A request by a grandson of Warren G. Harding to prove his lineage with “scientific certainty” by exhuming his grandfather’s body has been denied by a judge in Ohio.
James Blaesing, whose grandmother, Nan Britton, wrote a tell-all book in 1928 about her affair with the 29th president, had already had the relationship established with help from Ancestry.com and DNA samples from two Harding descendants.
But one faction of the Harding family that was dismissive of Mr. Blaesing had cast doubt on the Ancestry genealogy, ostensibly because it was a relatively new, though reliable, method. So Mr. Blaesing sought to go further to establish direct proof that President Harding was his grandfather.
As the threat of an exhumation loomed, however, the resistant members of the family wrote letters to the court accepting the Ancestry results, said Dr. Peter Martin Harding, whose father is one of the former president’s nephews. Dr. Harding is one of the relatives who provided DNA to confirm Mr. Blaesing’s lineage.
Judge Robert D. Fragale of Marion County Family Court in Ohio cited those letters as evidence of the family’s acceptance of Mr. Blaesing as “the grandson of Warren G. Harding and thereby their relative.” This removed the need to exhume the former president, he wrote in an order dated Nov. 3.
Judge Fragale cited comments from an Ancestry executive in a 2015 New York Times article in which the executive said of genetic testing: “The technology that we’re using is at a level of specificity that there’s no need to do more DNA testing. This is the definitive answer.”
In light of the family’s admittedly cool acceptance of Mr. Blaesing as their relative, disinterment “would serve no legitimate purpose,” Judge Fragale wrote, adding that the process lacked the support “of any surviving Harding family member” save Mr. Blaesing.
Dr. Harding, a 78-year-old former Navy psychiatrist who lives in Big Sur, Calif., said in a phone interview on Tuesday evening that he had encouraged Mr. Blaesing to file the suit requesting the exhumation because he wanted a court to formally acknowledge Mr. Blaesing as a member of the Harding family.
And the court did so, finding that “James E. Blaesing is the direct descendant and grandson of President Warren G. Harding.”
Mr. Blaesing’s mother, Elizabeth Ann Blaesing, died in 2005 and is President Harding’s only known child.
Dr. Harding said he could understand “the whole thing about proving it directly” — through a DNA test using samples from the former president’s body — “and how dramatic that is.”
The thought of exhuming President Harding’s body was so dramatic that a production company, Magilla Entertainment, had sought to document the disinterment — a process that would most likely have required lifting 9,400-pound granite slabs that cover the graves of President Harding and his wife, Florence, in Marion, Ohio.
Mr. Blaesing, 70, declined to comment on Tuesday evening through a lawyer, Natalie A. Harris, who said that Mr. Blaesing would not appeal the decision. Ms. Harris also represents Magilla Entertainment, which was not involved in the request to the court.
Dr. Harding had been supportive of Mr. Blaesing’s mission — he initiated contact with Mr. Blaesing, and the two had been friendly since a family gathering a few years ago — but became “defensive” when the production company became involved. (Dr. Harding said Mr. Blaesing had stopped returning his calls after he wrote to the court protesting the exhumation.)
There is a conspiracy theory, Dr. Harding said, that President Harding was poisoned by his wife. He was concerned that seeking to prove or disprove that theory on television was the motive for the exhumation. (Another conspiracy, he said, was that President Harding had Black ancestry; the DNA testing found no ancestors from sub-Saharan Africa.)
Ms. Harris said in an email to The New York Times in September that Mr. Blaesing’s story would be the focus of any film produced but that, should the body be exhumed, Magilla Entertainment might consider toxicology testing to seek “additional information about the president’s health and sudden death.”
Ms. Britton wrote in her book that she and the former president had conceived Mr. Blaesing’s mother in then-Senator Harding’s office in the Capitol. After he ascended to the presidency, they continued their affair in “a small closet in the anteroom” in the West Wing, she wrote. Speaking to The New York Times in 2015, Mr. Blaesing said his grandmother “would get the biggest smile on her face” talking about the 29th president.
Though some members of the family remain wary about Mr. Blaesing’s entry into the official family tree, Dr. Harding said he was unashamed about the situation.
“I want it in there,” he said. “I want people to know President Harding as a man, too — as a lover and as a president.”
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