Finding Presidents and their Ancestors in the Strangest Places

Stephen P. Morse


This article was written December 2017





As genealogists, we are used to looking for our ancestors in ship manifests and in census records.  We have mastered a variety of tricks for finding people in spite of name misspellings and incorrect birthdates.  You might think that US presidents are a breed apart from our ancestors, but they are not.  They also arrived on ships and have come face-to-face with the census taker.


In this paper I will show you how to search for presidential records, and you will see that it is no different than searching for ancestral records.  We will encounter some of the same problems with both searches, and we'll see how these problems can be solved.


I am not claiming to have found all the relevant records, but rather just some of the obvious ones.  I'm sure a professional genealogist (which I am not) can find many more.  My goal is to present some of the techniques that I used to find the records so that you can apply those same techniques to finding your own ancestors.





If you were born in this country, perhaps you can trace your line back to that ancestor who crossed the pond.  And there is a record of that person's arrival on a manifest somewhere.  If you yourself were the pond-hopper, there will be a manifest documenting your arrival.  If that manifest exists, you'll certainly want to find it.


The presidents are no different with one exception -- none of them arrived as immigrants.  But their ancestors did, so let's see if we can find their ancestors' arrivals.  We will focus on their direct paternal ancestors.


Keep in mind that prior to 1820 there was no requirement that ships present a passenger manifest to US officials when entering the country.  So don't bother looking for the manifest of your ancestors who came over on the Mayflower.   Manifests for the port of New York (the major port for immigrant arrivals) have been microfilmed and indexed up to 1957, making it possible to search by name for anyone arriving between 1820 and 1957.  We'll need to keep those two years in mind when deciding whether or not to do a search.


As an example, Ronald Reagan was born in 1911 in Illinois.  His father, John Edward Reagan, was born in 1883, also in Illinois.  So his father was born in the US and we won't find an immigrant arrival record for him.  But his paternal grandfather, John Michael Reagan, was born in 1854 in England.  That means that John Michael had to come as an immigrant from England to the US sometime between 1854 and 1883.  Since those dates are between 1820 and 1957, there should be an arrival manifest for John.


The chart in Figures 1 and 2 lists every president and traces their paternal lines until the immigrant ancestor is found.  In some cases it goes before 1820, in which case we stop tracing the line because there is no manifest to be found.  Those rows end with a red cell.  In other cases, such as Reagan, there is a possibility that a manifest can be found, and those rows end with a green cell.


Both Ford and Clinton were adopted by their step-fathers, which means they each have two distinct paternal lines -- one for their biological paternal ancestors and the other for their adoptive paternal ancestors.  The chart shows both their biological lines and their adoptive  lines.


Figure 1: Paternal lines, Trump to T Roosevelt



Figure 2: Paternal lines, McKinley to Washington



We are left with only six presidents for whom we might find a paternal ancestor's manifests.  They are:


1. Donald Trump

2. Barack Obama

3. Ronald Reagan

4. John Kennedy

5. Woodrow Wilson

6. Chester Arthur


Let's look at each of them.


1. Trump



A search for first-name-starts-with: Fried, last-name-starts-with: Trump, born 1869, turns up the following record:




Arrived: October 19, 1885 aboard the Eider from Bremen

Name: Friedrich Trumpf, age 16, male, no occupation, citizen of Germany


2. Obama




Barack Jr. (the president) was born in 1961 and his father Barack Sr. was born in Kenya in 1936.  That means that his father must have immigrated to the US sometime between 1936 and 1961.  If he came after 1957, we won't be able to search for him because the name indexes don't go beyond 1957.


Wikipedia for Barack Sr. states: "Due to his accomplishments, in 1959 Obama (Sr.) received a scholarship.  The program offered education in the west to outstanding Kenyan students."


That means that he came in 1959 (or later) and he won't be in the name index.  Searching for him would be futile.


3. Reagan



As already mentioned, John Michael Reagan, b 1854 was the ancestor that immigrated.  Searching for such gives the following:



Arrived: October 4, 1871 aboard the Emerald Isle from Liverpool

Name: John Reagan, age 17, male, occupation labourer, citizen of Ireland


4. Kennedy



Patrick Joseph Kennedy Sr. (b 1824) was JFK's paternal immigrant ancestor.  But finding him is not that simple.  From (which in turn quoted from The Patriarchs by David Nasaw): "Sometime in 1848 or 1849 ... Patrick emigrated from Dunganstown in County Wexford Ireland.  There are several young Patricks, Pats, and P. Kennedys in the passenger list of ships arriving in Boston in the late 1840s from Liverpool or New Ross ... cannot be sure which was this Patrick."


