Louise Mohler of Hermosa Beach said she started her genealogy investigation a few weeks ago when she discovered the Democratic presidential
Louise Mohler of Hermosa Beach said she started her genealogy investigation a few weeks ago when she discovered the Democratic presidential candidate's mother's last name was Dunham. "It turns out that I had a lot of Dunams," Mohler said of the link with Barack Obama. (Sean Hiller/Staff Photographer)

Louise Mohler has always voted Republican, but the 82-year-old Hermosa Beach woman suddenly has a lot to think about this November.

Her indecision isn't so much sparked by Sen. John McCain's call for reform or Sen. Barack Obama's promise of change.

Instead, it's just good old-fashioned nepotism.

A longtime genealogy enthusiast, Mohler has recently discovered that she is a distant cousin of Obama's, and now she's got to decide if blood is thicker than, uh, politics.

"I've always been a Republican, but I'm not sure what I'm supposed to do now," she said. "I think this guy would do a marvelous job."

Mohler started her investigation a few weeks ago when she heard the Democratic presidential nominee's mother's last name was Dunham.

Pointing to a list of people with the last name Dunham, Barack Obama’s mother’s maiden name, Louise Mohler explains the discovery that has made
Pointing to a list of people with the last name Dunham, Barack Obama's mother's maiden name, Louise Mohler explains the discovery that has made her an undecided voter in the presidential race. The longtime Republican voter's interest in genealogy led to the recent discovery that she is a distant cousin of the Democratic presidential candidate. (Sean Hiller/Staff Photographer)

"I've always done our family history, and it turns out that I had a lot of Dunhams," Mohler explained.

So, with the help of a friend, she was able to trace back her lineage on her father's side, the Martins, to Obama's Dunham relatives.

Mohler believes John Martin Jr., an ancestor who died in 1704, is the link that connects their family trees.

In 1706, Martin's daughter, Dorothy, apparently married Benajah Dunham - and the pair are Obama's great-great-

great-great-great-grandparents, Mohler determined.

The connection is vague for sure, Mohler acknowledged, but it's still a fun discovery.

"Can you imagine how many people in this country I'd be related to?" she asked, while sitting in a Strand-front apartment, where she's been living with her daughter since December.


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A retired teacher, Mohler started researching her ancestry decades ago after her aging father said he regretted never studying his genealogy.

"He said, `I never traced my family.' Well, I did," she said with a hearty laugh.

That inspiration ignited years of intensive research into both sides of Mohler's family, along with those of her husband's - and it's all detailed in nine self-published books.

"It makes you feel more of a person," she said. "You'd be surprised when you start looking through your family what you'd find."

Indeed, genealogists studying Obama's ancestry have found quite a few famous connections - making it doubtful that the Illinois senator might stop into Hermosa for a family reunion.

Obama counts heartthrob actor and humanitarian Brad Pitt as his ninth cousin, and President Bush (along with his father, naturally) and Vice President Dick Cheney are also apparently his distant cousins.

And don't forget past Presidents Ford, Lyndon Johnson, Madison and Truman.

Oh, yeah - then there's Robert E. Lee, Winston Churchill and Wild Bill Hickok, according to the New England Historical Genealogical Society, the oldest such group in the country.

Really, it should be little surprise that Obama has so many famous (and infamous) relatives - and not-so-famous ones in Hermosa Beach, said Tom Champoux, spokesman for the society.

Simple math illustrates that: Every person has two parents and four grandparents, and that doubles with every generation, he explained.

"If you go back 20 generations, you're looking at a million people," Champoux said.

And Americans further back in a family tree will have more and more links simply because the nascent country's smaller populations left less variety for mates, he added.

"When you go back like that, then you find a lot of people are related through a number of lines," Champoux said. "If someone has a presidential ancestor, it's very common to have 10 presidents in your line."

Since she began voting after college, Mohler has pretty much always chosen Republican presidential candidates - her favorite president was Ronald Reagan, who did just fine even with no experience in Washington, D.C., she quipped.

But Mohler's interest in Obama was piqued by the widely reported story that he went to work in the community after graduating law school instead of taking a lucrative job offer.

And now the sudden family tie just adds another layer to her dilemma.

Obama's "fresh approach" really impressed Mohler, she said: "Watching him talk, you can see he's brilliant."

And Mohler worried that Republican nominee McCain - 10 years her junior at age 72 - might be too old for the job.

"He's pretty far along," she said. "That's a lot of pressure."

Mohler will spend the next month or so mulling over her decision, but cautioned that whoever comes out on top this November will sure have his work cut out for him.

"Either one has a mess on their hands," Mohler said.

But Obama can definitely count on a vote from at least one Mohler come November.

Mohler's daughter, Nancy, a registered independent, has chosen Obama, but it's not because he suddenly became cousin Barack.

"Yeah, because we're so close," she deadpanned.

andrea.woodhouse@dailybreeze.com