The Kennedy Family Tree Explained

The Kennedys are probably the closest thing to a royal family the United States has. A family filled with drive, determination, and grand political movers and shakers, the Kennedy family seems to be this elite and untouchable force that has produced several prominent figures in U.S. history, including the 35th president of the United States, John F. Kennedy. The Kennedy name didn't just serve in the Oval Office though; for generations, several Kennedys have served as senators, lawyers, and even ambassadors to other countries. Seeing all the political success of one family, you have to ask: What the heck was in the water at the Kennedy Compound? 

Jokes aside, it's clear that the Kennedy family tree is filled with ambitious individuals who aimed to serve their country and earn their lines in U.S. history books. But where did the Kennedy family tree roots sprout from, anyway? And how did those roots grow into the political dynasty known today? Here is the Kennedy family tree explained. 

Both Kennedy's maternal and paternal roots can be traced back to Ireland

John F. Kennedy was the first Irish-Catholic president of the United States, but just how Irish are his roots? In one word: very. According to The John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, both JFK's paternal and maternal ancestors can be traced back to Ireland. His maternal ancestors, the Fitzgerald family, were from western Ireland; specifically, from the County Limerick village of Bruff. Some of the Fitzgeralds emigrated to America between the mid-1840s and mid-1850s to escape Ireland's Great Famine. JFK's maternal grandfather, John Francis Fitzgerald, was born in Boston in 1863. 

The Kennedy family, JFK's paternal ancestors, also hailed from Ireland. The Presidential Library and Museums says Patrick Kennedy, from Dunganstown in County Wexford, immigrated to the United States around the same time the Fitzgeralds did. ABC News reports that Patrick left Ireland to escape trying times and build a life in America. It's believed that Patrick's future wife, Bridget Murphy, followed him to America from Ireland; the two married in Boston in 1849. Their youngest son (and JFK's eventual grandfather), Patrick J. Kennedy, was born in 1858. 

Both of JFK's grandfathers were successful Boston politicians

You could say members of the Kennedy family were pretty much destined to be in politics, given their family's rich political history. Both the maternal and paternal grandfathers of the Kennedy family came from working-class Irish families and became successful Boston politicians (via The John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum.) As the Boston Globe reports, Patrick J. "P.J." Kennedy got his start as a bartender and saloon owner in Beantown, beginning his endeavors into business and saloons. Kennedy got into politics in the early 1880s, earning quite the reputation as a Democratic leader. According to the National Park Service, he was elected to the Massachusetts House of Representatives in the mid-1880s and later served in the Massachusetts Senate until 1895. 

On the maternal side of the family, John Francis "Honey Fitz" Fitzgerald had an impressive political run. According to PBS, he grew up in the North End of Boston and was elected to the Massachusetts State Senate in 1892 and the U.S. House of Representatives in 1895. After his run in the House of Representatives, he served as mayor of Boston from 1906 to 1908 and again from 1910 to 1914 (via the National Park Service.)

Joseph P. Kennedy Sr. was an ambassador to Great Britain

The Kennedy political dynasty continued on with Joseph P. Kennedy Sr., born to P.J. Kennedy and Mary Hickey in September 1888 (via John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum). Kennedy grew up in East Boston and graduated from Harvard in 1912, after which he went into finance, a move that catapulted him into an ambitious business career. According to Britannica, he was president of a bank by age 25 (and the youngest in the country at that time, as per the JFK Library) and, by 30, a millionaire. He made a plethora of connections in the banking business, and eventually he explored other business avenues, including shipbuilding and the film industry. His business ventures made him handsomely wealthy; he also made significant contributions to the Democratic Party. 

According to the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Kennedy stepped back from business in the early 1930s to focus on politics. He backed (and made financial contributions to) Franklin D. Roosevelt's 1933 presidential campaign, and he eventually became chair of the Securities and Exchange Commission in 1934. He then became the first Chairman of the U.S. Maritime Commission in 1936, and after that gig, became the ambassador to the United Kingdom in 1937, a role he held until 1940.

Joseph P. Kennedy Sr. and Rose Fitzgerald had a whopping nine children

Joseph P. Kennedy Sr. and Rose Fitzgerald, the daughter of John Francis Fitzgerald, married in 1914 and had their first child by 1915. According to People, Joseph Kennedy Jr. was born on July 25, 1915. Here's who followed: future president of the United States, John F. Kennedy, on May 29, 1917; Rosemary Kennedy, born September 13, 1918; Kathleen Kennedy, born February 20, 1920; Eunice Kennedy, born July 10, 1921; Patricia Kennedy, born May 6, 1924; Robert Kennedy, born November 20, 1925; Jean Kennedy, born February 20, 1928; and Edward "Ted" Kennedy, born February 22, 1932.  

