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surprising american presidents ancestry

A whistlestop tour of every US president's ancestry

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Niall Cullen
22 January 2021

From George Washington to Joe Biden, here's a quick overview of the (sometimes surprising) genealogy of every US president in history.

The family history of powerful political figures is always interesting to delve into and they don't come more powerful than the President of the United States.

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Some American presidents' family trees are widely-documented, like Barack Obama's Irish roots. Others, you may be less familiar with. Here, we've provided quickfire summaries of all 46 US presidents' family histories. Some of them may have genes you weren't expecting.

George Washington

George Washington’s ancestry

George Washington's great-grandfather was from Hertfordshire, England. He settled in the Colony of Virginia in 1657 after coming ashore from a shipwreck. In fact, almost all of George's Washington's direct ancestors can be traced back to England.

John Adams

John Adams' roots also lie in England. His great-grandfather emigrated to Massachusetts from Essex in the mid-1600s.

John Adams’ ancestry

Thomas Jefferson

Thomas Jefferson’s ancestry

It's thought that Thomas Jefferson was of English and Welsh descent. In later life, he wrote, "The tradition in my father's family, was that their ancestor came to this country from Wales, and from near the mountain of Snowden, the highest in Great Britain.” The Welsh connection has yet to be proved. Perhaps it was just a family story?

James Madison

James Madison's great-grandfather, Captain Isaac Madison, migrated to Virginia from London. The Madison family put down roots in Virginia and generations of powerful landowners would culminate with James becoming the fourth president of the United States.

James Madison's ancestry

James Monroe

James Monroe's ancestry

James Monroe was the first US President with definite family connections to Scotland. His great-great-grandfather, Patrick Andrew Monroe left Scotland for America in the 1600s and brought with him ancient ties to the Scottish Clan Munro. On his mother's side, James Monroe also has Welsh ancestry.

John Quincy Adams

See John Adams' ancestry above. He was John Quincy Adams' father.

John Quincy Adams' ancestry

Andrew Jackson

Andrew Jackson's ancestry

Andrew Jackson's parents emigrated from Northern Ireland in 1765, a couple of years before he was born. His father's lineage also connects him back to Yorkshire.

Martin Van Buren

As his surname may suggest, Martin Van Buren was the first US President with no direct British or Irish ancestry. Both of his parents were of Dutch descent. His father served in the American Revolution.

Martin Van Buren's ancestry

William Henry Harrison

William Henry Harrison's ancestry

William Henry Harrison was the last US President born as a British subject and the first that died in office, just 31 days into his term. His family came to Virginia from England in the 1630s.

John Tyler

Like his presidential running mate, William Henry Harrison, Tyler was descended from English aristocracy. His father, John Tyler Sr. was a close friend and one-time roommate of Thomas Jefferson.

John Tyler's ancestry

James K Polk

James K Polk’s ancestry

The Polk family were Presbyterian farmers of Scotch-Irish descent. They came to America in the late 1600s, first to Maryland, then Pennsylvania and finally settling in North Carolina.

Zachary Taylor

Zachary Taylor was another American president of English ancestry. He is descended from Mayflower leaders William Brewster and Isaac Allerton. Through the same family line, Zachary Taylor is also the second cousin of President James Madison.

Zachary Taylor's ancestry

Millard Fillmore

Millard Fillmore's ancestry

According to the author of Ancestors of American Presidents, Milliard Fillmore is one of five US presidents you’re most likely to be related to. The others being Richard Nixon, Franklin Roosevelt, Rutherford Hayes and William Howard Taft. Fillmore's original immigrant ancestor was John Fillmore, a mariner who settled in Massachusetts.

Franklin Pierce

Franklin Pierce was a sixth-generation descendant of Thomas Pierce, who emigrated from Norwich, England in the mid-1600s. His father fought in the American Revolutionary War, while two of his older brothers served in the War of 1812.

Franklin Pierce's ancestry

James Buchanan

James Buchanan's ancestry

Both of James Buchanan's parents were descended from Ulster-Scots. His father, James Senior, was a farmer and merchant who came to America from Donegal, Ireland in 1783.

Abraham Lincoln

Probably one of America's most famous presidents, Abraham Lincoln was of English descent. His ancestor, Samuel Lincoln, emigrated from Norfolk to Massachusetts in 1638. From there, the family moved west through New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Kentucky, where Abraham Lincoln was born in 1809.

Abraham Lincoln's ancestry

Andrew Johnson

Andrew Johnson’s ancestry

Andrew Johnson's genealogy is a mix of English, Scots-Irish and Irish descent. His mother's maiden name, McDonough, reflects his Celtic roots. Johnson was the first US president to be impeached.

