Is the lust for presidential power in the genes?

posted at 3:31 pm on August 5, 2012 by Jazz Shaw

Is the desire to wield power over the masses rooted in a person’s genes? A rather frivolous but fun question which is being brought to light by an aspiring teenage genealogist. She has traced the roots of all of the US presidents from Washington to Obama and dug up a rather surprising common ancestor for almost all of them.

What do Barack Obama, Thomas Jefferson, George W. Bush and the other past U.S. presidents have in common? Besides holding the coveted title of commander-in-chief, it appears that all of them but one are cousins.

The remarkable discovery was made by 12-year-old BridgeAnne d’Avignon, of Salinas, California, who created a ground-breaking family tree that connected 42 of 43 U.S. presidents to one common, and rather unexpected, ancestor: King John of England.

D’Avignon started with the first U.S. president, George Washington, she traced both the male and female family lines to make the connection.

Prior to d’Avignon’s discovery, genealogists were only able to link 22 families of presidents, likely because they only focused on male bloodlines.

The only former commander-in-chief not linked to King John is the eighth president, Martin Van Buren, who had Dutch roots.

Miss D’Avignon also found out that she is an 18th cousin to Barack Obama. (Sorry about that, young lady.) But is it really that remarkable that nearly all of the presidents share a common ancestor from the 12th century? There are lots of bottlenecks in humanity’s genetic history and they come from some fairly eclectic corners. It was previously announced that one in every 200 men are direct descendents from Ghengis Khan. Of course, the same study indicated that there was an equal likelihood that the same percentage of people could be directly descended from some anonymous goat herder in the Ukraine that nobody has ever heard of.

For many – though certainly not all – of the presidents, there is also the matter of entrenched social status. Power and money go hand in hand and that was even more true in medieval times than today. Families rose to power and tended to hang on to it. Those same families produced not only captains of industry but political leaders. Think of the Rockefeller family and all their ilk for only one example. So the genes might not be as big of a driving factor as the inheritance of wealth and influence.

But who’s to say? Maybe there is something to this. We’ve long acknowledged that there are “Type A” and “Type B” personalities. Does that run in families or is it completely random? The only loser here appears to be Van Buren. But on the plus side, his family can at least lay claim to not being related to Barack Obama.

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Diarrheia is hereditary.

It runs in the genes.

davidk on August 5, 2012 at 3:37 PM

What a crock.

VorDaj on August 5, 2012 at 3:41 PM

The young lady deserves credit for her historic research and scholarship. Perhaps the presidents Bush might invite her to lunch or something. Perhaps the incumbent might bother himself to pick up pen and paper and send her an appropriate note.

Scribbler on August 5, 2012 at 3:46 PM

Confirmed: All U.S. presidents except one descended from King John of England…

…one of the most despised kings in all of English history.

The Royal Family also considers his name “cursed” or “jinxed.” The story goes that Princess Diana wanted to name Prince William “John,” but the Queen refused because of the sordid association with King John and the tragedy that has befallen the very few of the royal blood with the misfortune of carrying his name.

For example, King George V and his wife, Queen Mary, had a son named John, who was the uncle of Queen Elizabeth II. Prince John was their youngest child and 5th son. He was an epileptic for most of his short life, segregated from the family, and died at the age of 13.

PS: Axe, I was getting ready to write, “Axe, this is one English royal history lesson that I cannot reduce to ‘pecker placement,’ but that’s not entirely true on second thought. The entirety of English history — no, human history — might indeed be different because of pecker placement. King John was Richard the Lionheart’s younger brother. D!ck liked, well, um, d!cks. In the entirety of his reign, he spent no more than 6 months in his realm with his wife, Berengaria. He liked his “boys’ years out” during The Crusades. For some of the participants, one might even argue that The Crusades were a forerunner to the Gay Pride Parade in The Castro District in San Fran.

If Old Dick had stayed on the throne with his scepter in his hand, instead of letting someone else take aim at his human “throne” while another played with his human “scepter,” it is very likely that John wouldn’t have been able to seize the English throne, become a tyrant, fail miserably, and be forced to sign the Magna Carta.

