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Genealogy in Burke's Peerage Is Dubious



The Crimson ran a story by the Associated Press regarding the royal lineages of the two presidential candidates (Oct. 28). The story explained that, according to Burke's Peerage, President Clinton was more likely to win the election than Senator Dole because Clinton had more royal blood in him. Harold Brooks-Baker, the editor at Burke's, is completely mistaken about this.

Burke's Presidential Families is a work of low scholarship and has been since its first edition in 1975, which Harvard owns. It does not cite its sources nor give a complete ancestry of each president. A work of genealogical scholarship does exist: Ancestors of American Presidents, edited by Gary B. Roberts. Harvard owns this as well; and I admit to being mentioned in the acknowledgements of this work. Using that book as a reference, Mr. Brooks-Baker's claims are nonsense.

President Clinton is of no known royal ancestry. Even if his claim of a descent from Robert I of France were true, in 1992 he beat George Bush, whose known royal ancestry is much more prominent than Mr. Clinton's. In fact, in this century, only Theodore Roosevelt, Class of 1888, William H. Taft, Calvin Coolidge, Herbert Hoover, Franklin D. Roosevelt '04 and Bush were of royal ancestry and elected to the presidency. That means 10 presidents of the 20th century were not of royal ancestry including Presidents Harry S. Truman, Dwight D. Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy '40 and Ronald W. Reagan. It should be pointed out that Woodrow Wilson best both TR and Taft in 1912, and Jimmy Carter beat Gerald R. Ford in 1976, despite the fact that Wilson and Carter had no known royal ancestry, although their opponents did.

Clearly this is a case of genealogy at its ugliest--the "we're more exclusive than you" mentality that Burke's inspires and promotes. Many genealogists have abandoned that attitude and search for the identities of their forebears. I find it more interesting to note that Richard M. Nixon and Carter are sixth cousins through common Quaker forebears than from what medieval monarch they may or may not be descended.

The only point to studying royal ancestry is that it is the only provable ancestry is that it is the only provable ancestry to be studied before 1400. The average person did not leave records; indeed the average person did not have a surname before that point in history. It is also commonly thought that most people have a royal ancestor since the children of that class has a better chance of survival than other children. I would contend that more than half of all Americans have such an ancestor. Whether one can prove it or not is a matter of chance and research--and it certainly has nothing to do with winning or losing presidential elections. --Martin E. Hollick,   Reference Librarian for Widener and Lamont Libraries

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