Ulysses S. Grant

Born Hiram Ulysses Grant, the 18th president of the United States had English and Ulster-Scots ancestors. He also had French bloodlines from his paternal grandmother. Grant also has family connections to the Mayflower settlers and a distant link to President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Ulysses S. Grant's ancestry

Rutherford B. Hayes

Rutherford B. Hayes' ancestry

Descended from a family of New England colonists, Hayes' earliest immigrant ancestor came from Scotland in 1625. He had several well-known close relatives including Congressman John Noyes, sculptor Larkin Goldsmith Mead, and radical preacher John Humphrey Noyes.

James A. Garfield

James Garfield's ancestor, Edward Garfield, settled in New England after leaving Warwickshire, England around 1630. James' father, Abram was born in New York, while his mother, Eliza came from New Hampshire. On his mother's side, James' forefathers are said to have included a Welsh knight.

James A. Garfield's ancestry

Chester A. Arthur

Chester A. Arthur’s ancestry

Chester Arthur's family roots include English, Welsh and Northern Irish ancestors. His father was born into a Presbyterian family in County Antrim and emigrated to Canada in the early 1800s. During his presidential campaign, opponents claimed that Arthur wasn't born in the United States and was therefore ineligible to take office. Obviously, the accusations didn't stick.

Grover Cleveland

Ironically, Grover Cleveland's earliest immigrant ancestor came from Cleveland, England in 1635. As well as English roots, he has Anglo-Irish and German Quaker ancestors. Cleveland is distantly related to General Moses Cleaveland, who the city of Cleveland, Ohio is named after. Grover was actually his middle name - he was born Stephen and adopted his middle name in adulthood.

Grover Cleveland's ancestry

Benjamin Harrison

Benjamin Harrison's ancestry

Benjamin Harrison has the unique accolade of being the only grandson of another American president. His grandfather, William Henry Harrison, was the ninth president. His great-grandfather Benjamin Harrison V, was a founding father who signed the Declaration of Independence.

William McKinley

The McKinley family were of English and Scots-Irish descent. William's earliest immigrant ancestor, David McKinley came to Pennsylvania from County Antrim in the 1700s. William's mother's family, the Allisons, were among the earliest settlers in Pennsylvania. McKinley was the last serving president who fought in the American Civil War.

William McKinley’s ancestry

Theodore Roosevelt

Theodore Roosevelt's ancestry

It seems Theodore Roosevelt was the first US president with an abundant mix of European ancestry. Research has revealed Dutch, Scots-Irish, English, German, Welsh, French and Scottish lineage, including a rather intriguing connection to Robert the Bruce. Theodore is distantly related to the second of the Roosevelt presidents, Franklin D. They were fifth cousins.

William Howard Taft

Richard Robert Taft, the first known ancestor in William's famous family, died in County Louth, Ireland in 1700. His son, Robert Senior, emigrated to Massachusetts and married an Englishwoman, Sarah Simpson. One branch of the Taft family includes Lydia Taft, America's first female voter. She was William's great-great-great grand-aunt.

William Howard Taft's ancestry

Woodrow Wilson

Woodrow Wilson's ancestry

Born Thomas Woodrow Wilson, the 28th president's family had Scots-Irish roots. His paternal grandparents immigrated to Ohio from County Tyrone in 1807. While on his mother's side, Woodrow Wilson's grandfather hailed from Paisley, Scotland.

Warren G. Harding

As well as English, Welsh and Scottish ancestors, Warren G. Harding’s heritage includes Dutch connections. His mother descended from the well-known Van Kirk family.

Warren G. Harding's ancestry

Calvin Coolidge

Calvin Coolidge’s ancestry

Calvin Coolidge is the only US president to be born on Independence Day. The Coolidge family were among the earliest settlers in New England. Calvin's ancestor, John Coolidge put down roots in Massachusetts after he emigrated from Cambridgeshire, England around 1630.  Coolidge has deep-rooted connections to the American Revolutionary War and King Philip's War in his family history.

Herbert Hoover

Herbert Hoover has German, Swiss and English ancestry. His parent's families were Quakers and were among the earliest settlers in the West Branch, Iowa region, where Herbert was born. Hoover's mother came from Canada originally.

Herbert Hoover’s ancestry

Franklin D. Roosevelt

Franklin D. Roosevelt's ancestry

Franklin Delano Roosevelt was born into a well-known Dutch American family in New York. As we mentioned earlier, he was distantly related to the 26th president, Theodore Roosevelt. FDR's family ties were very intertwined. His parents were sixth cousins while his wife, Eleanor, was his fifth cousin once removed.

