Trace Amounts

The U.S. Men’s team at the first FIFA World Cup in 1930, the only time the United States placed in the top four

When I was watching the recent World Cup, and the various countries playing, I found myself considering genealogical connections I have found within the competing nations—to my own ancestry, to my wife’s, or to projects that I have worked on. My recent post on the Van Salee family focused on a family with connections in the present-day United States, Netherlands, and Morocco, and at the time of that post, all three nations were still in the tournament.

The two countries from which most of my ancestors derive are England and Germany, and the top three countries for my wife’s ancestry are Spain, Portugal, and Senegal (this is according to her AncestryDNA results—I suspect most of the claimed Portuguese ancestry is probably also Spanish, although I have not traced any of her ancestors to the Iberian peninsula or a specific place in Africa). All five countries, except Germany, made it to the round of sixteen of the World Cup.

Screenshot showing percentages of ancestry: Spain at 41%, Portugal at 20%, and Senegal at 8%

Choosing which country to cheer for had other factors when it came to the final Argentina vs. France showdown. My wife wrote her PhD. thesis on an Argentine author and traveled there several times, and I joined her on two of those trips. However, the only country that both my wife and I have documented ancestors is France—so exactly how French are we?

My wife’s French connection derives from her Haitian great-great-great-grandfather, Jacinto Ramirez (né Petain) (1824-1910), who was 7/8 French and 1/8 African. Through this ancestor, my wife is 7/256 French (roughly 2.7%). My only known French ancestors date even further back, through my Rhode Island Huguenot ancestors Abraham and Marie (Bernon) Tourtellotte and Marie’s parents, Gabriel and Esther (Le Roy) Bernon. With Abraham’s son Abraham Tourtellotte (1695/6-1762) being my most recent “all French” ancestor ten generations back, I am 1/512 French (roughly 0.2%!), making our children 15/1024, or about 1.5% French.

The other competing country from which I have trace amounts of ancestry was Wales, whose team made their second appearance in the World Cup but unfortunately did not advance beyond their group. My only known Welsh ancestors—Griffith and Margaret (Fleming) Bowen of Boston and Roxbury, Massachusetts—are thirteen generations back. However, through this part of my endogamous ancestry, I descend from this couple in eleven unique ways, making me 11/2048, or about 0.5% Welsh. Not even a whole percentage number, and half that for my children!

I’ve also been interested in unique trace amount ancestries as they relate to the ancestry of U.S. Presidents. My previous Van Salee post discussed the Moroccan ancestry of President Warren Harding, making him 1/256 Moroccan. For the ancestries of U.S. presidents within Europe (not including royal descents behind immigrants from the British Isles), the one which reaches furthest east is that of President Gerald Ford, whose ancestor Anthony Sadowski (ca. 1669-1736) of Pennsylvania was born in Poland, making Ford 1/128 Polish. And of course, once you get into royal ancestry from the medieval period, you often find small traces of ancestry from other regions—as in the case of Sancha de Ayala, the Spanish wife of Sir Walter Blount, in the ancestry of Presidents Washington, the Harrisons, Cleveland, Hoover, F.D. Roosevelt, Ford, and the Bushes (anywhere from 13 to 21 generations back). My eleventh century ancestor Anne of Kiev is also found in the ancestry of Presidents Washington, Jefferson, Madison, J.Q. Adams, the Harrisons, probably Taylor, Pierce, probably Buchanan, Hayes, Cleveland, the Roosevelts, Taft, Harding, Coolidge, probably Hoover, Truman, Nixon, Ford, Carter, the Bushes, and Obama (from 24 to 35 generations back!).1

What “trace amount” ethnic backgrounds have you been able to document? Do they affect who you cheer for in world tournaments? In the end, our “French” family rooted for Argentina!



Gary Boyd Roberts, Ancestors of American Presidents 2009 Edition, 98-102, 156-160, 305-393, 659-664.

About Christopher C. Child

Chris Child has worked for various departments at NEHGS since 1997 and became a full-time employee in July 2003. He has been a member of NEHGS since the age of eleven. He has written several articles in American Ancestors, The New England Historical and Genealogical Register, and The Mayflower Descendant. He is the co-editor of The Ancestry of Catherine Middleton (NEHGS, 2011), co-author of The Descendants of Judge John Lowell of Newburyport, Massachusetts (Newbury Street Press, 2011) and Ancestors and Descendants of George Rufus and Alice Nelson Pratt (Newbury Street Press, 2013), and author of The Nelson Family of Rowley, Massachusetts (Newbury Street Press, 2014). Chris holds a B.A. in history from Drew University in Madison, New Jersey.

4 thoughts on “Trace Amounts

  1. I have trace amounts of Arab and Maltese ancestry due to some Lipari ancestors from the 1500s-1600s. Lipari was conquered by the Arabs in 1544. I also have Spanish trace amounts due to many Spanish garrison soldiers I descend from on Lipari, as well as distant “royal” Spanish ancestry. Some trace semetic/Jewish ancestry as I descend from the d’Israeli family, Jewish converts to Catholicism.

  2. I’m afraid I’m not a big soccer fan myself, so I didn’t cheer on any team. However, your story reminded me of an article that I found in the Fort Pierce (Florida) News Tribune from seventy years ago describing the “Soccer with UN flavor” team at Pomona College. It included two players from Greece, one from Austria, one from Colombia, one from Peru (my father Jerry Athearn), one from Argentina, one from England, one from Arabia, one from Germany, one from Burma, one from China (with the intriguing name of Enrique Chan!)…and even one from Los Angeles, California.

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