A family tree to explain how President Obama and Milton Wolf are related

Stories about Milton Wolf, the conservative physician aiming to unseat Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) on Tuesday, always include one particularly interesting detail: The guy running to the right of the incumbent Republican senator is also a second cousin to the president of the United States.

What's not usually articulated is precisely how the two are related. In short, Wolf's mother was cousins with Obama's grandmother. But the story is a bit more interesting than that.

We pieced together the family tree from a number of sources: a tombstone database, online genealogy sites, old newspapers. Giving us this family tree, with the Obama branch at left and the Wolf branch at right. It's explained below.

fam-treev2

The common ancestors are Thomas McCurry and Margaret Belle Wright. (We know about their lives and children thanks to this overview of Obama's history.) But we get a little more detail from a 2009 interview with Wolf's mother, Anna McCurry Wolf. Her father's family, she said, "migrated into Kentucky, and Illinois is where my grandfather lived; Alten, Illinois." That's Thomas. "And he, at age three, shook President Lincoln's hand ... he was on my grandfather's shoulders, and this is Thomas Creekmore McCurry, and Lincoln just came over and shook his hand way up there. And I thought well, isn't that strange?"

derbyoil

McCurry and Wright had seven kids, among whom were Leona Belle McCurry — who Anna McCurry knew as Aunt Lee — and Franklin Wright McCurry. We tracked Frank McCurry (as he was known) down thanks to a mention in that same interview with his daughter, Anna, in which she noted that he was a vice president for Derby Oil. That detail allowed us to trace him to a 1949 newspaper article mentioning that he had a model oil refinery in his bedroom.

Leona McMurry and her husband Rolla Payne had three kids, including Madelyn Payne, Obama's grandmother. Frank and Mabel had the aforementioned Anna McCurry. Anna McCurry married Curtis Wolf, who was also a physician. They had Milton.

Madelyn Payne married Stanley Dunham, and they had a daughter, Stanley Ann Dunham. She married a man from Kenya named Barack Hussein Obama. You know the rest of the story.

Perhaps the most charming part of the interview with Anna McCurry is her obvious excitement about being related to the president. She'd heard that the family was related to a black man from Chicago, and then saw his 2004 convention speech. When she heard him refer to a white grandmother from Kansas at some point, she told her second husband, Gene Colle, "that kid has to have the same DNA I have. That has to be Stanley Ann's son." It was. She traveled to D.C. with a group from Kansas, and met Obama, who gave her an autographed copy of his book. Then, the group ran into him in the Capitol.

Before he noticed me he shook everybody's hand in our group, and he said, “I understand you're all from Kansas,” and gave them all greetings. Then he gave me a hug and he said to them, “Now, you guys take care of my cousin.” So that was a really special time for me.

If her son has his way, he'll soon be walking the halls of the Capitol himself — but probably not with as generous an assessment of his distant relative.

Milton Wolf is running for Senate in Kansas. He's also President Obama's second cousin. We asked him about their relationship — and another famous Milton. (Jeff Simon/The Washington Post)

Update: A confusing sentence about Anna McCurry's parents has been clarified, and Milton Wolf's birth year has been corrected.

Philip Bump writes about politics for The Fix. He previously wrote for The Wire, the news blog of The Atlantic magazine. He has contributed to The Daily Beast, The Atlantic, The Daily, and the Huffington Post. Philip is based in New York City.
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