Obama lineage linked to 1st African slave

2012-07-31 09:00

Salt Lake City — A team of genealogists has found evidence that President Barack Obama could be a descendent of an African slave — but not through the lineage of his black father, the most likely route researchers had followed and exhausted.

The link, genealogists with said on Monday, is, in fact, through an examination of his white mother's family history.

"We were surprised and excited to make that connection," said Joseph Shumway, a member of the Utah-based team.

Obama's father was from Kenya and his mother was from Kansas. It had been generally assumed that the president had no slave ancestors because researchers couldn't find it through the lineage of his father.

However, no one had yet performed any exhaustive research into the lineage of his white mother, who turns out to have a mixed-raced family history. now said the maternal line traces back to one of the first documented African slaves in the US.

Gaps in history

The company said Obama could be the 11th great-grandson of John Punch, an African slave in colonial Virginia. He is believed to have had children with a white woman, starting a family line that led generations later to Obama's mother.

The White House declined comment on Monday.

The team used DNA analysis and marriage and property records to trace Obama's maternal ancestry.

The company says it can't establish a definitive link because of gaps in family history. Researchers are missing a record connecting Punch to a presumed son who by his early 20s owned 182ha and grew tobacco in Virginia.

The records pick up when a grandson of Punch petitioned a court to marry a white woman — and was turned down, presumably because the grandson appeared of mixed-raced heritage, said Elizabeth Shown Mills, a former president of the American Society of Genealogists.

The findings make for a tantalising tale that wasn't uncommon in early colonial Virginia, and the team probably got it right, Mills said.

Two years of research

"They did the best job possible," said Mills, who reviewed the findings at's request. said its team spent two years exploring Obama's maternal line. The puzzle starts with Punch, who is presumed to have arrived in Virginia around 1640 from west Africa, initially as an indentured servant obligated to work for years to pay for his passage.

"He jumped the gun and took off," Mills said. Punch was recaptured and made a slave for life. His punishment was tougher than white servants received for absconding, leading historians to call him the first African to be enslaved years before Virginia legalised slavery.

Nothing is known about Punch's presumed relationship with a white woman. But his landowner son is presumed to be John Bunch, either because the mixed-raced family changed its name or because records transcribed it incorrectly, Shumway said.

Researchers were able to make a definitive connection between the successive Bunch family line and Obama's mother, Stanley Ann Dunham, who died in 1995.

Researchers concluded John Bunch had to be the son of John Punch, Shumway said.

Whispered secrets

"He's in the right place at the right time, and he's the right age," he said, adding that to this day, Bunch family members who appear white share the DNA profile of people in west Africa.

Mills said she was not surprised by the slavery link that came through the lineage of Obama's white mother.

"There are many Americans discovering they have African ancestry. It's something that is whispered, not something families want the world to know," she said. "This is what is so fascinating about American history. You see how people felt in the past, and how we think about it today."

  • sive.konkwane - 2012-07-31 12:07

    No no a big no to news 24. This is impossible!

      ejanette.joubert - 2012-07-31 17:58

      Why? You surely don't buy the idea that white settlers in America never mixed, just like the ones in Africa did? Or is it that you don't approve of a black person voluntarily 'fraternising'. Imagine how lonely he must have been, back then ...

  • nisaar.khan.92 - 2012-07-31 15:28

    What a waste of 2 yrs

  • brent.bartis - 2012-07-31 17:24

    no man! this is getting rediculous

  • burtfred.brown - 2012-07-31 17:47

    Snore zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz Who cares?

  • burtfred.brown - 2012-07-31 17:51

    My kids are descended from slaves. I slave away every day to pay taxes to ANC government that simply take my money and waste it on themselves. I don't claim to be "black", or any other colour for that matter. So Obama and your "black" compatriots, get over it. Slavery is alive and well in 2012.

  • ejanette.joubert - 2012-07-31 17:52

    Why is this a surprise? Go back far enough and everyone is related to everyone else. There is no such thing as a 'pure' bloodline, not in Europe, not in Africa, not in Asia, and certainly not in America. Makes a very interesting hobby - give kids a new perspective on family history - making it real.

  • ari.potah - 2012-07-31 17:52

    Obama has a forged birth certificate. Even his wife makes the odd slip by admitting that he is not who he is supposed to be. If you need any proof that he is a fake, have a look at the evidence at

      fred.fraser.12 - 2012-07-31 18:02

      That's nonsense.

      ari.potah - 2012-08-01 17:13

      Fred - read the evidence. Go to the link I gave and then tell me its nonsense.

      fred.fraser.12 - 2012-08-01 17:34

      No offense, it's extreme-right nonsense. The State of Hawaii corroborated his birth certificate. There's no validity to the claim or it would have gone before the courts in earnest. It hasn't.

  • justin.pretorius - 2012-07-31 17:59

    This should win some votes

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