FRIDAY, APRIL 14, 2023
One of our favorite pet peeves: All kidding aside, it has seemed to us that President Biden is sometimes perhaps a tiny bit nutty about the people he calls "the Bidens."
For better or worse—we'll go with for worse—we Americans have established certain political families as our "royal families."
For better or worse, the Kennedys are often regarded that way. In a slightly strange departure from his sense that he comes from regular people / the salt of the earth, the president sometimes seems to regard "the Bidens" in something like the same way.
At any rate, President Biden has been in Ireland, an ancestral home. In yesterday's New York Times, a certain pet peeve was triggered by this news report:
SHEAR AND RODGERS (4/12/23): In Louth, Mr. Biden was joined on a tour of a castle by Rob Kearney, a retired professional rugby player who is his fifth cousin once removed. Both are related to John Finnegan and Mary Kearney, who were Mr. Biden’s great-great-great-grandparents.
In County Mayo on Friday, the president will tour the Family History Research Unit at the North Mayo Heritage and Genealogical Center, which has assembled a genealogical database with more than 1.2 million records to track the ancestry of people from the county.
For Mr. Biden, that history includes Edward Blewitt and Mary Mulderg (who was also known as Mary Reddington), his great-great-great-grandparents.
Goofus thought the New York Times must have made a mistake. If Finnegan and Kearney were the president's great-great-great-grandparents, then how could Blewitt and Mulderg claim the same distinction?
Gallant quickly answered. "The typical person has quite a few sets of great-great-great-grandparents," the youngster politely replied.
Gallant's aim was true! Baring the occurrence of a phenomenon known as "pedigree collapse," a person will have one set of parents, two sets of grandparents, four sets of great grandparents, and so on all the way back.
By the time we reach the level of great-great-great grandparents ("third great grandparents") a person will have sixteen different sets of such ancestors. The Times report mentioned two of Biden's sets, with fourteen sets left to go!
As we've mentioned in the past, this becomes a pet peeve for us when we watch Finding Your Roots, the fascinating PBS program produced by Professor Gates. It seems to us that Professor Gates plays it a bit fast and loose at moments like this, from a recent show:
GATES: In December 1607, county officials got wind of the secret [religious] services that were taking place at your ancestor's home. They came after him and the others who practiced at his home.
TAMERA MOWRY: Oh my gosh.
GATES: Your 13th-great grandfather was a wanted man.
MOWRY: In the name of religion?
GATES: In the name of religion.
MOWRY: Ah. Okay.
GATES: William and his fellow separatists would go to great lengths to worship as they chose. After English authorities discovered their church, they were arrested and briefly imprisoned. Upon release, they fled to Holland. But they didn't remain there for long.
We next found William, along with his wife Mary and two of their sons, on the passenger list of a ship bound for the New World. Any idea what you're looking at?
GATES: You just read a list of passengers who sailed on the Mayflower.
MOWRY: You, I'm, I'm done.
GATES: You're descended from the original English people who came on the Mayflower, direct.
Your 13th great-grandfather, William Brewster, and his family—William's wife, Mary, is your 13th great-grandmother—they were there on the Mayflower. They were Pilgrims.
For the record, this wasn't the first time, this season alone, that Gates has traced someone's ancestry back to William Brewster. Two programs earlier, he was able to tell Angela Davis that Brewster was her tenth great-grandfather, as you can see in the transcript found at this link.
Please understand! We're not saying that Professor Gates' statements were inaccurate. It's just that everyone has a boatload on ancestors if we're able to trace things back that far.
Barring "pedigree collapse," how many sets of 13th great-grandparents do we the humans have? By our calculation, the number would be 16,384—that's 16,384 separate sets of 13th great-grandparents!
If a genealogy can be traced back that far, a person has a lot of ancestors to choose from. Indeed, if you aren't descended from William Brewster, that may be the actual news!
We actually had a friend in high school, all the way out in California, whose mother was descended from the Brewsters. Way back in the summer of '70, we motored from Cambridge down to Brewster, Mass. to drink in the atmospherics emanating from an old Cape Cod town with that particular name.
We sometimes think that Professor Gates glosses the way these numbers work as a way of creating interest. Which statement sounds more dramatic?
William Brewster is your 13th great-grandfather. How does that make you feel?
William Brewster is one of your 16,384 great grandfathers!You can probably see what we mean. Not that there's anything wrong with it!