And for anyone who sticks with their research for any length of time, the answer is probably, "Yes!"
There are a lot of ways to be "related" to someone else - marriage, blood, adoption, or even business partnerships are all legitimate relationships that you can prove with documentary evidence, if you're just trying to show a connection. One of the most direct relationships - and the thing most people think they mean when they say they are related to someone - is to share a common ancestor. Sharing a common ancestor with someone is what makes you "cousins".
A few years back, I found a book called Ancestors of American Presidents by Gary Boyd Roberts, which showed that I share a common ancestry with the late former President of the United States, Richard Milhous Nixon. He is my 5th cousin, twice removed. (Which, if it helps, means he and my grandmother were 5th cousins.) Whatever you may think of him as a president, or as a person, he certainly qualifies as "famous" - and since he was in office the year I was born, his story has some immediacy for me.
But for a lot of people, the whole "Nth cousin, X removed" concept is very hard to understand - I still struggle with it. So let's take a look at exactly how our ancestral paths diverged, starting with our common ancestors, Thomas Clemson and his wife, Elizabeth Strode. This couple would have been the President's 4th Great-Grandparents, and they are my 6th Great-Grandparents.
1. Thomas Clemson (1710-1785) and Elizabeth Strode (1725-1827)
|Tettenhall and Dudley|
(made with Google maps, 2014)
Thomas's parents were James Clemson and Katharine Wright of Staffordshire, England. Their families lived in Tettenhall and Dudley, respectively, which were villages about 8 miles apart near what is now Wolverhampton. They left England and came to join the Quaker community in Philadelphia around 1690.
Elizabeth's parents were both born in the Penn colony, in Chester county. Her maternal grandfather was one Morgan James from Wales, and her paternal grandfather, George Strode, arrived in the New World from Southampton in 1678, landing in Barbados before making his way north to settle in Pennsylvania.
Thomas and Elizabeth married in Salisbury township, Lancaster county, PA, in 1747. They had 10 children over the following 20 years - 3 sons, and 7 daughters. Two of those daughters were:
2. Sisters: Elizabeth Clemson (1759-1833) and Mary Clemson (1763-1817)
Elizabeth married an Irish immigrant named James Livingston in December 1782, and they had four sons and four daughters between 1782 and 1801. They relocated through the central part of Pennsylvania until sometime after 1810, when the family moved 550 miles west to Springboro, Ohio.
Mary married Joseph Moore in January 1782. He was the son of another Quaker family in Salisbury township, though his father had immigrated from Ballymoney, Ireland. Records indicate that Joseph moved to Morgan, Ohio, after Mary's death. The only child of their marriage that I know of is their son, Joseph Dickinson Moore.
Morgan is more than 150 miles from Springboro, so it is unlikely that any Moore children knew their first cousins, the Livingstons.
3. 1st Cousins: Mary Magdalene Livingston (1782-1847) and Joseph Dickinson Moore (1794-1860)
Mary was the eldest child of James and Elizabeth Livingston, born in Pennsylvania in January 1782. (If you're doing the math on that, you might sense a family scandal in the background.) Mary married a Scottish immigrant named Thomas Henderson Murray in May 1803 in Pennsylvania. They had 11 children over the next 20 years - 6 sons, 5 daughters. Those born before 1816 were born in Pennsylvania, and those born in 1818 or later were born in Ohio, where the family settled in Preble county.
Joseph was born in Center county, PA, in October 1794. At 24 years of age, he enlisted in the U.S. Army. Since this was 1819, and there was no war on at the time, he might have enlisted to protect frontier families like his own as they expanded across the territory gained under the Treaty of 1818. He married Jane Brown in 1825 in Perry county, Ohio. Jane was the daughter of an Irish Presbyterian who immigrated from County Cork, served in the War of 1812, and settled in Perry county. The couple produced 6 sons and 5 daughters between 1826 and 1848, then relocated to Warren county, Iowa some time before Joseph's death in 1860.
4. 2nd Cousins: Aaron Murray (1822-1887) and Mary Louise Moore (1832-1918)
The youngest son of Thomas and Mary, Aaron Murray was born in Warren county, Ohio. He married Maria P. Harris in 1843, and they moved to Wabash county, Indiana, where Maria died in 1854. Widowed with two small boys, Aaron soon remarried in 1855 to Hannah Lyman Bender, whose first husband, Michael Eby, had died in 1850, leaving her pregnant and with two small boys. Aaron and Hannah had 5 children of their own over the following decade, during which Aaron served the Union during the Civil War with the 113th Regiment, Illinois Infantry. After the war they moved down to the newly founded town of Stark, Kansas.
