“I know of no way of judging the future but by the past.” –Patrick Henry
The typical White-American is aware of his own particular ancestry, to some extent or another. Most people are, consciously or otherwise, animated by such knowledge. It thus makes sense to analyze the ancestries of aspirant politicians.
For this purpose, I profile, below, each of Republican Mitt Romney’s great-grandparents, based on the excellent genealogical research of William Reitwiesner. I previously examined Richard Nixon’s ancestry in a similar way, finding that Nixon was of 100%-Colonial-extraction, which may shed light on his politics. (Nixon’s ancestors’ stories are fascinating. Here from the earliest Colonial days, pushing the frontier right behind Daniel Boone in the late 1700s; he even had a direct ancestor die at Gettysburg in July 1863. How much more ‘Americana’ can it get?)
- Synopsis off Mitt Romney’s Ancestry
- Most of his ancestral stock consists of early converts to Mormonism from Britain (most from Northwest-England and Scotland) who were impelled to the USA from the 1830s to the 1850s, settling directly in Mormon communities.
- Colonial-Yankees account for 27% of Romney’s ancestral stock.
- 12.5% (one-eighth) of his ancestral stock comes from Northern-Germany.
- Many of Romney’s ancestors who were then-living participated in the dramatic 1846-7 Mormon Exodus from Illinois to Utah.
- All of Romney’s ancestral lines end up in Utah by the 1880s.
- Some went to Mexico at the end of the 1800s, but were expelled in 1912, and went back to Utah.
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Mitt Romney: Ethnic Ancestry Summary
40.6% England — Mostly Northwest England, partly W.Midlands.
1.5-3% French, Acadian and possible Huguenot (see entries #5 and #7 far below)
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Mitt Romney’s Parents
(1) George Wilcken Romney. He was born in 1907 in a Mormon colony in Chihuahua, Mexico, where his parents had married in 1895. All such colonies were raided, harassed, and forced to close by Mexican bandits-cum-revolutionaries in the early 1910s, their residents fleeing back to the USA. In other words, Mitt Romney’s own father was expelled from his very birthplace, as a youth, by angry-Mexicans(!). G.W.Romney married in Salt Lake City, Utah in 1931, and went on to great deeds in business and politics.
(2) Lenore LaFount. She was born in 1908 in Utah.
Pictured, in 1947, from left:
— George W. Romney [37.5% Scottish, 25% English, 25% German, 12.5% Colonial-Yankee]
— Baby Mitt Romney
— Lenore LaFount Romney [56.2% English, 40.6% Colonial-Yankee, 3.1% Acadian (see entry #7), 0-3% Huguenot (see entry #5)]
The same people in 1962, the year George Romney was elected governor of Michigan and appeared on the cover of Time:
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Now, most people’s animating-ancestral-awareness extends back, in my opinion, three generations — to the persons of their great-grandparents, such that when one knows of specific ancestors very far beyond that, it becomes trivia, rather than significant for one’s worldview-formation and identity-formation — which is what we are interested in here. This being the case, let us examine in some depth the eight great-grandparents of Republican candidate Willard Mitt Romney (b.1947), their ethnic origins, their personal backgrounds, and their life experiences. Photos are included where available, from here or findagrave.com unless otherwise noted.
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Mitt Romney’s Great-Grandparents [w/ Summary of Each Individual’s Ethnic-Ancestry]
(1) Miles Park Romney. [100% English Ancestry]. He was born in 1843 in the Mormon settlement of Nauvoo, Illinois. (Lincoln was not far away at the time, practicing law and getting his start in politics.) “Great-Grandpa Romney’s” birthplace of Nauvoo has an interesting history, which as a non-Mormon, I was not aware of: In the Summer of 1839, it was naught but a small frontierish-town on the Mississippi River, probably something like Mark Twain described in his novels. Joseph Smith and his supporters, chased out of everywhere else, purchase the town in late 1839. Smith rules it as a quasi-theocracy, and invites all Mormons in North America and further afield to come on over. Rumors of polygamy (which were true), among other things, enraged local ‘traditional Christians’. Five years of uninterrupted antagonism between the Mormons and local (then-)frontier Protestants, culminated in the vigilante killing of Joseph Smith in 1844. The Mormons then decide to abandon Nauvoo for Utah, which was well-and-truly empty. Miles Park Romney would have thus participated in the Mormon exodus of 1846-7, but would have been too young to remember much of it. He married in Salt Lake City, Utah, in 1862. This is a well-documented line: Both this man’s parents were born in rural Lancaster County, Northwest England, midway between Liverpool and the Scottish border, and all his ancestors going further back are from northwest England. His family were early converts to Mormonism, if they were in Nauvoo already in 1843. Miles P. Romney went on, in later adult life, to found one of the Mormon colonies in Mexico on which his grandson George P. Romney, was born in 1907. An extended biography of Miles Park Romney is available here.
