, Calvin Coolidge, and Bill Clinton all had a living parent for part of their presidency, and JFK had two living parents for all of his (and, in Rose's case, for more than thirty years afterward), and so, of course, did Bush-43.
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Old 08-13-2019, 03:55 PM
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Roosevelt has quite a few descendants. FDR and Eleanor had 22 grandchildren.

https://www.google.com/amp/s/amp.pou...m/amp/84049462

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Texas-born David Roosevelt's family of four not only has come back to Hyde Park, but is living on the grounds made historic by his grandparents, President Franklin D. Roosevelt and first lady Eleanor Roosevelt.
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Old 08-13-2019, 03:58 PM
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Re-read that quote.
Obama's grandmother died just before he was elected, IIRC.
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Old 08-13-2019, 04:16 PM
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If John McCain had won in 2012, we'd have a living presidential ancestor. His mother, Roberta Wright McCain, is still alive at 107.
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Old 08-13-2019, 04:29 PM
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Obama's parents died quite young; his mother was born in 1942 and died in 1995, age 52. She would be 76 if she were alive today and Barack Obama Sr., who died when he was 46, would be 83. His grandmother died age 86, in November 2008, 2 days before he was elected. So with Obama we just missed having a living president's grandmother.
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Old 08-13-2019, 04:36 PM
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President Trump has 9 grandchildren. I think it'll be 10 pretty soon? Eric's wife Lara is pregnant.

Last edited by aceplace57; 08-13-2019 at 04:38 PM.
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Old 08-13-2019, 04:52 PM
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So who are the 2 presidents?
I was half right. This man is the GGGS of Grover Cleveland, and the GGN of William McKinley.

https://www.c-span.org/person/?115577
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Old 08-14-2019, 04:34 PM
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John Tyler, our 10th president, had 15 children from two wives, the last one when he was in his 70s. That son also had two children when he was in his 70s himself who are still alive.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Tyler

Correction: His 13th child, Lyon, was born when he was 63. He was the father of the two surviving grandsons.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lyon_G...#Personal_life
This is one of my two favorite facts of all time.
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Old 08-15-2019, 03:17 PM
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That raises another interesting question: how many people have had the distinction of being living ancestors of (current or former) US presidents? Off the top of my head, George Washington, John Quincy Adams, Calvin Coolidge, and Bill Clinton all had a living parent for part of their presidency, and JFK had two living parents for all of his (and, in Rose's case, for more than thirty years afterward), and so, of course, did Bush-43.
Ulysess S Grant's father was alive during Grant's first term in office, and passed away in 1873.
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Old 08-16-2019, 12:20 AM
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That raises another interesting question: how many people have had the distinction of being living ancestors of (current or former) US presidents? Off the top of my head, George Washington, John Quincy Adams, Calvin Coolidge, and Bill Clinton all had a living parent for part of their presidency, and JFK had two living parents for all of his (and, in Rose's case, for more than thirty years afterward), and so, of course, did Bush-43.
There was Miss Lillian, Jimmy Carter's mother. And James Garfield's mother was supposedly the reason for the first elevator to be installed in the White House, but that's possibly apocryphal.
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