Coolidge Connections

Photographs of President Calvin Coolidge and actress Jennifer CoolidgeWith the recent return of the second season of White Lotus, a few friends have asked me if the actress Jennifer Coolidge is related to President Calvin Coolidge. While this was a kinship I had discovered years ago (back when she appeared in the American Pie movies during my college years), I thought it would be interesting to discuss the Coolidge family of New England and some of their well-known descendants.

In middle school I would visit NEHGS with my aunt, traveling about ninety minutes from northeastern Connecticut, going on Saturdays or other days I had off from school. One such day was on November 11, 1993. I had the day off from school for Veterans Day, and I asked my aunt if we could go to NEHGS. We didn’t call ahead (that was long distance!), and when we arrived the doors were closed because of the holiday. We looked up and saw that the lights were on from the top floor, and saw that the side door was open. We decided to go up and see if the staff might allow us to stay. There was one older gentleman up there with several books around him. My aunt said we had traveled from Connecticut and wondered if it might be possible for the two of us to stay. The man replied that he did not work for NEHGS, either, and that he had hired a librarian to work with him for the day; the librarian was getting books for him from another floor, so we would have to wait and ask him. My aunt and I started to work on our genealogy and a bit later, the librarian, who I would soon learn was Gary Boyd Roberts, returned. My aunt made the plea again if we could stay, and Gary kindly replied sure, and the two of us went back to our research.

Having been interested in the presidents since I was quite young, I noticed that family charts of my grandfather’s showed my ancestors as John and Mary Coolidge of Watertown, Massachusetts. I wondered if they were also ancestors of President Calvin Coolidge. I found Calvin Coolidge in the 1930 publication Descendants of John and Mary Coolidge of Watertown, Massachusetts, 1630 (title notwithstanding, the Coolidge family arrived more likely in 1635, per their sketch here in The Great Migration). I charted Calvin’s descent and figured out that we were eighth cousins twice removed. I thought finding this single presidential kinship would be the highlight of my day.

Not so fast—an hour or so later, Gary decided to come over to where I was working and look over my charts. I had no idea he had authored a “preliminary edition” of Ancestors of Presidents of American Presidents, and when I told Gary about my Coolidge discovery, he showed me a chart showing that William Howard Taft was also a Coolidge descendant. I did not have the maiden name of John Coolidge’s wife Mary, which he told me was Ravens, and her sister Mrs. Grace Ravens Sherman Rogers Porter was on his chart as an ancestor of President George H.W. Bush. Continuing to look over my charts, he identified the maiden name of my patrilineal ancestress Mary, wife of Benjamin Child, as Bowen, noting that her parents, Griffith and Margaret (Fleming) Bowen, were ancestors of President Franklin Pierce. He then told me Griffith and Margaret were included in his recently published The Royal Descents of 500 Immigrants (RD500) as descendants of Henry I, King of England, son of William the Conqueror. Gary identified at least three or four more presidential kinships through other common New England ancestors. (I have since found a total of twenty.) The four of us went to lunch together a block from the library. Gary and I talked nearly the whole time; the older gentleman (unfortunately, none of us can remember his name) was so fascinated by our conversation that he treated us all to lunch. My aunt purchased me a copy of Gary’s RD500, and Gary signed the book as follows:

“For Christopher Challender Child, probably in 1993 the youngest member of NEHGS, who I much enjoyed working with on the day noted below, who I hope takes an active role in Society activities in the next few years & who is descended, several times over, from Griffith & Margaret (Fleming) Bowen, Henry I and William the Conqueror – see pp. 387-8.

I hope this book further expands your enormous & splendid genealogical curiosity – & answers a few questions as well. Good luck with all research, & with the course (a teacher at 13!) for your scout troop.

Best regards
Gary Boyd Roberts
November 11, 1993”

Gary invited me to his party for the release of this book a few months later, where I met several other genealogists I had read about in NEHGS’s magazine, and you could say the rest is history. By the time of Gary’s “first authoritative edition” of Ancestors of American Presidents in 1995, I had contributed two charts showing presidential kinships back to other families of Watertown, including a kinship between Presidents Coolidge and Bush through the Child family. Not only was I a Coolidge, but President Coolidge was also a Child!