Miles Park Romney
(2) Hannah Hood Hill. [100% Scottish]. She was born in 1842 in Tosoronto Township, in what would become Simcoe County, Ontario, Canada. This woman was born the year before the region of her birth was officially organized as a county by Canada, and therefore she might be called ‘pioneer-stock’ (although this may be a stretch), or at least settler-stock, rather than ‘immigrant stock’ (implying one who moves into an established urban area, taking advantage of what has already been set up by others). All four of her grandparents were born in Scotland, and made the move to British-Canada in the 1810s and 1820s. Her family converted to Mormonism and participated in the 1846-7 westward trek. Her mother died on the westward trail in 1847. She married in Salt Lake City, Utah, in 1862.
Hannah Hood Hill Romney
(3) Helaman Pratt. [50% Colonial-Yankee, 50% Scottish.] This man was, poetically, born in 1846 in a covered wagon while his family was ‘on the westward march’, the Mormon Exodus from the eastern-USA. His birthplace is recorded as “off the trail in Iowa”. That mystique loses some of its appeal, to those of us who are not Mormons, when we learn that his mother was one his father’s several wives. His father was an early Mormon leader named Parley Parker Pratt. Helaman Pratt was married in Utah in 1874. His father (Parley Parker Pratt) was of entirely Connecticut-Yankee stock, going deep back into the early Colonial era, while his mother was born in Scotland.
(4) Anna Johanna Dorothy (“Dora”) Wilcken. [100% Northern-German]. She was born in 1854 in near the city of Luebeck, in Holstein, Northern-Germany. Her parents, married in that region of Northern-Germany in 1853, are both buried in Utah. Her father, Carl Heinrich Wilcken, was apparently something of an adventurer. Despite having a young wife and child, in early 1857 he went abroad, with vague ambitions to make it to Argentina. In the Spring of 1857, a 25-year-old Carl found himself out of money in New York City, though, and joined the U.S. Army, as it was a reliable source of income. He was well used to army life, having served in the Prussian Army as a teenager. Carl was trained and sent west with the Army that summer to keep an eye on the Mormons. He thus took part in the ‘Mormon War’. For nebulous reasons, he deserted the Federal Army in the Fall to join the Mormon militia. He converted to Mormonism, and went on to achieve a degree of prestige in Utah society, serving as a bodyguard for two Mormon leaders. Carl sent for his German wife and daughter (Dora) in 1860. The prestige Carl achieved is reflected in the fact that his daughter, Dora, married the son of Mormon leader Parley Parket Pratt (see #3 above). (More information on Carl Wilcken, including an excerpt from a short memoir he wrote, is available here). In terms of Dora’s ancestry: We know that all of her great-grandparents were in Northern-Germany in year 1800, all living in rural areas, so there is no hint of anything exotic. Some of her ancestors were born near Luebeck, some near Schwerin, some near Kiel. Recall that George W. Romney (Mitt’s father) has the middle name Wilcken, which is this woman’s maiden name, suggesting a particular affinity for this line on behalf of George’s mother, perhaps again reinforcing the notion that Carl was held in high esteem. [See the comments for a discussion of whether Dora Wilcken, born near the then-poorly-defined Danish-German border, could have been Danish or part-Danish].
Carl Heinrich (Carl Henry) Wilcken
(5) Robert Arthur LaFount. [100% English, possibly 1-12% French]. He was born in 1856 in Belbroughton, County Worcester (‘West Midlands’ region), England. He married in Birmingham, England, in 1879. Information on this line is not as detailed as that for some others. As best as can be ascertained, though, all of Robert LaFount’s ancestors were born in England going back several generations. The Birmingham connection might have implied a possible Irish-origin for at least some of his ancestors, due to the heavy Irish immigration to the industrial cities of Northern-England at the time. That this is almost surely not the case here is seen by the fact that his ancestors all have English surnames like Edwards, Brett, and Bateman. The name ‘LaFount’ itself, of course, sounds French. The ultimate French origin for this paternal line was not particularly recent. The paternal line seems to have been in England in the early 1800s. Information on when exactly this ‘LaFount’ line entered England is missing, but there are two possibilities: (a) The original LaFount was a post-1789-Revolution political refugee from France, who married an Englishwoman, and all of his subsequent descendants did likewise. This speculative scenario would make Robert A. LaFount himself most likely 1/8th [12.5%] French, the rest English. The other possibility: (b) The original LaFount was a French Huguenot-Protestant refugee who came earlier, perhaps in the Huguenot wave of around 1700, when 50,000 Huguenots expatriated to England. In this case, if all the subsequent marriages in this line were with English girls, Robert A. LaFount would be only marginally French by ethnic-ancestry, perhaps 3.1% [1/32nd] at most, and likely less. I find (b) more compelling. Why? Because we find that the marriage between Robert’s parents was conducted in the rural hamlet of ‘Great Witley’, County Worcester, in 1855, hardly where one would expect the grandson of an exiled French aristocrat to marry. NOTE on Huguenot Ancestry: Minor Huguenot ancestry is probably present in most English people by this point. The other lines in this Robert A. LaFount’s own deep-ancestry — all with English surnames going back three generations — may very well have a Huguenot or two five or six generations back, but the records are not complete for them, so it is unclear. The same is true for any of the English lines in this genealogy. Minor-Huguenot ancestry has become part of the basic ancestral-stock of the native-English. For this reason, it is probably best to simply subsume such minor Huguenot ancestry within the category of ‘English’, as we tend to do for ‘American Colonial Stock’. /// It is likely that the English couple, Robert Arthur LaFount and wife Emily Ethel Hewitt (see below), converted to Mormonism around the time of their marriage in 1879 (which was conducted in England), and immigrated to Utah in the 1880s, in their mid to late 20s. Their son, Mitt Romney’s grandfather Harold LaFount, was born in Birmingham, England in 1880, and married in Utah in 1903. Both Robert Arthur LaFount and Emily Hewitt died in Utah.