I knew you’d love it!

Resist We Much on August 5, 2012 at 3:48 PM

According to Bill Clinton, it’s in the jeans.

backwoods conservative on August 5, 2012 at 3:52 PM

Resist We Much on August 5, 2012 at 3:48 PM


Schadenfreude on August 5, 2012 at 3:54 PM

Lust, genes, President?

Is this about David Brooks again?

aquaviva on August 5, 2012 at 3:55 PM

According to Bill Clinton, it’s in the jeans.

backwoods conservative on August 5, 2012 at 3:52 PM

And, according to Obama, it’s in the mom jeans…

Fallon on August 5, 2012 at 3:55 PM

Hard work, and well done by this girl. But I can’t believe her parents named her that.

Sur le pont d’Avignon, l’on y danse, l’on y danse

shaloma on August 5, 2012 at 3:55 PM

I’ll repeat my comment from the headlines. There is basically nothing to this.

This isn’t a surprising or special finding, and has nothing to do with wanting power. The most recent common ancestor of almost every human alive today probably lived around 2000 years ago, and the most recent common ancestor of almost every person of European descent probably lived around 1200 years ago. See here, for example: This is because populations mix very quickly as the generations go by.

So it’s likely that there are many people who lived at the time of King John (the 1100′s) who are common ancestors of all Presidents. And it’s likely that most of us (at least those of us of European descent) are descended from King John and many others from that time. The only way King John is special in this regard is that he probably has more descendants due to wealth, but the same would go for any wealthy person living in Europe at the time. And the Presidents are special in this regard at all, since this probably applies to most of our population.

tneloms on August 5, 2012 at 3:58 PM

Do not believe it.
It is so easy to get family roots wrong.

albill on August 5, 2012 at 4:00 PM

SMart little girl, but totally useless information… to me, anyway. I will promptly classify under “Y” for Yawn.

Guys… NOT a yawn… Intellectual Frog Legs.
Joe Dan Gorman ridicules liberals… and is hilarious without F Bombs. Do yourself a favor, get hooked on frog legs. Thank me later.

deedtrader on August 5, 2012 at 4:01 PM

According to Bill Clinton, it’s in the jeans.

backwoods conservative on August 5, 2012 at 3:52 PM

With Obama it’s in the greens.

Schadenfreude on August 5, 2012 at 4:03 PM

IIRC, Washington DID not want to be president. He wanted to have his farm/ranch whatever and just live in quiet. But, he was talked into being president? NOW, to me, that is NOT wanting power?

letget on August 5, 2012 at 4:03 PM

Do not believe it.
It is so easy to get family roots wrong.

albill on August 5, 2012 at 4:00 PM

Whether or not this person got the particular lineages right, it’s still probably true, though it’s probably true of most of us so it’s nothing special. See my comment above.

tneloms on August 5, 2012 at 4:05 PM

circa 1346, 45-50% of the western european population died due the the black death. in southern france (john’s mother was probably born in bordeaux) and spain it was more like 75%- smaller gene pool from which most western europeans are descended. the wealthy and of course the aristocracy were more likely to have survived and more likely to have married many times producing numerous offspring- because that’s what cemented power and gained one land-advantageous marriage and baby making.

most of the kings were just neer do wells who did whatever they wanted, manipulated by others, and were only expected to have offspring. they didn’t spend a nanosecond dissecting all the philosophical angles of why they had power – they didn’t have to- they had their power by divine right in the minds of everyone.

so – does this mean that white people from western europe ,seeing how we’re all descended from king john have the right to rule over everyone else due to genetics?

but really, now we’re dragging up precocious children to “prove” bull crap points about power mad narcissists. what’s the point- sociopathy and will to have power over can’t be bad or be criticized when it’s genetic? sounds like a white supremacist to me….

mittens on August 5, 2012 at 4:07 PM

Given that most of presidents have at least some English heritage, its not surprising. Most French people can trace their descent to Charlemagne or some other early Kings.

