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Surrounding the President of the United States are clouds of relatives, moving about close and distant, that are ever marked by their association with him. Some live on in history attached to him; four presidents, Adamses and Bushes, have been father and son. The two presidents Roosevelt were relatives.

White House History presents in this issue a series of stories of presidential kin, beginning with President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s mother, the indomitable Sara Delano Roosevelt, moving back in time to G.W.P. Custis, Martha Washington’s grandson, who promoted himself with gusto as Washington’s adopted grandson, building the mansion at Arlington over looking Washington and filling it with Washington‘s Revolutionary memorabilia.

Nell Arthur died before her husband Chester Alan Arthur became president. Memory of her is preserved in a stained glass window in Saint John’s Church. At night, when the gas lights went on, Arthur could see the window, in its brilliant colors, from his bed in the White House.

Kin could be helpful or, sometimes, not. William Polk and Willey Madison represented both in interacting with their famous brothers in the White House. Andrew Jackson’s nephew, Jack, and his wife Emily adamantly refused to honor one of Jackson’s social commands to entertain a woman of bad reputation. Dolley Madison’s beloved son Payne was a thorn in President Madison’s side. Abraham Lincoln, who disclaimed most of his own Lincoln kin, was fascinated by George Washington and his family.

An amazing group, if only a glimpse of over two centuries of kinfolk and the White House.

This article was originally published in White House History (Number 36) Winter 2014

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