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Curious Family History

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Barack Obama: Ye Olden Relative 'Twas a Bit Insane
Because Obama is the first African-American president, but many people overlook the other branch of his ancestry — that of his mother, which stretches back to Colonial times in America. Obama’s weirdest relative is his great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandfather Jonathan Singletary, who in 1664 was found guilty of slander by a Massachusetts court after accusing an acquaintance of witchcraft. He was also a bit of a troublemaker, once arrested for stealing from the governor’s home, and another time accused of killing a man’s dog and throwing it on a fire. Subsequently, he was whipped and banned from Plymouth.

Obama has ancestors who owned slaves, but none in America who were slaves themselves. George Washington Overall, a great-great-great-great-grandfather, and Mary Duvall, a great-great-great-great-great-grandmother, both owned slaves. Two of Obama’s great-great-great-grandfathers fought for the Union in the Civil War: Christopher Columbus Clark served in the Missouri militia, as did Harbin Wilburn McCurry, who was forced to fight after being arrested by Union forces in Arkansas and charged with fleeing south to avoid enlistment. Meanwhile, Obama’s great-uncle Charles T. Payne was part of the 89th Infantry Division that liberated Ohrdruf, a Nazi work camp in Germany, on April 4, 1945. Not all the fighters are on Obama’s mother’s side of the family. Obama’s great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandfather Owiny was a warrior and leader of the Luo tribe, which defeated the Bantu armies in Alego, Kenya. Genealogical research and census records show that political ambitions may be in Obama’s blood: His great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandfather Mareen Duvall makes Obama a distant relative to Dick Cheney and Harry Truman. Plus, he shares his great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandparents Samuel Hinckley and Sarah Soole Hinckley with George W. Bush, making the two eleventh cousins.

Romney: From Joseph Smith to a Mormon Colony in Mexico
Mitt Romney's Mormonism is the giant gold-plate-encrusted elephant in the room. Back in 2008, people went digging into Romney's past, discovering that his ancestors were among the original Apostles of Joseph Smith, the prophet who founded the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (heretofore referred to as the LDS Church). Not long after Joseph Smith was assassinated in Carthage, Illinois, in 1844, Parley Pratt, Romney's great-great-grandfather, followed Brigham Young out west to Utah, where the upstart religion built Salt Lake City. Pratt, who'd taken as many as five wives — though D. Duane Angel, George Romney's biographer, referred to him as "four-wived" — was eventually killed by one of his wives. Pratt's son Miles was later directed by Church leaders to settle a colony in Mexico, in what is today Chihuahua, where as many as 4,000 people lived and polygamy was still being practiced at the start of the twentieth century. Miles's first wife, Hannah, followed a year after he'd gone south By 1912, with the Mexican Revolution gaining speed, Romney's grandparents evacuated back to Utah, bringing their 5-year-old son, George, with them. They would never return to Mexico, though another branch of the Romney clan did, and remains there to this day.


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