The Kennedys enjoyed a very comfortable life, given Joseph P. Kennedy Sr.'s fortune and business dealings. According to the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, the family enjoyed summers in Hyannis Port on Cape Cod, engaging in activities like sailing and swimming. They also participated in friendly familial competition with one another, which is fitting since Joseph Sr. had high expectations for his kids, especially the boys, and encouraged competition among them.

JFK's older brother was killed in action during World War II

Nearly two decades before JFK's fateful ride in Dallas, his family mourned the loss of their brother and son, Joseph Patrick Kennedy, Jr. According to the National Park Service, Joseph P. Kennedy Sr. and Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy had high hopes for their eldest child. It's even reported that his grandfather, John Fitzgerald, claimed he would be the first Catholic president of the United States. Looking at Joe Jr.'s life and legacy, it's pretty clear he had big goals for himself, too. He graduated from Harvard, his father's alma mater, in 1938 (via the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum.) He was attending Harvard Law when he joined the Navy and became a naval pilot in 1942. 

According to the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Joe Jr. was sent to Britain in September 1943 and did multiple tours. Ever an impressive and dedicated pilot, Joe Jr. volunteered for a secret bombing campaign dubbed Operation Aphrodite. He and his co-pilot, Lt. Wilford John Willy, departed for their mission on August 12, 1944. However, something went terribly wrong; the explosives on the plane detonated early, resulting in an explosion that killed both Willy and Joe Jr. instantly. Joe Jr. was 29 at the time of his death. As the National Park Service reports, he was awarded the Air Medal and Navy Cross after his death, and the Navy named a destroyer after him in December 1946. 

JFK's younger sister, Rosemary, was lobotomized

Yes, you read that right. A member of the Kennedy family was actually lobotomized. Rosemary Kennedy, the third eldest of the Kennedy brood and the oldest girl, entered the world rather traumatically. According to Marie Claire, Rosemary's head was held in place in the birth canal for two hours to delay her birth until the doctor could arrive — a tactic that can deprive a child's brain of oxygen. The doctor eventually arrived, and as such, Rosemary was born on September 13, 1918. 

Rosemary grew up differently than her siblings did. According to the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Rosemary had learning difficulties from a young age and was slower to reach key milestones compared to her older brothers. People reports that, as she grew older, Rosemary started to have tantrums that would sometimes get violent. She was also reportedly a flirtatious and outgoing woman, which concerned Joe Kennedy Sr., who was trying to keep up appearances. 

According to People, Joe Sr. authorized a lobotomy for Rosemary in November 1941 in hopes it would help curb her behavior. The result? Rosemary was left permanently disabled and unable to care for herself at age 23. She was institutionalized for years afterwards (and largely forgotten by her father and siblings) and was eventually transferred to St. Coletta's School for Exceptional Children in Wisconsin, where she lived until her passing in 2005 at age 86. 

Two more of JFK's siblings died unexpectedly

Two of JFK's other siblings died unexpectedly as well (feeding into what some call "The Kennedy Curse.") Kathleen "Kick" Kennedy, the fourth child of Joe Kennedy Sr. and Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy, was "the star of the family" and made quite an impression when presented across the pond in 1938 (via People.) It was on that trip to England that she would meet her future husband, Billy Cavendish, Lord Hartington, who she married in May 1944. Tragedy struck in September 1944, when, according to the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Lord Hartington, a member of the British army, was killed in combat. Nearly four years later, in May 1948, Kathleen was killed in a plane crash in France, along with Earl Peter Wentworth Fitzwilliam who, according to People, she was romantically involved with. She was just 28 years old. 

And then, of course, there's the untimely death of JFK's younger brother, Robert Kennedy. Robert served as attorney general during JFK's presidency, and according to Britannica, was elected as a senator from New York in 1964. He built up his political reputation in the Democratic Party and in 1968, he announced he was running for president. But alas, the world would not see another Kennedy as commander in chief. On June 5, 1968, Robert Kennedy was assassinated after making a speech at the Ambassador Hotel in L.A. — a chilling echo of JFK's assassination just five years earlier. 

JFK had four children in total, but only two reached adulthood

Before John F. Kennedy could become president, he had to find himself a future first lady — and found one in Jacqueline Bouvier. Kennedy and Bouvier wed in September 1953, a move that, according to Britannica, definitely made him a more attractive choice among voters. Jackie came from a well-known family, making her an ideal partner for a man looking to make his mark in politics. 

