I was fascinated by the story released in The New York Times last Wednesday regarding the DNA research to help establish that Warren G. Harding had had a child with his mistress Nan Britton.
Nanna Popham Britton, known as Nan, was born and raised in Marion, Ohio, where Harding lived as well. Her child, known for most of her life as Elizabeth Ann but recorded as Emma Eloise Britton, was born at Asbury Park, New Jersey, on 22 October 1919. At certain points in her childhood she went by Elizabeth Ann Harding or Elizabeth Ann Britton; she was eventually adopted by her mother’s sister Elizabeth and her husband Scott A. Willits, when she went by Elizabeth Ann Willits. She married Henry Edward Blaesing in 1938 and listed her maiden name as Elizabeth Ann Harding on the birth certificates of her three sons, who were born in California between 1947 and 1954. Nan and her daughter’s family moved to Oregon where Nan died in 1991.
Elizabeth Blaesing died in 2005 and apparently had no interest in DNA testing to prove her paternity. The recent study was actually instigated by two grandchildren of Harding’s younger brother. These cousins, Dr. Peter Harding and Abigail Harding, contacted Elizabeth’s middle son James Blaesing. Through autosomal DNA testing (which was not really available at the level it is today back when his mother died in 2005), James was predicted to be a second cousin to both Peter and Abigail, which would be their kinship if Elizabeth were Warren’s daughter. Given that everyone in their parent generation is deceased (Elizabeth and the fathers of Peter and Abigail), these are the closest people alive for such an autosomal test, and a third cousin of the Hardings matched James Blaesing as well. This is a great example of what can be confirmed by autosomal testing within a few generations when it involves a very specific hypothesis.
. Warren would be the only Harding sibling available for the second cousin kinship to work, matching James Blaesing’s “unknown” grandfather, as Warren Harding had one surviving brother, George, who was the grandfather of the two cousins. Had George been James’ grandfather, the Harding cousins would have a much higher amount of DNA in common, as half first cousins instead of second cousins.