Roosevelt Researcher Finds He Is Related to Them


A documentary maker detailing the connections between the two Roosevelt presidents found his own personal ties to both in the process.

Ken Burns learned that he was a seventh cousin on his mother’s side to President Theodore Roosevelt and an eighth cousin to both President Franklin Roosevelt and his wife Eleanor.

“After a while, we’re all related to one another,” said the documentarian.

That’s pretty much the case if you go back 3,000 years, said Michelle Ercanbrack, a family historian at In Burns’s case, it’s a closer connection. It means one of Burns’s 256 parental ancestors, from a grandparent to his 6th great-grandparent, is shared with Theodore Roosevelt. In the case of Franklin, it’s one level back, of 512.

He learned of the connection some three years ago in the midst of researching the series on the Roosevelts, when the New England Historic Genealogical Association looked into his family history.

Burns, whose series on the Civil War probably remains his best-known work, also has connections to two Abrahams: his third great- grandfather Abraham Burns who fought for the Confederacy in the Civil War, and a fourth cousin, Abraham Lincoln. That means one of 32 grandparents is shared with Lincoln, according to

“That really blew my mind and buckled my knees,” he said.

It’s meaningful to Burns because his work is all about making connections, in historical terms and with an audience, he said. The stories of the Roosevelts have received considerable attention, but he was surprised that nobody had tied them together in a comprehensive way.

“You assume because Teddy Roosevelt is a Republican and Franklin is a Democrat, that they are far apart, and they aren’t,” he said. “There’s more that unites them than divides them.”