The problem is that the early ship manifests contain very little information about the passenger, making it difficult to know if it is the right person.


5. Wilson



The paternal immigrant ancestor is James Wilson, b 1787.  His son, Joseph, was born 1822.  So James could have immigrated anytime between 1787 and 1822.  The chances that he immigrated after 1820 are slight.  An article in the March 2014 issue of NGS Quarterly states that there are conflicting dates for the immigration from different sources, but each date cited is well before 1820.  So there is no manifest for James Wilson's arrival.


6. Arthur



Chester's father William could have arrived any time between 1796 and 1829.  Unless he arrived between 1820 and 1829, we won't find him.  But to make matters worse, reports for William MacArthur "Father of US president Chester Arthur.  Born in Ireland, he emigrated to Canada as a young man."  Canadian records start way after 1829, so there is no manifest for William MacArthur.


Let's look at our scorecard for the six possible immigration manifests


1. Donald Trump -- great great grandfather Friedrich found

2. Barack Obama -- father Barack came after 1957, too late

3. Ronald Reagan -- grandfather John found

4. John Kennedy -- great grandfather Patrick not found

5. Woodrow Wilson -- grandfather James came before 1820, too early

6. Chester Arthur -- father William, Canadian entry, too early


2 found

1 not found

3 rejected





Every person entering the US since 1820 appears on a manifest.  Even Neil Armstrong's 1969 return from the moon is listed on a manifest (see Figure 3).



Figure 3: Manifest for Neil Armstrong's 1969 return from the moon


US presidents are no exception when they return from abroad, regardless of whether the trip was for business or pleasure. Sitting presidents, however, travel on Air Force 1, Coast Guard 1, or equivalent, and those manifests are hard to obtain.  There have been attempts to obtain them under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) but they have been unsuccessful.  What we can find are the manifests for presidential arrivals either before or after their terms in office.


For each president I will search by name and year of birth unless I specify otherwise.  The name will consist of the last name, full first name (no nicknames), and no middle name.  For the year of birth I will specify his known year of birth plus or minus 1.  Recall that the manifests contain the age and not the year of birth, so any birth-year computed from the age could be off by one year.


Notice that for some presidents I will report that no manifests were found.  That doesn't mean that no manifests exist, but rather that I was unable to find any.  Also I don't claim that the manifests that I present for each president are the only ones, but rather they are the only ones that I was able to find.  I anticipate that others might be able to find manifests that I couldn't locate.



1. Washington to Van Buren


George Washington, b 1732, d 1799, term 1789-1797


George died before 1820 so he couldn't have been on a manifest.  All other presidents died after 1820


John Adams, b 1735, d 1826, term 1797-1801

Thomas Jefferson, b 1743, d 1826, term 1801-1809

James Madison, b 1751, d 1836, term 1809-1817

James Monroe, b 1758, d 1831, term 1817-1825

John Quincy Adams, b 1767, d 1848, term 1825-1829

Andrew Jackson, b 1767, d 1845, term 1829-1837

Martin Van Buren, b 1782, d 1862, term 1837-1841


The above could have been on manifests, but I was unable to find manifests for any of them.



2. Harrison: The first manifest found


William Henry Harrison, b 1773, d 1841, term 1841-1841


When I searched for William Harrison, born 1773 ± 1, I found no records.  But when I changed the birth year to 1773 ± 2, I found a record.


This illustrates the importance of not expecting exact matches on birth years.  If you don't get a match with the year range you specified, try casting a wider net.  It doesn't matter if you know for certain that Harrison was born in 1773 -- the information in the record could be wrong.


The record indicates:


William Harrison, arrived June 28, 1831 on the ship Meridian from Liverpool.

Age: 60 (should be 58), male

Occupation: farmer (unusual occupation for a president)

Country to which they severally belong: Great Britain (not acceptable for a president)

Country to which they intend to become inhabitants: Ohio (really?)


Doesn't look good -- wrong age, wrong occupation, wrong nationality


Let's look at the age:



That could be a 60, as they transcribed it.  But the first digit could also be a five if you look at it very carefully.  And the second digit doesn't come up as high as the first one, implying that there might be an upper loop on that digit making it an eight instead of a zero.  So the age could be 58, which is indeed how old Harrison would have been.


Let's look at the family members



Harrison did have a son, William Jr., who would have been 28 in 1831.  So that checks out.  He also had a daughter Elizabeth, but she would have been 35 and not 25.  And his wife's name was Anna and not Judy and she would have been 56 and not 60.  Things are starting to look better but there are still problems.


