United States President, Barack Obama is no stranger to the many ongoing debates surrounding his roots, a subject that has now taken yet another fascinating turn. As reported by The New York Times, a team of genealogists at Ancestry.com announced new research suggesting the Obama ancestry—that of his white mother, Stanley Ann Dunham (and not his Kenyan born father), might likely trace back to the first-ever documented African slave, John Punch.
According to the study, John Punch was an indentured African servant during the 1600s who was sentenced after trying to escape from captivity in Virginia. Included with the findings is the 1827 transcript from the Virginia Historical Society Library, of the 1640 John Punch court record, which is the only surviving transcription of the court document that enslaved John Punch for life.
Genealogists at Ancestry.com suggest that he is the father of John Bunch, to whom President Obama is linked. Regarding the difference in the names (B instead of P), researchers suggest that this is not uncommon as early documentarians wrote names as they sounded. And, more to the point, DNA testing has in fact shown that members of the Bunch family are of sub-Saharan African origin, and eventually the researchers were able to make a connection between the earliest members of the Bunch family and John Punch.
Ancestry.com states that 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. They report that in her review of Ancestry.com’s conclusions, she weighed “not only the actual findings but also Virginia’s laws and social attitudes when John Punch was living”. She reported that “a careful consideration of the evidence convinced her that the Y-DNA evidence of African origin is indisputable, and the surviving paper trail points solely to John Punch as the logical candidate”. She added: “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”.
Consider that the cultural landscape in colonial Virginia was markedly different than what it evolved into. Intermarriage was socially accepted until the 1660s, and it was only in the 1700s when laws to prevent it were set into place. So according to Ancestry.com’s findings, President Obama descends from the first known interracial couple who left traceable descendants.