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# Tuesday, July 31, 2012
President Obama Related to American Colonies' First Documented African Slave
Posted by Diane

Ancestry.com researchers have linked the United States' first black president to the earliest documented African permanent slave in America.

Historical evidence indicates Barack Obama is the 11th great-grandson of African slave John Punch. The connection is through the family of Obama's Caucasian mother—which isn't surprising, as Obama's father, who died in 1982, was from Kenya.

(Update: After reading comments to this post, I'd like to clarify my above statement: Obama's paternal line came from Kenya and its members were not enslaved in the United States.)

What does surprise me is that the slave ancestor is male: Genealogists with African-American roots have become accustomed to learning of male white slaveowners who fathered children with enslaved women in their family trees, but not so much the other way around.

Ancestry.com researchers used DNA analysis and property and marriage records to find an African indentured servant named John Punch, who attempted to escape his servitude in 1640 in Maryland. His court-ordered punishment was a life sentence as a slave. This is the first documented case of slavery for life in the American colonies, decades before slavery laws were enacted in Virginia.

Punch eventually fathered children with a white woman, whose children inherited her free status and became landowners in Virginia. Their son John Bunch is Obama's ancestor.

You can learn details about the research documents and conclusions on Ancestry.com, where you can download a 44-page report by researchers Anastasia Harman, Natalie Cotrill and Joseph Shumway; a 51-page Bunch family descendancy report; and a family tree.

Ancestry.com was careful to back up its claims with an independent review from researcher Elizabeth Shown Mills, an expert well-known in genealogical circles, who says, “I weighed not only the actual findings but also Virginia’s laws and social attitudes when John Punch was living. A careful consideration of the evidence convinces me that the Y-DNA evidence of African origin is indisputable, and the surviving paper trail points solely to John Punch as the logical candidate.

"Genealogical research on individuals who lived hundreds of years ago can never definitively prove that one man fathered another, but this research meets the highest standards and can be offered with confidence.”

Although the Obama research project has been underway for years, I imagine we'll see more on the 2012 presidential candidates' family trees this year as genealogy companies try to capitalize on election-related publicity opportunities.

Update: You also might want to read this article from The Root, by two Boston University professors who dispute John punch's status as the first documented permanent African slave.

Are you tracing African-American genealogy? Get research help from the expert how-to books, article downloads and classes available in ShopFamilyTree.com.


African-American roots | Ancestry.com | Celebrity Roots
Tuesday, July 31, 2012 2:43:30 PM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #  Comments [8]
Wednesday, August 01, 2012 1:54:41 AM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)
At least now we know what Ancestry has been spending our subscription fees on. All to curry a little favor.
Jeff Ford
Thursday, August 02, 2012 3:12:22 PM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)
"...The connection is through the family of Obama's Caucasian mother—which isn't surprising, as Obama's father, who died in 1982, was from Kenya..."
Please explain this statement. It makes no sense to me at all in an otherwise informative article. I have read all 44 pages of the report and nowhere in that report, or in any other paper on genealogy have I ever come across such lame-brain back-handed ignorant nonsense.
Merrilee Bueno
Thursday, August 02, 2012 6:46:07 PM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)
I agree with Merilee (up to the point where she became insulting and called names..:( ) - I, too was scratching my head at the comment, "...The connection is through the family of Obama's Caucasian mother—which isn't surprising, as Obama's father, who died in 1982, was from Kenya..." I actually said outloud, "Whaaaat?"

Isn't this the project that Ms. Smolenyak (sic) backed out of because it was questionable? Or am I thinking of some other project?
L Drewitz
Thursday, August 02, 2012 7:03:27 PM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)
I participated in Ancestry.com's DNA project and the supposed matches were so far off I have no doubt that you are for scoring points with POTUS. All you have is lots of suppositions. If this happened then this might be. No you had me related to people on differant continents when I never had relations there. So your eXperts can spout off all they want to but they cant prove it and that is what it takes.

Spouting off for the publicity it might bring your company is a sad thing and it probably does POTUS no favors.

J Hollier
John Hollier
Friday, August 03, 2012 9:06:03 AM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)
Hi, Merilee and L Drewitz,
I'm rereading my post trying to see what I wrote to cause your confusion, and I don't see it. Barack Obama's father was born in Kenya long after slavery ended, so his ancestors wouldn't have been imported to the United States as slaves. They couldn't be the source of the connection to an early US slave. Are you thinking that this line could have been enslaved in the US and then later ancestors returned to Kenya? They weren't and didn't.

And Merilee, the comment you call "back-handed nonsense" didn't originate in Ancestry.com's research report or in its press announcement, but here on this blog.

I'm not at all surprised that the connection is through his Caucasian mother, as it's very common for modern Americans to have mixed ethnic heritage.

John, Family Tree Magazine isn't affiliated with Ancestry.com, so your comments are on the wrong blog (and I doubt the president cares). Try http://blogs.ancestry.com/ancestry/ .
Diane
Friday, August 03, 2012 9:11:00 AM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)
L Drewitz, you may be thinking of the controversy surrounding the book about Michelle Obama's enslaved ancestors. A journalist wrote it based heavily on research by Megan Smolenyak, except the author drew some conclusions Megan (and other genealogists, from comments I've seen online) disagrees with.
Diane
Friday, August 03, 2012 10:39:20 AM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)
The quote from Elizabeth Shown Mills doesn't hold up logically. Yes, the Y-DNA would clearly show an African source. His father was African and that isn't in dispute. It could not have come from his mother because she didn't give him any Y-DNA. Therefore, the Y-DNA could not have come from John Punch.

Clyde
Clyde
Friday, August 03, 2012 11:29:13 AM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)
Hi, Clyde,
That's not the only way Y-DNA can be used. The reports explain how Y-DNA came into play in the research. Y-DNA from Obama was not used to tie Obama directly to John Punch, but results from intermediate family lines were used in combination with paper research. Here is what Mills said in a Facebook comment to someone's post:

"Yes, the president's ancestry is conventionally traced through his mother to Anna Bunch (that being his mitochondrial line) and her father Nathaniel. The Y-DNA evidence is derived from testing various lines of descent from Nathaniel's branch (offspring of John II), who were considered white, as well as the Bunch descendents of John II's brother Paul, who were considered free people of color. Both the white and the fpc Bunch males have the same Sub-Saharan Y-DNA."

Diane
Comments are closed.