Let's look at the occupation of "farmer" and the destination of "Ohio."  From wikipedia we learn "in 1929 he (Harrison) settled on his farm in North Bend, Ohio."  So farmer and Ohio make sense.


Discrepancies in ages could be errors on the manifest.  In spite of those errors, I'm inclined to believe that this is the right William Harrison.  But who is Judy???



3. Tyler to Taylor


John Tyler, b 1790, d 1862, 1841-1845

James Knox Polk, b 1795, d 1849, 1845-1849

Zachary Taylor, b 1784, d 1850, 1849-1850


No manifests found.



4. Fillmore


Millard Fillmore, b 1800, d 1874, term 1850-1853


Found the following manifest:


Hon Millward Fillmore, arrived: June 23, 1856, on the ship Atlantic from Liverpool

Age: 56, male, Occupation: Gentleman

Country to which they severally belong: United States

Country in which they intend to become inhabitants : US










I'm pretty sure this is the right Millard Fillmore.


Note that the name was transcribed as Millward (and even appears as such on the manifest).  But fortunately "Millard" was entered as an alternative by a user of the database, so the record was found when searching for Millard.  Had a user not made that correction, my search would not have found this record.



5. Pierce


Franklin Pierce, b 1804, d 1869, term 1853-1857


No manifests found.



6. Buchanan


James Buchanan, b 1791, d 1868, term 1857-1861


Found the following manifest:


James Buchanan, arrived: April 23, 1856 on the ship Arago from England and France

Age: 65 yrs 6 mos, male, Occupation: … to England

Country to which they severally belong: United States

Country in which they intend to become inhabitants : United States




Wikipedia states " From 1853 to 1856, during the presidency of Franklin Pierce, Buchanan served as the United States Ambassador to the United Kingdom."


This is the right James Buchanan.



7. Lincoln to McKinley


Abraham Lincoln, b 1809, d 1865, term 1861-1865

Andrew Johnson, b 1808, d 1875, term 1865-1869

Hiram Ulysses Grant, b 1822, d 1885, term 1869-1877

Rutherford Birchard Hayes, b 1822, d 1893, term 1877-1881

James Abram Garfield, b 1831, d 1881, term 1881-1881

Chester Arthur, b 1829, d 1886, term 1881-1885

Stephen Grover Cleveland, b 1837, d 1908, term 1885-1889 and 1893-1897

Benjamin Harrison, b 1833, d 1901, term 1889-1893

William McKinley Jr, b 1843, d 1909, term 1897-1901


No manifests found.



8. T Roosevelt


Theodore Roosevelt Jr, b 1858, d 1919, term 1901-1909


Found four manifests for Theodore Roosevelt and one for Mrs. Theodore Roosevelt


June 1910 arrival


P(resident) Theodore Roosevelt

Arrived: June 18, 1910 on the ship Kaiserin Augusta Victoria from Cherbourg

Age: 51 yrs 4 mos, male, married

Occupation: Special Ambassador, able to read and write, American Citizen

Final Destination: Oyster Bay, NY



From wikipedia: "In March 1909 Roosevelt left for a safari in east and central Africa.  … Roosevelt returned to the United States in June 1910."  That confirms that this manifest is for the right Theodore Roosevelt.


May 1914 arrival


Theodore Roosevelt, arrived: May 20, 1914 on the ship Aiden from Paraguay, Brazil

Age: 58, male, married

Born 1856 in New York, address in US: Oyster Bay, NY



Now Oyster Bay is the smoking gun that tells us that this is for the right Theodore Roosevelt.


June 1914 arrival


Theodore Roosevelt, arrived: June 25, 1914 on the ship Imperator from Southampton

Age: 55, male, married

Travelling with Theodore Roosevelt Jr, age 22

Address in US: Oyster Bay, NY




March 1916 arrival


Theodore Roosevelt

Arrived: March 25, 1916 on the ship Matura from Port of Spain (Trinidad)

Age: 58, male, married, travelling with: Edith Roosevelt age 54

Address in US: Oyster Bay, NY



May 1925 arrival (Mrs)


Mrs. Theodore Roosevelt, arrived: May 11, 1925 on the ship Conte Verda from Naples

Age: 64, female, widowed

Born: Norwich Connecticut, August 6, 1861

Address in US: Sagamore Hills, Oyster Bay, Long Island (NY)



From wikipedia: "Edith Kermit Carow(August 6, 1861 – September 30, 1948) was the second wife of President Theodore Roosevelt and served as first lady during his presidency."  So Edith's date of birth matches, confirming that this is for the right Mrs. Theodore Roosevelt.



