The first African American slave and the first African American President are now linked (Photo : Flickr)
A team of researchers working for Ancestry.com have determined that President Barack Obama is the 11th great-grandson of John Punch, America's first documented slave.
The genealogical website reports that Punch was an indentured servant in Virginia in 1640. He made a failed attempt to escape his servitude, and was resultantly made a slave for life.
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The find is surprising because the President, whose father was from Kenya and whose mother was a Caucasian American, was not before now thought to have African-American roots. His descent from John Punch comes, in fact, from his white mother.
John Punch had children with a white woman. Biracial children whose mothers were the white parent were not legally allowed to be enslaved. Thus, Punch's children were free, and their descendants ultimately became substantial Virginia landowners. It seems unlikely that Stanley Ann Dunham, the President's late mother, knew of her African ancestry.
Ancestry.com researchers say that they used DNA analysis and early Virginia records to trace the President's descent from Punch. They concede that many Virginia records have been lost to the events of time, but assert that their findings were subjected to third-party review by Elizabeth Shown Mills of the Board for Certification of Genealogists.
"In reviewing Ancestry.com's conclusions, I weighed not only the actual findings but also Virginia's laws and social attitudes when John Punch was living," Mills said in a statement. "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," said Ancestry.com 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."