By Eugene Smith
The universities of Oxford and Cambridge may have between them educated countless kings, presidents and Prime Ministers, but it is drizzly Durham that can claim a connection to the potential future leader of the free world, with the revelation that presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s paternal great-grandfather hailed from a County Durham mining village not so far from the university campus.
Jack Hair, a local historian in the north-east of England, first unearthed the connection during the early years of Bill Clinton’s presidency, following his son’s comment that “there’s a girl in my class who looks identical to Hillary Clinton.”
His interest piqued, Mr Hair set about investigating any ancestral connection of the then-First Lady with the area. To his great excitement, he discovered that in 1879, the County Durham countryside was home to a miner named Jonathan Rodham.
Jonathan Rodham, Mr Hair found, emigrated to America three years later, taking his wife and six children with him. Mr Rodham and family eventually wound up in Scranton, Pennsylvania – which, inconsequentially enough, happens to also be the home of the Emmy-winning U.S. version of workplace mockumentary The Office.
One of the six children that made the transatlantic voyage with the ex-Durhamite was Hugh Rodham. Hugh had a son in 1911, naming him after himself.
It was thirty-six years later, in Chicago, 1947, that Hugh Rodham Jnr and his Welsh-born partner Hannah Jones gave birth to a daughter, and named her Hillary.
Wind the clocks forward close to seventy years, and this great-granddaughter of a pit overman from the North East of England, replete with the surname of the 42nd President of the United States of America, is competing for the highest office in the country.
The former Secretary of State has spoken openly and proudly about her British heritage, referring to her status as a “third generation” immigrant in a speech in Iowa last April.
Her Republican rival Donald Trump, meanwhile, has German ancestry on his father’s side and Scottish connections on his mother’s. Given his fiery rhetoric regarding immigrants from south of the border, it is perhaps understandable that Mr Trump has not shared Mrs Clinton’s enthusiasm to outspokenly explore his heritage.
Photograph: Gage Skidmore