We’ve all heard about President Obama’s Irish roots, and we know his father came from Kenya. But a research team from Ancestry, the world’s largest online family history resource, has also concluded that the nation’s 44th president is also the 11thgreat-grandson of John Punch, the first documented African enslaved for life in American history.
And what’s more, the connection comes through President Obama’s Caucasian mother’s family.
This discovery follow years of research by Ancestry genealogists who, using early Virginia records and DNA analysis, linked Obama to John Punch. Punch was an indentured servant in Colonial Virginia who fled to escape servitude in 1640. After he was caught, his punishment was enslavement for life. Punch’s is the first documented case of slavery for life in the colonies, occurring decades before slavery laws were enacted in Virginia.
President Obama is traditionally viewed as an African American because of his father’s heritage in Kenya. However, while researching his Caucasian mother, Stanley Ann Dunham, Ancestry genealogists found her to have African heritage as well. Their interest piqued, the researchers kept digging. DNA analysis helped confirm that Dunham’s ancestors, known as white landowners in Colonial Virginia, actually descended from an African man. Existing records suggest that this man, John Punch, had children with a white woman who then passed her free status on to their offspring. Some of Punch’s descendants went on to be free, successful land owners in a Virginia entrenched in slavery.
An expert in Southern research and past president of the Board for Certification of Genealogists, Elizabeth Shown Mills, performed a third-party review of the research and documentation to verify the findings.
“In reviewing Ancestry’s conclusions, I weighed not only the actual findings but also Virginia’s laws and social attitudes when John Punch was living,” said Mills. “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.”
“Two of the most historically significant African Americans in the history of our country are amazingly directly related,” says Ancestry genealogist Joseph Shumway. “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 and the ultimate realization of the American Dream.”
More details and additional research on President Obama’s family lineage can be found at www.ancestry.com/obama.