JFK and Jackie had a total of four children during their marriage, but only two made it past infancy. HuffPost reports that Jackie gave birth in August 1956, but tragically, the baby was stillborn. Their daughter Caroline was born in November 1957, and their son, John F. Kennedy, Jr., was born three years later in November 1960. In August 1963, Jackie gave birth to a son, Patrick, who arrived five-and-a-half weeks early. The Washington Post reports that Patrick was born with hyaline membrane disease, a condition that had him fighting for his short life. Less than two days after he entered the world, Patrick passed away. 

Caroline and John F. Kennedy Jr. made it to adulthood. Unfortunately, tragedy would strike yet again for the family on July 16, 1999, when John Jr., his wife Carolyn Bessette Kennedy, and his sister-in-law Lauren Bessette were killed in a plane crash — John Jr. was operating the single-engine plane when it crashed into the sea near Martha's Vineyard (via History). 

Robert Kennedy had 11 children — and the youngest was born six months after his assassination

Robert Kennedy married Ethel Skakel in June 1950, as per the JFK Presidential Library and Museum. Together, they had a total of 11 Kennedy children — Kathleen, born in 1951; Joseph II, born in 1952; Robert Jr., born in 1954; David, born in 1955; Courtney, born in 1956; Michael, born in 1958; Kerry, born in 1959; Christopher, born in 1963; Max, born in 1965; Douglas, born in 1967; and Rory, born in 1968.

Rory never met her father, as she was born six months after Bobby's assassination. In an interview with The Guardian, Rory said there was definitely sadness growing up without her father, but the family overall had a deep gratitude for life. "There wasn't a lot of tolerance for feeling like a victim, or feeling sorry for yourself," she told The Guardian. 

Bobby Kennedy's kids grew into adulthood, and according to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, all but two of his children have earned college degrees, and five of them went to law school. Two of his children have passed; David died in 1984 of a drug overdose, and Michael died in 1997 in a ski accident.  

The Kennedy-Schwarzenegger connection

Turns out, JFK and The Terminator were once related by marriage. According to Britannica, Maria Shriver, daughter of Eunice Kennedy and Robert Shriver, married future California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger in 1986 — which, at the time, technically made Schwarzenegger JFK's nephew by marriage. As Parade details, the couple had four children together; Katherine (who's now married to actor Chris Pratt), born in 1989; Christina, born in 1991; Patrick, born in 1993; and Christopher, born in 1997. 

The couple was married for 25 years and survived Schwarzenegger's two terms as California governor when a bombshell secret changed everything for good. According to Rolling Stone, news broke in 2011 that Schwarzenegger had fathered a child with a member of the household staff. The child was born around the same time as Schwarzenegger and Shriver's youngest child, Christopher. Shriver filed for divorce in 2011, and Rolling Stone reports that their decade-long divorce was finalized in 2021. 

The younger Kennedys: Socialites, journalists, and lawyers

Politics run deep in the Kennedy blood, so members of the younger generation of Kennedys have to be involved in politics in some shape or form, right? Well, not exactly. According to Insider, the younger members of the Kennedy brood are an impressive mix of socialites, journalists, actors and models, writers, and lawyers. Notably missing from that list: politicians. 

It's no secret that the Kennedy political dynasty has certainly shrank over the years. As New York Magazine reports, Joseph Kennedy III (RFK's grandson), who is arguably the most influential Kennedy in politics of his generation, lost the Massachusetts Senate primary to incumbent Ed Markey in September 2020 — a surprising outcome, given the Kennedy family's winning political track record in the Bay State. Before that run, Kennedy represented Massachusetts' 4th congressional district in the House of Representatives — he started in 2013 and his run ended in 2021. 

John Schlossberg: The next Kennedy politician?

Alas, there may be a breath of fresh air in the Kennedy political dynasty. A Kennedy who's made headlines recently is 29-year-old Jack Schlossberg, the youngest child of Caroline Kennedy and JFK's only grandson. Striking an uncanny resemblance to his uncle, the late John F. Kennedy Jr., he's made headlines for recently graduating from Harvard Law and Harvard Business School. According to People, he was also once a Senate page and intern for John Kerry. Esquire also says he's penned pieces for some big publications too, including The New York Times and The Washington Post. 

Schlossberg made an appearance at the 2020 Democratic National Convention, a very public outing as a representative of the family. So, was that a nod to Schlossberg's potential future in politics? People reports that he's still determining his career path, but he's hinted at entering the world of politics — but nothing's really set in stone.