DominusNovus on August 5, 2012 at 4:08 PM

on the plus side, his family can at least lay claim to not being related to Barack Obama.

Lucky family!

AZCoyote on August 5, 2012 at 4:11 PM

What are the odds that each and every single U.S. President over the entire 236-year span of the USA’s history — save one — is related to old King John of England?

Slim to None I’d say.

FlatFoot on August 5, 2012 at 4:12 PM

What are the odds that each and every single U.S. President over the entire 236-year span of the USA’s history — save one — is related to old King John of England?

Slim to None I’d say.

FlatFoot on August 5, 2012 at 4:12 PM

Actually, nearly 100%. See my comment above. Nearly all people of European descent have a common ancestor from around that time.

tneloms on August 5, 2012 at 4:19 PM

Schadenfreude on August 5, 2012 at 3:54 PM

In honour of Axe, I just started The Pecker Placement Tales.

I’ll add to it from time-to-time as the subject “pops up” …


Resist We Much on August 5, 2012 at 4:24 PM

RWM, what a wit you are!

If the heterosexual, King Charles II, had kept his pecker in his wife and not in his mistresses, who knows? There might still be a Tsar in Russia and Lenin and Stalin wouldn’t have killed tens of millions of people and without a crazy George III, the US might still be a British colony!

Schadenfreude on August 5, 2012 at 4:32 PM

Is the lust for presidential power in the genes?


Glenn Jericho on August 5, 2012 at 4:39 PM

What are the odds that each and every single U.S. President over the entire 236-year span of the USA’s history — save one — is related to old King John of England?

Slim to None I’d say.

FlatFoot on August 5, 2012 at 4:12 PM

As tneloms pointed out the gene pool was smaller.
Also How many people do you think you’re related to at that time? Simple math, how many parents do you have?
No step-parents, biological only. 2 right? they also have 2 so four grand parents, eight great grandparents sixteen great-great grand parents and so on.

King John I reigned from 1199-1216, around 800 years ago. I’ve only traced parts of my family back to 1435 Switzerland, but thats still gives me a pool of 902 family members to work out an average of 4 generations per hundred years. Which comes to 32 generations.

If all you do is figure the math of 2×2=4, 4×2=8 and so on by the 32nd generation you get 2,147,483,648 individuals, and the estimated population of the world in 1200AD was only around 360 million. yeah….. I’d say mathmatically the odds are pretty good that the presidents are all related.

Bigkatt on August 5, 2012 at 4:56 PM

tneloms on August 5, 2012 at 3:58 PM
Bigkatt on August 5, 2012 at 4:56 PM

Exactly. King John is responsible for many things (hey, at least because he made the barons so upset, we got the Magna Carta!), but it is plain silly to say the desire for presidential power came from him, considering the number of his descendants.

INC on August 5, 2012 at 4:59 PM

Well I know we have MOM GENES in the White House.

Is that what she’s a talkin ’bout?

Oh, you mean those DNA Swirly thingys?

Oh, okay, yeah HAHAHAHA Obama and Bush is related then.

Baracka Bush, has a nice ring to it.

PappyD61 on August 5, 2012 at 5:00 PM

I’ve heard there are signs in various places that say, “George Washington slept here.” Well, if he really did sleep in all those places, it’s no wonder they call him the father of our country.

backwoods conservative on August 5, 2012 at 5:14 PM

I think her work should be checked and not taken at face value.

Remember, we had a “professional” genealogist claim Elizabeth Warren was 1/32 Cherokee with absolutely no evidence of that being true.

ButterflyDragon on August 5, 2012 at 5:26 PM

Any person who seeks the Presidency should be immediately disqualified for psychiatric reasons.

2Tru2Tru on August 5, 2012 at 5:46 PM

I suppose this means all HA commenters are probabley related to each other? Including the trolls? What a ghastly thought!

a capella on August 5, 2012 at 6:36 PM

I guess you can’t choose your family,…but, man,….

a capella on August 5, 2012 at 6:37 PM

To repeat my post from the headlines:

They all have the trait of wanting power,’ d’Avignon told the station WFMY…

I suppose the other 29 million people that can trace their ancestryto the same place DON’T have the trait of wanting power???