9. Taft


William Howard Taft, b 1857, d 1930, term 1909-1913


Found the following manifest:


William H Taft, arrived: Jan 27, 1921 on the ship Fort Victoria from Hamilton Bermuda

Age: 63, male, married, born 1858 in New Haven, Conn (should be Cincinnati)

Travelling with: Helen H Taft age 59, born 1862 in Cincinnati, Ohio

Address in US: 70 Grove Street, New Haven, Conn






Helen is indeed Taft's wife and she was indeed born in Cincinnati in 1862.  So this record is correct.  But Taft himself was born in Cincinnati in 1857 and not New Haven in 1858.  Obviously Taft was not the person who supplied this information for the manifest.



10. Wilson


Thomas Woodrow Wilson, b 1856, d 1924, term 1913-1921


Found four manifests.


September 1896 arrival


Woodrow Wilson, arrived: September 8, 1896 on the ship: Anchora from Glasgow

Age: 36, male, Occupation: College Professor



That's the right occupation for Wilson in 1896, but his age is off by three years.  This manifest is probably for the right Woodrow Wilson but I can't say with absolute certainty.


October 15, 1906 arrival


Dr. Woodrow Wilson, arrived October 15, 1906 on the ship Caledonia from Glasgow

Age: 49, male, married, US citizen

Traveling with Mrs 46, Mgt 20, JW 19, Eleanor 16



Wilson indeed did have a daughter Margaret who would have been 20 at the time, a daughter Jessie who would have been 19, and a daughter Eleanor who would have been 16.  His wife, Ellen, would have been 46 at the time.


Also Wilson had a PhD (he was the only US president to have a doctorate).


So all the details match and this is the right person.


September 1908 arrival


Wilson, Dr. Woodrow, arrived September 13, 1908 on the ship Caledonia from Glasgow

Age: 51, male, married, US citizen



Right age, right title, definitely the right person.


March 1910 arrival


Woodrow Wilson, arrived: Mar 7, 1910 on the ship Bermudian from Hamilton Bermuda

Age: 53, male, married, Occupation: doctor

Able to read and write, US citizen



It's comforting to know that Dr Wilson was able to read and write.  What's interesting is that his occupation is listed as "doctor."  A PhD would never list his occupation as such.  This information was probably filled in by somebody who knew that his name was Dr. Wilson and therefore assumed that he was a medical doctor.


December 1912 arrival


In addition to the four arrivals for Wilson listed above, I accidentally came across the following manifest when I did a search without specifying his full first name.  Instead I searched for first-name-starts-with Wood.


Woodrew Wilson, arrived: Dec 16, 1912 on the ship Bermudian from Hamilton Bermuda

Age: 54, male, married, born 1858 Staunton Virginia

Address in United States: Princeton NJ

Traveling with wife Eleanor, daughters Jessie and Eleanor



Wilson's wife's name was Ellen and not Eleanor (Eleanor was his daughter).  But this is close enough.


This illustrates an important point.  When doing searches, enter as little information as possible.  Even though you are sure of a specific detail, the detail could be wrong in the record.  And in that case your search will fail.  If you get too many hits, you can then repeat the search with more information.



11. Harding to Coolidge


Warren Gamaliel Harding, b 1865, d 1923, term 1921-1923

John Calvin Coolidge Jr, b 1872, d 1933, term 1923-1929


No manifests found.



12. Hoover


Hebert Clark Hoover, b 1874, d 1964, term 1929-1933


Found numerous manifests for him and I suspect all of them are for the correct person.  Here are the manifests I found:


May 10, 1905 from Southampton, ship: Kaiser Wilhelm II              

Jan 2, 1909 from Liverpool, ship: Lusitania              

Sep 21, 1909 from Southampton, ship: Kaiser Wilhelm II                

Mar 7, 1911 from Southampton, ship: Kronprinz Wilhelm               

Aug 24, 1912 from Liverpool, ship: Lusitania                       

Apr 18, 1913 from Liverpool, ship: Mauretania                    

Dec 12, 1913 from Liverpool, ship: Mauretania                    

Oct 9, 1914 from Liverpool, ship: Lusitania              

Oct 25, 1915 from Liverpool, ship: St Paul               

Jan 22, 1917 from Liverpool, ship: Philadelphia                   

Aug 23, 1918 from United Kingdom, ship: Mauretania                   

Mar 29, 1938 from Plymouth, England, ship: Normandie                

Jun 29, 1946 from Ottawa, aircraft: 74-51 US Army


Rather than showing all of them here, I'll show just the final one


June 1946 arrival


Herbert Hoover, arrived June 29, 1946 on US Army Aircraft from Ottawa

Age 72, US Citizen, b 1874 in Iowa




What's interesting is that this is the first manifest found for a president who arrived by plane instead of ship.  It doesn't mean that Hoover was the first president to fly in, but rather he was the lowest-numbered president (president number 31) to do so.  Shortly we will see that Kennedy (president number 35) arrived by plane in 1939, making him the first president to do so.



