Are Warren and Jimmy Buffett Related?
It's no surprise that Warren and Jimmy Buffett have been long-time friends and fans of one another. Warren Buffett, chairman and chief executive of the investment fund Berkshire Hathaway, and Jimmy Buffett, lead singer of the Coral Reefer Band, have a lot in common. As Fortune's 1999 article points out, both men "play stringed instruments, stick to their guns, and are filthy rich."
Then there's the surname. Because last names are passed down from father to son, the two men - who call one another "Cousin Jimmy" and "Uncle Warren" - have always wondered if and when in the past their paternal lines intersect. Jimmy even accompanied Doris Buffett, Warren's older sister and the family's resident genealogist, on a research trip to Norfolk Island, a speck of land in the South Pacific with a large population of Buffetts. But the expedition failed to yield a connection between Warren and Jimmy.
Recently the Buffetts, both customers of 23andMe, turned to DNA to help determine whether they share a common ancestor.Various parts of the human genome can be used in different ways to gauge how closely related two people are to one another. But for two men with the same last name, the Y chromosome is the obvious choice - because men inherit their Y chromosomes directly from their fathers, just like their last names. For example, one recent survey of English men named Sykes found that 50 percent of them were nearly identical at four locations on their Y chromosomes.
Well, it turns out that Warren can leave Jimmy out of his will. Though the two Buffetts could still be distant cousins, their Y chromosomes are no more similar to one another than those of any two unrelated men.
But using genetic methods that trace ancestry back millennia into the past, tools developed by 23andMe show that the tropical troubadour and the sage of Omaha do share some things in common. For example, their maternal lines - traceable using a snippet of genetic material known as mitochondrial DNA that is passed directly from mother to child - both lead back to present-day Spain about 15,000 years ago, when glaciers covered much of Europe and most of the continent would have been uninhabitable. That means both men's mothers are descended along a direct female line from a woman who lived in that place and time.
Another 23andMe tool shows that both men are most genetically similar to people living in northern and central Europe today, a suggestion that the majority of their ancestors lived in that part of the world before modern times.
After receiving his results, Warren broke the news. "Bottom line: We're not related," Warren wrote to his sister Doris. We hope that despite this fact, Cousin Jimmy is still invited to Uncle Warren's family reunions.
- The Buffett Mystery, Matthew Boyle, Fortune, May 28, 2007
- 'Uncle' Warren and 'Cousin' Jimmy Make Beautiful Music, Ethan Smith, Wall Street Journal, May 2, 2005