Considering that humans have 46 chromosomes that divide with each conception (generation), and there is no complete chromosome (except for the X-Y sex chromosome) replicated past the seventh generation, there would be no genetic connection between any of the presidents and King John. That would be 1/(2^40) or 9*10^-13 or less than one trillionth of a chromosome carry through. That is more than the total population of the earth in the last thousand years. The great thing about libruls and many self important conservatives is that they don’t know enough math to know what to believe.

Old Country Boy on August 5, 2012 at 2:48 PM

I note that some of you do understand this. Most of your other opinions are intuitive. Those that believe are the presidents are in substance related to King Johhn are stoopid! Obama for example.

Old Country Boy on August 5, 2012 at 6:42 PM

Are you aware that the royal line of England has traced their lineage to the ancient kings of Judah?

What would be interesting would to see if those who lost the Presidential elections were related to any royalty.

Angineer on August 5, 2012 at 6:46 PM

Yes, I’m a genealogist too. And I call BS on this. It’s more like six degrees of separation than a serious attempt at research.

But I did discover something interesting a few weeks ago when my paternal line Y-DNA markers were further analyzed and indicated our DNA shares several mutations with this guy:

Rollo is the great-great-great-grandfather of William the Conqueror. Through William, he is an ancestor of the present-day British royal family, as well as an ancestor of all current European monarchs and a great many pretenders to abolished European thrones. A genetic investigation into the remains of Rollo’s grandson Richard I and great-grandson Richard II has been announced, with the intention of discerning the origins of the famous Viking warrior.[9]

Texas Gal on August 5, 2012 at 8:08 PM

My family and I have traced portions of our family to the late 1500’s. No royalty has popped up, but a couple of minor interesting names have – nothing worth noting.

I don’t doubt that if you go back far enough many of us – let alone US presidents – would be related to each other. I mean, 18th cousins?! We’re all cousins when you go back far enough, and between the life expectancy of royalty and the wealthy, the number of children people typically had beyond the last century and the numbers of people who died in wars, dieseases, etc., not to mention that population growth didn’t exponentially occur until around the industrial revolution, it’s just a matter of generations to find enough links. And, depending upon where your ancestors lived, sometimes the connections are even closer.

I have a couple of ancestors from the 1800’s who married their cousins. A few years ago I ‘met’ an Aussie online in a message board who turned out to be a very distant relative via our shared Cajun heritage three hundred years removed. We shared the same grandparents in one line. I’ve got two good friends back home in Louisiana that I know I’m distantly related to… it’s south Lousiana… small isolated gene pool for a number of generations.

It’s kinda neat to find out famous and important historical figures one is related to, but in the end it doesn’t amount to much of anything except if you’re tracking medical/health issues.

I know there are at least two or three other posters on HA who are from Louisiana and I can safely suspect that I’m distantly related to all of them if they can trace any of their ancestry to south Louisiana and Acadie.

Logus on August 5, 2012 at 10:27 PM

I’ve always thought that if you have true power, confidence, self-esteem, you just have it, it comes from within and doesn’t matter whether you come from a family that has money. Likewise, I’ve also considered that people who obsessively crave power and fame are void inside of true power, confidence and self-esteem and crave the the faux power and attention to fill up that inner hole.

Oh yeah, and if you go back far enough, aren’t we all related?

stukinIL4now on August 5, 2012 at 11:23 PM

Go back far enough and everyone is related no matter if you believe in creationism or evolution…

Rangeley on August 6, 2012 at 10:50 AM

Just to make trouble, let me point out that Martin Van Buren is the last President who actually met the ‘birth’ qualification set forth in Article II Section I of the Constitution. That’s if we take the commas as seriously as the folks who favor the ‘militia’ interpretation of the Second Amendment take the ones there.

PersonFromPorlock on August 6, 2012 at 7:21 PM