13. F. Roosevelt


Franklin Delano Roosevelt, b 1882, d 1945, term 1933-1945


Found three manifests.


September 1896 arrival


Roosevelt, Franklin, arrived Sep 11, 1896 on the ship Furst Bismarck from Hamburg

Age: 14, male, Occupation: child, US citizen

Traveling with father James 58, mother 54



September 1905 arrival


Franklin Roosevelt

Arrived: September 19, 1905 on the ship Kronprinz Wilhelm from Southampton

Age: 25, last address New York, traveling with Eleanor Roosevelt





May 1931 arrival


Franklin Roosevelt, arrived: May 27, 1931 on the ship Bremen from Cherbourg France

Age: 49, male, married, born Jan 30, 1882 in Hyde Park

Address in US: Albany, Traveling with son Elliot age 20






14. Truman


Harry S Truman, b 1884, d 1972, term 1945-1953


No manifests were found when searching with a birth year.  But when I tried searching without a birth year (hoping there wouldn't be too many Harry Trumans), I found the following manifest.


Truman, Harry, arrived Jul 3, 1956 on the ship United States from Southampton, 1st class

Passport 7605, born in MO, address: 219 N Delaware, Indendence MO

Traveling with Bess





15. Eisenhower


David Dwight Eisenhower, b 1890, d 1969, term 1953-1961


Found two manifests.


September 1924 arrival


Maj. Dwight D Eisenhower

Arrived: September 27, 1924 on the ship: Cristobal from Canal Zone

Age: 34, male, married, born Tyler Texas Oct 14, 1890

Traveling with Mamie (27) and John (2)



What was Eisenhower doing in the Canal Zone in 1924?  Here is a citation from the Eisenhower chronology at


January 1922–September 1924: Assigned as executive officer to General Fox Conner, Camp Gaillard, Panama Canal Zone. 


September 1929 arrival


Dwight D Eisenhower

Arrived: September 23, 1929 on the ship Leviathan from Cherbourg France

Age: 38, male, married, born Oct 14, 1890 Tyler Texas

Traveling with Mamie (32) and son John (6)



And the Eisenhower chronology tells us what Eisenhower was doing in France in 1929


July 1928-September 1929: In charge of guidebook revision and European office, Paris, France.


Since the name is not a common one, I tried searching with the name only (not the year of birth) and found one more record.  This record doesn't have his age, so a search using year of birth will not find this record.


November 1951 arrival


G/A Dwight D Eisenhower

Arrived: November 3, 1951 on the aircraft Constellation 48614 from Orly, France

Traveling with Mamie (53)




16. Kennedy


John Fitzgerald Kennedy, b 1917, d 1963, term 1961-1963


I searched for John Kennedy, b 1917 ± 0, obtained 26 hits (John Kennedy is a common name)

Eliminated wrong initial, wrong nationality

Eliminated ship General Alexander M Patch since this passenger is a seaman and not him

Manually eliminated a few others

Left with 6 manifests, all of them his.


October 1935 arrival


John Kennedy, arrived: October 24, 1935 on the ship Bremen from Cherbourg France

Age: 18, male, single, born May 29, 1917 in Brookline MA

Address in US: 294 Pondfield Rd, Bronxville, NY



That's Kennedy's birth date so this manifest is for the right person.


September 1938 arrival


John F. Kennedy, arrived September 8, 1938 on the ship Bremen from Southampton

Age: 21, male, single, born May 29, 1917 in New York City (should be Brookline)

Address in US: 30 Rockefeller Plaza, New York City



Again the birth date confirms that this is the right person.


September 1939 arrival


John F Kennedy

Arrived: September 21, 1939 on aircraft Pan Am Dixie Clipper from Foynes (Ireland)

Age: 22, male, single, address: 299 Pondfield Rd, Bronxville NY




There is no birth date to confirm this record, but there is an address on Pondfield Rd.  That same address was on a previous manifest, so this is the right person.


