DNA helps link Obama and Senator-elect Brown

In 2008, Obama was linked to seven former U.S. presidents, including both Bushes. Now he's linked to the very man who removed his filibuster-proof majority in the Senate.

Elizabeth Armstrong Moore
Elizabeth Armstrong Moore is based in Portland, Oregon, and has written for Wired, The Christian Science Monitor, and public radio. Her semi-obscure hobbies include climbing, billiards, board games that take up a lot of space, and piano.
Elizabeth Armstrong Moore
3 min read

DNA testing, in use since the late 1970s, has helped demonstrate that we are all, if distantly, related, and that there is only one race: the human race. (Cue "Kumbaya.") With nearly 100 percent accuracy, testing one's DNA--genetically inherited from both parents and found in every part of the body--has become a standard means of identifying biological relationships.

So it should come as no surprise when certain celebrities are linked, as happened last week when DNA testing showed that George Stephanopoulos, co-anchor of ABC News' "Good Morning America" who recently took a DNA test to promote the upcoming four-part series Faces of America With Henry Louis Gates Jr., is likely related to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Today, genealogists are linking President Obama to Senator-elect Scott Brown. That's right: the man who took away the president's filibuster-proof margin in the U.S. Senate is also, it turns out, a 10th cousin, says Chris Child, the New England Historic Genealogical Society researcher who helped uncover the link through not only good old-fashioned research (sites like Ancestry.com help), but in part through DNA (press release PDF).

"Part of the lineage of Obama on this chart was actually confirmed through DNA," Child tells me by phone. "In this case we can be really sure because he had a second cousin twice removed who took a DNA test. The DNA study worked out to confirm which family he ultimately descended from."

The link is simple, if distant. Obama's mother, Stanley Ann Dunham, and Brown's mother, Judith Ann Rugg, both descend from Richard Singletary of Haverhill, Mass. Not only did the man produce notable offspring, he also held public office and managed to live to 1687, putting him at the then-unthinkable age of 102, according to NEHGS.

New England Historic Genealogical Society

"I think it's a really interesting thing, where you have the separation between a Democrat and a Republican, but you have one link," says co-researcher David Allen Lambert, who may or may not be closely related to the similarly named Adam Lambert, who is also in the news today for turning 28.

Lambert (the researcher) and Child are also announcing that Brown is related to six other U.S. presidents (all of them Republicans)--both Bushes, Richard Nixon, Calvin Coolidge, Herbert Hoover, and Rutherford Hayes, while NEHGS found in 2008 that Obama is related to seven: both Bushes, Jimmy Carter, Gerald Ford, Lyndon Johnson, Harry S. Truman, and James Madison.

Oh, and let us not forget that Obama is also a ninth cousin of Brad Pitt. Since we're in gossip mode, other notables who are relatives of each other include: John Edwards and Britney Spears, Princess Di and Sarah Palin, Tom Hanks and Abraham Lincoln, Richard Nixon and James Dean, and my personal favorite, George W. Bush and Hugh Hefner.

Learning about one's ancestry has been thought to foster such things as camaraderie and self confidence. Maybe the president and filibuster-busting GOP senator will now be able to hold a beer summit. Or is that too 2009? In any event, Henry Louis Gates, Jr., is now relevant to this article in two ways.