PUBLISHED: 08:52 EST, 30 July 2012 | UPDATED: 11:39 EST, 30 July 2012
- Ancestry.com carried out two-year project into mother’s heritage
- Property and marriage records suggested his mother was descended from John Punch, who was condemned to life of slavery in 1640
- He had children with white woman who passed on her free status to them and changed their name to ‘Bunch’
- DNA taken from today’s white Bunch family suggests Cameroonian roots
- Makes Obama 11th great-grandchild of Punch
President Obama is descended from America’s first black slave on his white mother’s side,genealogists have claimed.
DNA analysis and marriage and property records have suggested that Obama is the 11th great-grandchild of John Punch, the first black slave living in colonial Virginia nearly four centuries ago.
While it was known that Obama’s mother, Stanley Ann Dunham, had European ancestors, researchers discovered she also had at least this one African American forebear.
The discovery sheds further light on the American biography of Obama, who last year released his birth certificate to prove he was born in the country and not Kenya, from where his black father hails.
Discovery: Ancestry.com has found Obama is descended from America’s first black slave on the side of his mother, Ann Dunham, pictured with Obama as a child. He is the slave’s 11th great grandson
John Punch’s story stretches back to the mid-1600s; he was working as a servant when he escaped Virginia for Maryland in 1640, the Times reported.
Once there, he was captured and put on trial with two white servants who had also escaped, but he received the severest punishment and was condemned to servitude for life.
The sentence, which came years before Virginia set laws condoning slavery, has led historians to regard him as America’s first legally sanctioned slave.
Family tree: The chart shows the line from Punch to Obama. The name changed to ‘Bunch’ after Punch had children with a white woman, who passed on her free status to them and changed their name
University of Maryland professor Ira Berlin said that historians are unable to pinpoint an exact date the slave trade began, but servants were bought and sold in the region from 1617.
Without the specific date, historians deem Punch to be one of the first certain slaves, he added.
‘The odds strongly suggest that President Barack Obama is a descendant – he would be the 11th great-grandson – of the first enslaved African in America’
Anastasia Harman, Ancestry.com
Over two years, Ancestry.com used marriage and property records to trace Obama’s mother’s ancestors back to the time and place where Punch lived.
Records also showed he fathered children with a white woman, who passed on her free status to them and gave them a slightly different name – Bunch. This name is in Dunham’s family tree.
As the Bunches married, they became prominent landowners in Virginia and were known as white, according to Ancestry.com.
The team traced two Bunch family branches – one that stayed in Virginia and one that moved to the Carolinas. In Virginia, they were known as white, in North Carolina they were recorded as ‘mulatto’.
Home: A map of early Virginia drawn between 1677 and 1793 shows where the first Bunches owned land
‘Proof’: Left, a land grant for John Bunch I in 1662 shows he was at least 21, making him the right age to be father of John Punch II. Right, a 1827 transcript of 1640 John Punch court record enslaving him for life
Descendants of this mulatto family – another term for mixed race – are the president’s cousins, records show.
But Obama descends directly from the Virginia family, which moved to Tennessee. His great-great-great-great-grandmother was born there, and her daughter moved to Kansas, where his mother was born in 1942.
‘We sort of stumbled across it,’ lead researcher Anastasia Harman told the New York Times. ‘We were just doing general research into the president’s family tree, and as we started digging back in time, we realised that the Bunch family were African-American.’
Despite the discovery, investigators can’t be 100 per cent sure of the connection as many records have been destroyed.
But the similarities of the surnames, DNA evidence showing today’s Bunches have sub-Saharan African heritage and the fact that only a few Africans lived in Virginia in the 1600s confirmed the connection.
Descendants: Obama is pictured with his mother, her father Stanley Dunham and his half-sister Maya Soetoro in the early 1970s
Family: Obama is pictured with his step-father Lolo Soetoro, his half sister and his mother in the 1960s
Future president: Obama is pictured in the 1960s with his father, Barack Obama Sr, who was from Kenya
‘The odds, based on what does actually survive, strongly suggest that President Barack Obama is a descendant (he would be the 11th great-grandson) of the first enslaved African in America,’ Harman and her team wrote in their research paper.
Two independent genealogists agreed that the research was ‘sound’ and ‘safe’, adding that the difference of the ‘P’ and ‘B’ of Punch and Bunch were ‘meaningless’.
Bunch descendants also provided a DNA swab to help with the project, and researchers found the DNA profile was common in Cameroon.
‘I consider myself Caucasian, but I find that my mixed-race roots go way back,’ Mark Bunch, who lives in Othello, Washington, told the Times.
While the mixed-race heritage of a woman deemed Caucasian may seem odd, the Times added that more and more Americans are discovering they too have ancestors from a different race.
Before the slave trade: Obama’s ancestor John Punch was condemned to a life of slavery in 1640 for escaping a home where he worked as a servant. The sentence made him America’s first slave (file picture)
‘It is becoming increasingly common now because people are discovering it,’ said Elizabeth Shown Mills, a former president of the American Society of Genealogists, adding the internet has helped.
‘In the past, very few records were available. Very few people made the effort to do the research.’
President Obama, 50, was born in Hawaii in 1961 soon after his father, from Kenya, and mother split.
Last year, he released his long form birth certificate to silence the ‘birther’ row and prove he was born in Hawaii and not Kenya, making him eligible to be the U.S. president.
His father, Barack Obama Sr., went to Harvard University after his birth then returned to Kenya where he remarried before he passed away in 1982. The president’s mother, Ann Dunham, died in 1995.