Architectural drawing of Coolidge House in Boston.

So back to the inspiration for this post: Coolidge is an American “presidential surname” where nearly every American with that surname is related to President Coolidge, however distant. However, before the Vermont-born former Governor of Massachusetts assumed the nation’s highest office in 1923, the more well-known Coolidge family were descendants of Joseph Coolidge (1747-1820) of Boston, a fifth-generation descendant of the first Coolidge of Watertown. Joseph’s Boston estate, known as Coolidge House, was designed by Charles Bulfinch (1763-1844), known as America’s first native-born architect. Bulfinch’s sister Elizabeth married Joseph Coolidge’s son, another Joseph Coolidge (1773-1840), who were the next occupants of the house; afterwards it went to their son, another Joseph Coolidge (1798-1879) and a partner of several trading companies, who married Ellen Wayles Randolph, a granddaughter of President Thomas Jefferson. Two branches of these “Coolidge-Randolph” descendants married into the Lowell family of Boston, which were included in the The Descendants of Judge John Lowell of Newburyport, Massachusetts, authored by myself and Scott C. Steward, whose grandfather married the widow of a Coolidge-Randolph descendant.

President Thomas Jefferson

The Republican Calvin Coolidge was on opposite sides politically with the Democratic Boston Coolidges. When Thomas Jefferson Coolidge III (1893-1959), a Boston banker, was made under-secretary of the Treasury in 1934, most newspapers reported that the banker was either distantly or not related to the former president, some with considerable enthusiasm. One newspaper noted:

“The Jackson Daily News has discovered that Thomas Jefferson Coolidge, Boston banker, chosen as an assistant to the secretary of the treasury, is not a relative of the late President Calvin Coolidge, and we ought to be thankful for that if we want a man at Washington who is not victim of crochets. Of all the men in public life who have been over-rated – and God knows there has been a plethory of them! – this Calvin Coolidge was the most over-rated ….. Consequently it is fine that Morgenthau picked Thomas Jefferson Coolidge because of his first two cognomens and not the last. Thomas Jefferson Coolidge is neither relative nor soul-mate of Calvin Coolidge. He is also a life-time Democrat.”

The actress Jennifer Coolidge is also a descendant of the Boston Coolidges (but not a descendant of Thomas Jefferson or the Lowell family), in two unique ways. She descends from Joseph and Elizabeth (Bulfinch) Coolidge, above, through their daughter Elizabeth Boyer Coolidge, who married Tasker Hazard Swett (1795-1841). Their son, Joseph Coolidge Swett (1829-1887), had his name changed by an act of legislature in 1851 to Joseph Swett Coolidge (as happened with other Boston families wanting to keep certain surnames going). This last Joseph married his second cousin Mary Louisa Coolidge, a great-granddaughter of the first Joseph Coolidge of Coolidge House through his younger son Charles. Jennifer Coolidge is also a descendant of Major Samuel Lawrence (1754-1827), whose descendants are the focus of an upcoming genealogy, which Scott and I are currently writing.

So, for Presidents Day, the chart below shows the first presidential kinship I discovered, plus a few more!

Chart showing Coolidge ancestry

Kindly redesigned by Ellen Maxwell, this chart originally appeared in Ancestors of American Presidents, 462. The kinship between Calvin Coolidge and the Boston Coolidges appeared in George Walter Chamberlain, “ The Early New England Coolidges and Some of Their Descendants,” The New England Historical and Genealogical Register 77 (1923): 304, upon the succession of Vice President Coolidge to the presidency on the death of President Warren G. Harding. The additional Coolidge lineages are also drawn from the above Lowell genealogy and the Lawrence genealogy manuscript, largely based on Massachusetts Vital Records and Harvard College Class Reports. The author’s Coolidge descent was mostly outlined in a previous post.

Christopher C. Child

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.View all posts by Christopher C. Child