Kennedy was the first president to arrive by aircraft


July 1941 arrival


John Kennedy, arrived: July 1, 1941 on the ship Santa Lucia from Valparaiso, Chile

Age: 24, male, single, born May 27, 1917, Boston MA (should be May 29)

Address in US: Palm Beach, Florida



October 1947 arrival


John F. Kennedy

Arrived: October 16, 1947 on the ship Queen Elizabeth from Southampton

Age: 29, male, single, born May 29, 1917, passport 2866

Address in US: Hotel Bellevue, Boston



October 1948 arrival


John Kennedy

Arrived October 9, 1948 on the aircraft NC90922 from Bovingdon, England

Age: 31, male, passport 2866, born in Brookline Mass, Occupation: Congressman

Address in US: 122 Bowden St, Boston Mass



There is no smoking gun to confirm that this is the right person.  So I confirmed it by looking at regarding JFK -- they report that "122 Bowdoin St served as Kennedy's headquarters for his 1945 congressional run and remained his address for the rest of his life."  Note that Bowdoin became Bowden on the manifest.



17. Johnson


Lyndon Baines Johnson, b 1908, d 1973, term 1963-1969


No manifests found.



18. Nixon


Richard Milhous Nixon, b 1913, d 1994, term 1969-1974


Found two manifests.


May 1947 arrival


Nixon, Richard, arrived: May 6, 1947 on the aircraft: 21751 from Montreal

Age: 34, male, married, US citizen, born 1/9/1913 in Yorba Linda Cal

Address in US: 528 House Office Building, Wash




October 1947 arrival


Nixon, Richard M, arrived: October 9, 1947 on the ship Queen Mary from Southampton

Age: 34, male, married, US citizen, born 1/9/1913 Yorba Linda Cal

Address in US: 528 House Office Building, Washington DC



The next two manifests were found by searching for Richard Nixon with no date of birth


May 1951 arrival


Nixon, Richard, arrived May 21, 1951 on TWA flt 961 from London

address in US: 3??? G... Rd, Alexandria, Virginia, US Citizen

Special Passort 31761 California






We need to determine if this is the right Richard Nixon.


I used google to search for "Richard Nixon" Alexandria Virginia.  That led to a page at that said: "Nicknamed the “cradle of presidents,” Parkfairfax was home to Gerald Ford (resided there 1951-1955) and Richard Nixon (resided there 1943-1944 and 1947-1951) while both men served in Congress."


Next I used google to search for Nixon Parkfairfax.  That lead to which said: "Nixon lived in this townhouse, located at 3538 Gunston Road in Alexandria, Virginia, while serving as a US senator."


That matches the unreadable address, and now we know that this is the right person.


August 1956 arrival


Richard Nixon, arrived: August 28, 1956 on Lufthansa flt 402 from Hamburg

No other information given, impossible to tell if this is the correct Richard Nixon.







19. Ford


Gerald Rudolph Ford Jr, b 1913, d 2006, term 1974-1977


Searched for Gerald Ford, born 1913 and didn't find any.  Then I searched without the birth year and found 26.  Was able to rule out all but one.  The one remaining manifest is  as follows:


Gerald R Ford, arrived Aug 18, 1955 aboard KLM flt 631 from Amsterdam.



There was no other information on the manifest.  The middle initial is correct, but I am unable to determine if this is the right Gerald R Ford.



20. Carter


James Earl Carter Jr, b 1924, term 1977-1981


February 1954 arrival


James E Carter, arrived February 12, 1954 aboard the ship McGraw

Age 24, US citizen, member of crew (wiper)



It's unlikely that a president was a member of the crew, so this is probably the wrong record


March 1954 arrival


James E Carter, arrived March 18, 1954 aboard the ship McGraw

Age 24, US citizen, member of crew (wiper)



Same person as in previous record, so again it must be the wrong record.  But after careful scrutiny I realized that the cryptic numbers  on the right, ending in 1002 24 were the date of birth (10/02/24).  Indeed Jimmy Carter was born October 1, 1924.  That's close enough, and these two records are for the correct person.


Furthermore, from I found "The navy assigned Jimmy Carter to work on a submarine.  Carter was an electronics officer."


June 1948 arrival


James E Carter, arrived June 20, 1948 on the ship President Tyler from Cadiz Spain

Age 25, US citizen, member of crew (OS), 5'7", 145 pounds



President Carter's height and weight are 5'9", 160 pounds and his middle name is Earl.  And we already know that he worked as a crew member on ships.  So everything matches and this record is appears to be correct.