Harry S. Truman

The ‘S’ in Truman’s name is a nod to his grandfathers, Anderson Shipp Truman and Solomon Young. The Truman family history can be predominantly traced back to England with some Scotch-Irish, German and French lineage also thought to be present.

Harry S. Truman’s ancestry

Dwight D. Eisenhower

Dwight D. Eisenhower’s ancestry

The Eisenhauer family first immigrated to a Pennsylvania Dutch community from Karlsbrunn, Germany in the 1740s. The distinctly German-sounding surname is German for iron miner and was anglicised as the generations progressed. Dwight's family moved to Kansas in the 1880s and later to Texas, where he was born in 1890.

John F. Kennedy

JFK has well-documented Irish roots. All of his great-grandparents were Irish immigrants who made new lives in Massachusetts and he was America's first Irish-Catholic president. The Fitzgerald and Kennedy families can be traced to counties Limerick, Cavan, Cork and Wexford, where his ancestral homestead can be visited today.

John F. Kennedy’s ancestry

Lyndon B. Johnson

Lyndon B. Johnson’s ancestry

Lyndon Baines Johnson has English, German and Ulster Scots lineage. His maternal great-grandfather, George Washington Baines was a renowned Baptist minister in Texas, Arkansas and Louisiana and served as the president of Baylor University during the American Civil War. Johnson City, Texas is named after James Polk Johnson, Lyndon’s second cousin.

Richard Nixon

Nixon has distant family connections to Jimmy Carter, Amelia Earhart and Bill Gates (among others) through a common ancestor - Thomas Cornell, one of New England's earliest settlers. Like his brothers, Richard was named after famous British kings. In his case, Richard the Lionheart.

Richard Nixon’s ancestry

Gerald Ford

Gerald Ford’s ancestry

Born Leslie Lynch King Jr, Gerald Ford has English ancestry on both parents’ sides of the family, as well as some maternal Scottish connections. His grandmother,  Adele Augusta Ayer Gardner was a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution. Ford was renamed after his stepfather when his mother remarried.

Jimmy Carter

James Earl Carter Jr. descends from English immigrant Thomas Carter, who settled in Virginia in 1635. Generations of Carters before Jimmy worked as cotton farmers in Georgia, where Jimmy he born. He was the first US president born in a hospital.

Jimmy Carter’s ancestry

Ronald Reagan

Ronald Reagan’s ancestry

Ronald Reagan's paternal great-grandparents emigrated from County Tipperary, Ireland, while his maternal bloodlines include English, Irish and Scottish relatives. Reagan's presidential credentials don't just relate to leading the United States. He was elected president of the Screen Actors Guild twice during his acting career.

George Bush

The first American-born member of the Bush family was Samuel Bush in 1647. Before then, their roots stretch back to England and Germany. Dubbed "the most successful political dynasty in American history", as well as a father and son duo of US presidents, over the years the family has included senators, state governors and famous entertainment and sports stars.

George Bush's ancestry

Bill Clinton

Bill Clinton’s ancestry

Born William Jefferson Blythe III, Bill Clinton has English and Scotch-Irish family lines. His forefathers first came to America at the time of the Thirteen Colonies. Clinton's scandalous family history includes a bigamous father, an abusive stepfather and his own impeachment for his affair with White House intern, Monica Lewinsky. As a young boy, Bill Clinton met and was inspired by President John F. Kennedy.

George W. Bush

See his father, George H. W. Bush, above.

George W. Bush’s ancestry

Barack Obama

Barack Obama’s ancestry

America’s first black president, Barack Obama was born in Hawaii but has varied family roots stretching from Kenya to Ireland. His, perhaps surprising, DNA make-up also includes English, Scots-Irish, Welsh, German and Swiss ancestral lines.

Donald Trump

Donald Trump's paternal grandparents were German immigrants. His grandfather, Frederick came to America in 1894 and made the family's first fortune during Alaska's Gold Rush. Meanwhile, Trump's mother was born in the Outer Hebrides of Scotland in a Gaelic-speaking home and followed her sisters, who had already emigrated, to New York in 1930.

Donald Trump's ancestry

Joe Biden

Joe Biden's ancestry

Along with well-documented Irish family connections on his mother's side, Joe Biden has English and French lineage via his father, Joseph Sr. Findmypast's exclusive Catholic Heritage Archive has helped to unlock the details of overlooked branches in President Biden's family tree.

And there you have it, a brief yet insightful rundown on the ancestry of every US president in history. Did any of their family connections surprise you? We always thought the two Roosevelt presidents were much more closely related than they actually are.

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