Mary Louise Moore married Thomas Wiley Wadsworth (1826-1879), who was born in Harford county, Maryland. The Wadsworths likely descended from a Thomas Wadsworth who was born in 1713 in Middlesex, England, and was conveyed to the plantations of the Virginia colony in 1733 after being convicted of theft or larceny. After moving to Ohio and marrying Miss Mary Moore in 1850, this Thomas went on to raise four daughters and a son before his death in 1879. Mary remarried to George Amerine in 1886.
5. 3rd Cousins: Rosa Edith Murray (1861-1943) and Sarah Ann Wadsworth (1852-1886)
Rosa grew up in what would become the town of Grant, Kansas, and married Albert C Huff in 1883. Together they raised three sons and three daughters in Savonburg, Kansas, and then followed their children as they moved down to the newly settled desert town of Glendale in Arizona.
Sarah grew up in Hocking county, Ohio, and married Samuel Brady Nixon in April of 1873. The Nixon family had originated in Ireland, arriving in Delaware in the 1720s. Samuel's father, George, was a Union soldier from Ohio and was fatally wounded in the Battle at Gettysburg on 3 July 1863 - the same day that Samuel's grandfather, also named George died in his home in Richland, Ohio. Sarah and Samuel had a daughter and two sons when Sarah died at the early age of 33.
6. 4th Cousins: Hannah Merle Huff (1889-1984) and Francis Anthony Nixon (1878-1956)
Hannah Merle, whom everyone called Merle or "Merly", grew up in Savonburg, Kansas, and followed her brothers and sisters down to Glendale, Arizona, where she married Howard Ray Witter - who went by the nickname "Dick" - in March 1917. He got his draft card in June. After the war, Dick and Merle set up a dairy farm and raised two children, a son and a daughter.
Frank Nixon moved to California around 1900 after suffering from frostbite while working in an open streetcar in Columbus, Ohio. He worked as a farmhand, oil roustabout, and lemon farmer before he converted to Quakerism and married Hannah Milhous 25 June 1908. They lived in the Quaker community of Whittier, California, where the family business was a grocery store that also sold gasoline. They had five sons, two of whom died from tuberculosis - Arthur at 7 years old in 1925, and Harold in 1933 at 24 years.
7. 5th Cousins: Nancy G. Witter (1925-2004) and Richard M. Nixon (1913-1994)
Nancy grew up on that Glendale dairy farm and married her Army sweetheart, an airplane mechanic with aspirations of becoming a pilot, in the early days of the Second World War. They raised two kids in Glendale, Arizona, and taught in the Glendale schools for their whole careers; he taught math, and she taught art. They were my grandparents, which makes me "twice removed" from grandma and cousin Dick, who are "5th cousins".
Richard Nixon was the 37th President of the United States. He graduated from Duke University, became a lawyer in Whittier, where he grew up, in 1937 - about four years after his brother had died of tuberculosis. He married Thelma "Pat" Ryan on 21 June 1940, and after the War they had two daughters, Tricia (born 1946) and Julie (born 1948).
More Generations and Relationships
Now that you've come this far, hopefully you will have an easier time understanding the way genealogists refer to cousins. Simply being some kind of "cousin" means that two people share a common ancestor; the ordinal number (ie, "5th") tells you how many generations back that common ancestor is; and the "X removed" tells you the number of generations between the two cousins.
If we keep following the ancestral paths above, for example, I can claim even more "famous" relationships. Julie Nixon (6th cousin to my dad, and my 6th cousin, 1x removed) married David Eisenhower, son of General and 34th U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower. That means that I would be a 7th cousin to President Eisenhower's grandchildren! But, because we're only related by marriage, the whole "cousin" thing doesn't apply to me and POTUS 34; he is merely "father-in-law of my 6th cousin, 1x removed" and not my "5th cousin, twice removed" the way Mr. Nixon is.
But my children and Julie's grandchildren will all be 8th cousins, and so on.
And what does all of this gain for us? Are there treasures and perks associated with being distant cousins to the American version of royalty? Not really. Though for me, it reinforces the notion that the "great men" of history aren't the interesting part of the story. There are more than two dozen people between me and President Nixon who lived adventurous lives and have interesting stories.
From the possibly scandalous origin of Mary Magdalene Livingston to the tragedies leading to the marriage of Aaron and Hannah Murray; and between the wars, disasters, diseases, and accidents that threatened all of them there are so many things that had to happen just right so that the famous person and I could both be here. For me, it is just as exciting to discover those average, normal people who lived their average, normal lives as it is to learn about those who had their hand in larger events.
And I love that when you look at history from this point of view, even Presidents are just people - they're just acorns, perhaps a little Mightier than the rest for a brief time.