October 1947 arrival


James Carter Jr., arrived October 26, 1947 on the ship Jackson from Port Alfred Quebec

Age 23, US citizen, member of crew (cook), 5'8", 145 pounds, colored



Except for the "colored," everything looked good, including the Jr.  But we now have to reject this record based on the race.  And from the height and weight, this is obviously the same person as on the October 1948 arrival.  So we have to reject that one too.


But too many things do match for us to so flippantly reject it -- the middle initial, the Jr., the member of crew, the age, the height and weight.  So it is possible that the race entry on the manifest was in error.  After all, "colored" was not written on Carter's line but rather on the line above his, and he had a ditto mark in the race column.  Based on this argument, the above two arrivals are most likely for the right Jimmy Carter.



21 Reagan


Ronald Wilson Reagan, b 1911, d 2004, term 1981-1989


No manifests found.



22. Bush


George Herbert Walker Bush, b 1924, term 1989-1993


Found the following manifest:


George H Bush

Arrived March 27, 1937 on the ship Queen of Bermuda from Hamilton Bermuda

Age: 12, male, single, b 1925 in Milton Mass

Traveling with Prescott & Dorothy, US address Grove Lane, Greenwich Conn



This manifest has the correct parents (Prescott and Dorothy) and the right birthplace (Milton Mass).  The birth year is off by one (the president was born in 1924, not 1925) but we can ignore that slight error.



23 Clinton to Trump


William Jefferson Clinton, b 1946, term 1993-2001

George Walker Bush Jr, b 1946, term 2000-2009

Donald John Trump, b 1946, term 2017-


No manifests found.


Barack Hussein Obama Jr, b 1961, term 2009-2017


Obama was born after 1957, so he's too young to be found on a manifest.





Every ten years, starting with 1790, the census takers go out in force and collect data on every person living in the United States.  And that includes sitting presidents as well as former presidents.  Unlike manifest records, the census records for sitting presidents are public information and can be found by doing the same sort of census searches that are used to find ordinary residents.


But before we begin our search for presidential census records, we need to know which census years to look at for each president.  The charts in Figures 4 through 6 show which census years are spanned by the life of each president.  A checkmark indicates that a president was alive in a particular census year.  And if the president was the sitting president in that year, the checkmark is enclosed in a box.


Note that the charts end with 1940.  That's because the censuses post 1940 are still sealed, and will remain sealed until 72 years has passed from the time the particular census was taken.  So Clinton, Bush-43, Obama, and Trump are all too young to appear in any unsealed census.  Three of them will first appear in the 1950 census, but Obama will have to wait for the 1970 census (to be  unsealed in 2042).


Figure 4: President timelines, Trump to Hoover


Figure 5: President timelines, Coolidge to Buchanan




Figure 6: President timelines, Pierce to Washington


I initially thought I would search for each record but then discovered that the folks at NARA had already done this work.  And the census records that they found are shown on their site at  It's interesting to note that they actually have more records than I would have been able to find if I had done the work myself.  In particular, they have the Washington DC census page for sitting president James Buchanan in the 1860 census.  When I tried to find that same page using a popular commercial website (, I arrived at an index page that said "No image available."  I don't know why the commercial website has a problem finding that particular image.  The NARA researchers obviously didn't use the commercial website and there was no reason for them to do so -- they have the source material from which all the other websites generated their online digital images.


Just because a president was alive in a census year doesn't mean that his census record is findable.  I noticed that the NARA website is missing some of the presidents in some of the census years.  And I tried doing my own search for a few of the missing ones, and was unable to find any of them.  The records that they were able to find are shown in green on my charts.  The missing ones are mainly in the earlier years.  Note that the 1790 census record for George Washington is missing, and that's unfortunate because it was the only census that he could have been in (he died in 1799).  With the exception of Rutherford Hayes, no president was found in the 1890 census -- the bulk of that census was destroyed as a result of a fire in 1921.  And the document found for Hayes was not in the Population Schedule (the "normal" census pages) but rather in the Veterans Schedule.


Note that some boxes in my charts have two checkmarks.  The indicates that the president was enumerated twice that year.  No person is supposed to be counted more than once because that will affect the accuracy of the total count.  If a person has two residences, he is supposed to be enumerated at only one of them.  But mistakes did happen and some people (presidents among them) were over-counted.





It would be too time consuming (and too uninteresting) to look at the responses of each president in each census year.  So instead I'll focus just on the sitting presidents.  Here is a synopsis of some of the more interesting responses from the commanders-in-chief.


·         All were able to read and write, and all could speak English


It's certainly comforting to know that.


