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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Are Obama and Cheney Related?

Q: Are Barack Obama and Dick Cheney cousins?

A: Yep. But they are quite distant relatives.


In an article last September, the Chicago Sun-Times laid out Obama’s ancestry – including the genealogical, if not spiritual, relationship between Obama and Cheney. According to the newspaper, they are ninth cousins once removed, with their common ancestor being Mareen Duvall, a French Huguenot who settled in Maryland in the mid-1600s.

In an Oct. 16 interview on MSNBC, Lynne Cheney confirmed the connection based on extensive research she did for her latest book, "Blue Skies, No Fences." However, she calculates that Obama and Cheney are eighth cousins, one degree closer than the Sun-Times has it. Duvall, according to Cheney’s research, was the parent of the husband of the granddaughter of a Cheney who bore the same first name as the vice president.

There will be a quiz later.

For those readers who, like some of us at FactCheck.org, are woefully short on cousins, Genealogy.com has a nice explainer on the whole phenomenon.

Obama’s other relatives, by the way, include George W. Bush, who, according to the Sun-Times, is his 11th cousin. They share the same great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandparents, a 17th-century Massachusetts couple named Samuel Hinckley and Sarah Soole Hinckley. And Harry S. Truman was Obama’s fourth cousin four times removed, the paper says. The New York Post, using ancestry.com, reported that Brad Pitt and Obama are ninth cousins. Kenyan opposition leader Raila Odinga told the BBC that his maternal uncle was Obama’s father, making them first cousins (we think).

We wouldn’t make too much of this, though. After all, according to at least some researchers, a common ancestor for all humans now alive may have existed just several thousand years ago. That means you, dear reader, could have a cousinly relationship that may not go all that far back to everyone from Jack Kevorkian to Tina Fey to Hugo Chavez to the woman selling trinkets from a piece of cardboard on a Bangalore street corner.

– Viveca Novak


Rohde DLT, Olson S, Chang JT. "Modelling the recent common ancestry of all living humans". Nature (2004)431: 562-566. 

"Branching Out; Family Biographies." Chicago Sun-Times, 9 Sept. 2007.

Wade, Nicholas. "Cheney and Obama: It’s Not Genetic." The New York Times, 21 Oct. 2007.

Simmons, Christine. "Vice President Dick Cheney and Democrat Barack Obama are eighth cousins, Lynne Cheney says." The Associated Press, 17 Oct. 2007.

Otis, Ginger Adams. "Cousins by Dozens; Fruitful Search Through Family Trees." The New York Post, 28 Oct. 2007.

"Odinga Says Obama is his Cousin." BBC News, 8 Jan. 2008.