“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 not, animated by such knowledge. It is thus worthwhile to analyze the ancestries of aspirant politicians.
For this purpose, I profile, below, each of Republican Mitt Romney’s great-grandparents, based originally on the excellent genealogical research of William Reitwiesner with many other available sources used to make “profiles of each ancestral line.” 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.)
- Synopsis off Mitt Romney’s Ancestry
- Most of Mitt Romney’s 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 for #5 and #7, 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 (the same birthplace as person #7 in this ancestry, below. The two were born just two two years apart). Not far away from Nauvoo, at the time, one Abraham Lincoln was 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, Nauvoo is naught but a small frontierish-town on the Mississippi River, something out of Mark Twain. 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 decide to abandon Nauvoo, going west yet again, this time to the far west, Utah, which was then 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 of Miles Romney’s parents were born in rural Lancaster County, Northwest England, midway between Liverpool and the Scottish border, and all his ancestors going further back several generations are likewise from northwest England.
Lancashire, England, ancestral home of Miles P. Romney
Miles’ young parents were early converts to Mormonism in England.
From a biography of Miles Park Romney: “Miles and Elizabeth, on their way to market [in England], saw a group of people assembled on a street corner. They were curious as to what attracted the crowd. They discovered it was a religious gathering and that the preacher was a Mormon missionary from America. They learned later that it was Orson Hyde, an Apostle, to whom they listened. This was in 1837. In September, 1839, Miles Romney, his wife and son George were baptized. The family left England in 1841 to gather with the Saints in Nauvoo.” (Note that their conversion in England was ten years after the alleged revelation of the Book of Mormon to a then-twenty-three-year-old Joseph Smith in New York ).
Miles P. Romney went on to found one of the Mormon colonies in Mexico, in which his grandson George W. Romney (father of Mitt Romney), was born in 1907.
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. Born a year before the region of her birth was officially organized as a county by Canada, she therefore might be called ‘pioneer-stock,’ or, if this is a stretch, at least settler-stock (not an “immigrant”).
All four of Hannah’s 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, one of several Mitt Romney relatives who is recorded as having died on the westward trek. She married in Salt Lake City, Utah, in 1862.
Hannah Hood Hill Romney
(3) Helaman Pratt. [50% Colonial-Yankee, 50% Scottish.] This man was born, poetically, in a covered wagon while his family was ‘on the westward march’ (1846), i.e. the Mormon Exodus from the eastern-USA. His birthplace is recorded as “off the trail in Iowa”.
The mystique of these circumstances of birth loses some luster, to those of us who are not Mormons, when we learn that his mother was but one his father’s several wives. His father was an early Mormon leader named Parley Parker Pratt and polygamist.
Helaman Pratt was married in Utah in 1874. His father (the aforementioned 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’. He deserted the Federal Army for nebulous reasons that fall, ended up with the Mormon militia, and settled down, achieving a achieve a degree of prestige in Utah society and going on too serve 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 Parker Pratt (i.e., #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, and there is no hint of anything exotic. She looks like a typical north German or perhaps Scandinavian (see photograph below). Some of her German 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-unclearly-defined Danish-German border, could have been Danish or part-Danish.]
Dora Wilcken, daughter of Carl Wilcken
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 Emily Hewitt (#6, below) in Birmingham, England, in 1879.
Information on this line is not as detailed as that for some others. As best as can be ascertained, 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. His ancestors all have English surnames like Edwards, Brett, and Bateman, suggesting no or minimal Irish-Catholic ancestry.
The name ‘LaFount’ itself, of course, sounds French. The ultimate French origin for this paternal line was not particularly recent. The paternal line was definitely 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 perhaps 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, not 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, other than the LaFount line (i.e. the father’s father’s father’s…), all of which have 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 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 (#6, 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 he 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. 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 but given what we know of English history in the early 1800s is a good bet.
What is confirmed is that Robert Arthur LaFount and wife Emily had a son named Harold Arundel LaFount (1880-1952). A photo of the couple’s son, who is 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, Nauvoo, two years after Miles Park Romney (#1 above) was born in the same place.
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 Louisiana 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’. (Would we 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, following the vigilante killing of Joseph Smith by local frontier Protestants (1844), and a few months after Charles Edward Robison was born.
Charles 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, Rosetta’s uncle took his family west, with a secondary wave of Mormons, in 1850, but the uncle died along the way. Rosetta’s parents must have been 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 got married in Utah.
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.
Some thoughts on Mitt Romney’s ancestry:
(1) Mitt Romney is of 100% Northwestern European ancestry, with not a trace of anything going back five generations or more.
(2) In Romney’s youth, a super-majority of Americans of all ages were likewise of NW-European ancestral stock (as they had been for centuries).
(3) In the 2010s, only a minority of babies being born in the USA are of Northwestern-European ancestry.
(3) Taking 1 to 3 together, this raises at least the possibility that Mitt Romney harbors Voelkisch sympathies. The man has witnessed a dramatic reversal of demographic fortunes of his people in a few decades. This possibility is heightened if we believe that people are politically motivated in part by their actual and perceived ancestry.
Q. The large question of ‘Americanism’ vs. ‘Mormonism’ is here raised. Are Mormons “core Americans”? It is tempting to say yes, considering how overlapping the Mormon ethnocultural group is in ancestral stock with the core American population. In fact, Mormons have a rather separate experience, actual and perceived…and examples of such are all over Romney’s ancestral tree…
(4) We see that only a minority of Mitt’s ancestral branches were in the USA in the late Colonial era (1760s-1770s) and in what we might call the New Nation era (1780s-1790s). Compare this with Richard Nixon, all of whose ancestors seem to have been in the USA by the war for Independence (1770s-1780s).
(5) None of Mitt’s ancestors participated in the U.S. Civil War in any way, for whatever that is worth. Seven of the eight branches of his family profiled above were in North America by 1861, but they were far off in Utah and sat the war out. Mitt Romney’s great-great grandfather is actually reported to have deserted from the U.S. Army in 1857 while stationed on the Mormon Frontier! (We ought not hold the “desertion” against this Carl Wilcken as such, given his circumstances [see above]; regardless, it does show, arguably, that he did not feel any strong “loyalty to the USA”).
(6) At what point did Utah become a ‘true’ part of the USA? Not until at least a generation after Appomattox, arguably two (or more). Utah statehood came in 1896, a few years after Mormon leaders formally decreed an end to polygamy.
(7) Considering all the above, one could ask the question “To what extent does Romney see himself as ‘deeply-American’…?” His ancestral stock is very close to the “American Core ethnic stock,” but the Mormons, an ethnoculture with an ethnogenesis in North America approaching two centuries ago, have their own identity narrative that is at least partly hostile to the wider American one. (They are not alone in this…)
[Updated: October 2016. Reason: Reposting all photographs after Imageshack deleted all hosted images. Secondary reason: A discussion on Mormonism and Americanism by Razib Khan and his commentariat at Unz.com. Mr. Khan suggests that Mormons are a product of the “Yankee Diaspora” and represent a “red state” manifestation of Yankeeism.]