·         1940 Roosevelt was employed for pay, had an income of over $50,000, and worked all 52 weeks in the preceding year.


·         1940 Roosevelt lived in the "same house" in 1935.


This question was asked so the census bureau could get a handle on the migratory patterns of Americans during the great depression.  If a person lived in the same residence in 1935 and 1940, the response would be "same house."  In this case the answer takes on an added meaning since "house" refers to White House.


·         1930 Hoover lived on "White House" street and no house number.


The left margin is supposed to contain the name of the street (Pennsylvania Ave.) and the first column the house number (1600).  But when the census taker came to Hoover's residence, he decided that this was not 1600 Pennsylvania but rather was the White House, and he entered it as such.


·         1930 Hoover household had a page to themselves.


 The census taker is supposed to keep adding people to a census page until the page is filled up.  He wasn't supposed to start a new page when he came to a new household, even if it means splitting a family over two pages.  But the 1930 census taker apparently felt that the residents at the White House were too important to be mingled with other households.  None of the other census takers in the other census years gave the president this special treatment.


·         1930 Hoover had a radio.


We can speculate that he used it to follow the stock market crash during the great depression.


·         1930 Hoover and 1920 Wilson listed their occupation as president and industry as United States.


That's certainly an odd response for industry, but let's think about it.  The census taker probably didn't ask formal questions like "what is your occupation" and "what is your industry" because that might confuse some people.  So instead he probably said something like "what do you do and where do you do it."  Now the response makes more sense.


·         1930 Hoover didn't know if he "owned" or "rented" the White House.


The question was whether you owned or rented your residence and the expected answers are O or R.  For Hoover, the response was UNK.


·         1920 Wilson and 1910 Taft thought they "rented" the White House.


·         1900 McKinley punted on the owned/rented questions and answered with "Presidential Mansion."


·         1900 McKinley, 1880 Hayes, and 1860 Buchanan were enumerated twice.


Each was enumerated once in Washington DC and once at their residence in their home state.


·         1900 McKinley, when enumerated in DC his occupation was "lawyer" and when enumerated in Ohio his occupation was "President of  United States."


If you are going to be enumerated twice, you should at least give consistent answers.


·         1900 McKinley, when enumerated in DC his wife never had any children and when enumerated in Ohio she had two children who were deceased.  The Ohio response was the correct one.


·         1860 Buchanan, when enumerated in DC his age was 67 and when enumerated in Pennsylvania his age was 68.  The correct answer was 69.


·         1880 Hayes was not sick or maimed.


·         1880 Hayes, 1870 Grant, 1860 Buchanan, and 1850 Taylor were not deaf, dumb, blind, insane, or idiotic.


Yes, they really were asked those questions.


·         1860 Buchanan and 1850 Taylor were not paupers or convicts.

·         1840 Van Buren, 1830 Jackson, 1820 Monroe, and 1800 Adams supplied no information other than numbers of people in various age groups in their households, because that's all that was asked in those census years.  Adams did add the fact that he was the president.


·         1810 Madison and 1790 Washington: no census records were found.


So why was Washington missing in the 1790 census -- the only census that he could have been in?  After all, it was Washington who presided as president when the census act was passed in March 1790.  There are several George Washington's in that first census, but with the limited information given it's hard to know if any of them are the right person.  The one piece of information that is given is the city and state of residence.  So we need to know exactly where Washington was living on census day, August 2, in 1790.  We know that he wasn't living in the White House because that wasn't ready for occupancy until November 1800, just in time for the second president.  In fact, Washington was the only president who didn't live in the White House.  When Washington became president, he took up residence in Philadelphia, the nation's temporary capital.  But he didn't move to Philadelphia until November 27, 1790, which was almost four months after census day.  Prior to that he was probably still living in his family residence in Mount Vernon Virginia.  But, unfortunately, the original census returns for Virginia in 1790 were destroyed when the British occupied Washington DC in 1814.


Similarly, the original 1810 census records for the District of Columbia were lost or destroyed over the years.  That explains why we are unable to find James Madison in the 1810 census.





Presidents are no different than ordinary people in that they are listed on ship or flight manifests and they are enumerated in the census.  Finding presidents in these documents is a good exercise for finding our ancestors -- they both utilize the same techniques.  These presidential searches can give us ideas of things to try when searching for our ancestors.


Of course I'd be remiss if I didn't tell you which websites I used to do the presidential searches.  For the most part I used the search tools on my own One-Step website,  Many of my tools fetch data from other sites (ancestry, com,, etc.), but do so in more versatile ways than the search tools provided by those websites.