It’s all relative for Brown, Obama

Genealogist tracing family tree discovers a common ancestor

By Peter Schworm
Globe Staff / January 30, 2010

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Senator-elect Scott Brown has showcased his independent streak in recent days, touting his willingness to buck the Republican party line and cross the partisan divide.

Maybe it is because of the old saw: You can’t turn your back on kin.

It turns out that the newly minted GOP star is related, however distantly, to President Obama. The political foes, whose fates have recently seemed intertwined, are 10th cousins on their mother’s side, according to research from the New England Historic Genealogical Society.

“They both have rich, old connections in this country,’’ said genealogist David Allen Lambert, who has been researching Brown’s heritage, with some help from Brown, for almost two months. “To find out they have common roots, it’s very exciting.’’

Obama’s mother, Stanley Ann Dunham, and Brown’s mother, Judith Ann Rugg, both descend from Richard Singletary of Haverhill.

Like his descendants, Singletary held public office, serving as town selectman in both Salisbury and Haverhill in the 1650s.

Singletary was blessed with a stunning longevity by the standards of the time, dying in 1687 at the age of 102.

“That was very unusual in the 17th century,’’ Lambert said. “There must be good genetics there, and hopefully it passes on to both of them.’’

Obama descends from Singletary’s eldest son, Jonathan, who later changed his surname to Dunham. Brown descends from Jonathan’s brother, Nathaniel Singletary.

Lambert began delving into the archives to unearth Brown’s roots because he was in the news.

“I had no idea what his roots are,’’ he said.

Lambert, who conducted the research with colleague Chris Child, said Brown took a keen interest in his work and twice wrote him personally with some information about his family.

“His grandmother evidently did some work on their family history,’’ Lambert said. “Before he goes to Washington, I’d love to sit down and compare notes.’’

Yesterday morning, Lambert received an e-mail from Brown that answered some questions about his grandparents.

Brown is also related to six other American presidents: George H.W. Bush, George W. Bush, Richard Nixon, Calvin Coolidge, Herbert Hoover, and Rutherford Hayes.

Republicans all, as it turns out, possibly an ominous sign for Democrats hoping Brown may see things their way now and again.

Brown’s campaign strategist, Eric Fehrnstrom, said Brown was “proud to be in such distinguished company’’ and quipped that Brown would make the most of his kinship to Obama.

“If Scott ever needs anything from the White House, now he can play the family card,’’ he said.

The Obama administration also took fun in the newfound family ties.

“The president’s reaction is that Senator Brown clearly comes from the better-looking branch of the family,’’ said White House deputy press secretary Bill Burton.

On the campaign trail Obama frequently made light of news that he is a distant relative of Dick Cheney, the former vice president. “I’ve been trying to hide this for a long time,’’ he once joked to a raucous crowd in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. “Everyone has a black sheep in the family.’’

Like most families, Obama and Brown have had their differences. Brown warned Obama to “stay away’’ from Massachusetts at the end of the campaign last month. Obama came just the same and poked fun at Brown’s signature pickup truck.

Thursday night, Brown boasted on Jay Leno’s television show that he and his daughter Ayla, who plays basketball at Boston College, would best the president on the court, challenging him to a game of 2-on-2.

Still, even before Obama learned he and Brown were family, the president said he believed their political success was born from the same roots.

“The same thing that swept Scott Brown into office swept me into office,’’ the president told ABC News.