Genealogy site: Obama related to first-documented slave
President Barack Obama waves as he boards Air Force One before his departure from Andrews Air Force Base, Md., on Monday, July, 30, 2012. (AP / Cliff Owen)
Published Monday, July 30, 2012 10:56AM EDT
Last Updated Monday, July 30, 2012 7:17PM EDT
Genealogists claim to have traced U.S. President Barack Obama’s family tree back to colonial America, linking the commander-in-chief to the country’s first documented slave.
Researchers for family history website Ancestry.com asserted Monday that Obama is a distant relative of John Punch, who was the first documented African slave in the American colonies.
Perhaps most surprising is the fact genealogists say the connection was established through Obama’s Caucasian mother Stanley Ann Dunham.
Though Dunham’s ancestors were said to be white landowners in colonial Virginia, according to Ancestry.com’s findings, the family descended from an African man -- namely Punch.
In 1640, Punch was sentenced to a lifetime of servitude in colonial Virginia for having run away.
Though Punch had tried to run away with two other white indentured servants, his white companions were only given two additional years of labour, author Robert C. Smith notes in his book "Encyclopedia of African American Politics."
The decision, handed down by the Virginia General Court, made Punch the first African to be a slave for life by law in colonial Virginia.
Referencing existing genealogy records, the website asserts Punch likely had children with a white woman who passed her free status on to their children.
If correct, Obama would be a great-grandson of Punch.
“Two of the most historically significant African Americans in the history of our country are amazingly directly related,” Ancestry.com genealogist Joseph Shumway said in a news release.
“John Punch was more than likely the genesis of legalized slavery in America. But after centuries of suffering, the Civil War, and decades of civil rights efforts, his 11th great-grandson became the leader of the free world.”
From Kenya to China, it’s no secret that the Obama family tree has grown in surprising directions. Genealogists have linked the U.S. President to an Irish man who fled the potato famine in 1850. Some have established distant and questionable links to unlikely figures such as businessman Warren Buffett and U.S. politician Sarah Palin.