Monday, July 30, 2012

President Obama's American Slave Ancestry

My email Inbox this morning had the press release that "has concluded that President Barack Obama is the 11th great-grandson of John Punch, the first documented African enslaved for life in American history. Remarkably, the connection was made through President Obama’s Caucasian mother’s side of the family."  You can read the press release at

I immediately wondered how well documented this research was, since they quoted Elizabeth Shown Mills as reviewing the work.  It turns out that the documentation is very extensive - see:

*  Ancestry's page for Barack Obama's ancestry at  That page has links to these other reports in PDF file format:

*  "Documenting President Barack Obama’s Maternal African-American Ancestry:
Tracing His Mother’s Bunch Ancestry to the First Slave in America" by Anastasia Harman, Lead Family Historian, Natalie D. Cottrill, MA, Paul C. Reed, FASG, and Joseph Shumway, AG (44 pages)

*  "Relationship of Barack Hussein Obama to John Punch John Punch as the 11th great-grandfather of Barack Hussein Obama" (1 page)


The second and fourth items above are extremely well-documented articles and provide superlative examples of researching in colonial Virginia records to find useful needles in the record haystack.  They also point out the difficulty in finding historical records in this region from colonial times due to the ravages of time, weather and conflict.

I have read through them once, and need to review them several more times.

Because Y-chromosome DNA tests play such a large part in this analysis (known patrilineal descendants of John Bunch match Y-DNA with known patrilineal descendants of Obama's Bunch ancestor), my first reaction was "there could be a non-paternity event anywhere after the common Bunch ancestor."  However, I think the articles pretty much refute my first reaction, In my humble opinion.

My second reaction after reading the articles was "I'll bet this research gets published in a book or series of articles in NGSQ, or similar."  It would be interesting to see images of some of the more important documents used to develop this research.

My third reaction was "I don't think that these lineages could be used to join a heritage society with the stringent rules of the Daughters of the American Revolution or the Mayflower Society."

If you have an interest in colonial Virginia records, history and genealogy, and if you want to see research performed using the genealogical proof standard principles, please take the time to read the two longer articles noted above.

I noted also that most of this research was obtained from original source records in repositories in Virginia and other states, or on microfilm available at the Family History Library in Salt Lake City.

My compliments to the authors for their work, and my thanks for sharing it with genealogists all over the world.

Barack Obama is, as I've noted before in Yep, Barack Obama is my cousin!, my 8th cousin once removed through another ancestral line of his mother's, so I'm always interested in ancestral research on his family.  However, I still have not invited to visit him in the White House for some reason!

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Copyright (c) 2012, Randall J. Seaver


Cindy said...

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Geolover said...

Randy, thank you for this interesting pointer-post.

Regrettably, Y-DNA can not identify a specific common ancestor who is not tested. It cannot verify even sincerely held beliefs in paper records. Neighborhood Philanderer could sire two or three children of a woman married to someone documented. Brother and paternal uncle of husband might be actual parent of sons commonly believed to be sons of husband. And so forth.

Cormac said...

Now we know what Ancestry has been spending our subscription fees on.