(6) Emily Ethel Hewitt. [probably 100% English]. She was born in 1861 in Birmingham, England. See the entry above on Robert A. LaFount for more information on her life-trajectory. Detailed ancestry information for this person is lacking, including the birthplaces of her parents. She herself was born in Birmingham. Her parents’ typically-English names (Thomas Samuel Hewitt, Elizabeth Booth) suggest that she was of unmixed English-ancestry, though this cannot be confirmed very far back. What is confirmed is that Robert Arthur LaFount and wife Emily had a son, Harold Arundel LaFount (1880-1952). A photo of the couple’s son, Mitt Romney’s grandfather (source), is included below.
Harold Arundel LaFount,
Son of #5 and #6
(7) Charles Edward Robison. [87.5% Colonial-Yankee, 12.5% Acadian]. He was born in 1845 in the Mormon colony in Illinois called Nauvoo, two years after Miles Park Romney, #1 above. (See the entry for M.P.Romney, above, for more on the story of Nauvoo). Charles Robinson’s parents were married at Nauvoo on Christmas Day 1839, making them among the very first Mormons to be married in the emerging world capital of Mormonism of the early to mid 1840s. (Nauvoo was only established as a Mormon settlement in the last months of 1839, after which is began to be flooded with Mormons fleeing from the east). Both of Charles Robison’s parents were of Colonial-Yankee stock, though among his ancestors we do find, three generations back, one
Huguenot Acadian (Of the French-Colonial population that became the Lousiana Cajuns) [Thanks to commenter flieralls for this correction], making Charles Robinson one-eighth ‘French’. In general, one subsumes partial-French-Huguenot-ancestry into the label ‘Colonial Stock’. (After all, who would ever call Paul Revere ‘French’?). Perhaps the same could be done with Acadians, but for the sake of precision, I have split it here. /// The Mormon westward trek began in Spring 1846, only a few months after Charles Edward Robison was born. He was married in Salt Lake City, Utah in 1865, and died in 1883 on a mission to South Carolina.
Charles Edward Robison
(8) Rosetta Mary Berry. [75% Colonial-Yankee, 25% English]. She was born in 1843 in Albion, Michigan. According to an historical account by Frank Passic, an Albion, Michigan historian, Rosetta’s uncle converted to Mormonism in the 1840s, but remained in Michigan. In a religious fervor, the uncle took his family west with a secondary wave of Mormons in 1850, but died on the way. Though the uncle died en-route, Rosetta’s aunt did not. Rosetta’s parents must have bee influenced by the zealous uncle, as they too end up going west while Rosetta is very young. In 1865, while the U.S. Civil War is winding down in the east, Rosetta married. Ancestrally, three of her four ancestral branches are of Colonial-Yankee stock, while the fourth comes from Lancashire, Northwest England. (Photo courtesy of Frank Passic).
Rosetta Mary Berry
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Q. What can Mitt Romney’s ancestral-stock tell us about his personal identity, his worldview, his animating sympathies, potential historical grievances? All of these would clearly influence what kind of leader he would be.
Mitt Romney is 100% Northwestern-European by ancestry. Our era is one in which a clear minority of babies now being born in the USA are of Northwestern-European-ancestry. A super-majority were when Mitt Romney was born and as he was growing up. This allows for the possibility that Mitt Romney harbors Voelkisch sympathies, as a man who has witnessed such a dramatic reversal of demographic fortunes in so short a time.
On the related but separate question of ‘Americanism’: only a minority of Mitt’s ancestors were in the USA in 1776. More significantly still, perhaps, is that none of Mitt’s ancestors participated in the U.S. Civil War in any way. Though seven of the eight branches of his family profiled above were in North America by 1861, they were far off in Utah, and sat out the conflict. His own father even deserted from the American Army in 1857 while stationed on the Mormon Frontier! (I don’t hold the “desertion” against Carl Wilcken as such, but it does show he did not have any strong loyalty to ‘the USA’).
One could further argue that Utah was not a ‘true’ part of the USA until at least a generation after Appomattox, maybe two. Utah statehood came only in 1896, a few years after Mormon leaders formally decreed an end to polygamy. (The Mormon aspect to all this is a bit beyond me, and I don’t know what to make of it).
Considering the above, one could even ask the question “To what extent does Romney see himself as ‘deeply-American’…?”