By Paul Foy, AP
SALT LAKE CITY — A team of genealogists has found evidence that U.S. President Barack Obama could be a descendent of an African slave — but not through the lineage of his black father, the most likely route researchers had followed and exhausted.
The link, genealogists with Ancestry.com said Monday, is, in fact, through an examination of his white mother’s family history.
“We were surprised and excited to make that connection,” said Joseph Shumway, a member of the Utah-based Ancestry.com team.
Obama’s father was from Kenya and his mother was from Kansas. It had been generally assumed that the president had no slave ancestors because researchers couldn’t find it through the lineage of his father. However, no one had yet performed any exhaustive research into the lineage of his white mother, who turns out to have a mixed-raced family history.
Ancestry.com now said the maternal line traces back to one of the first documented African slaves in the U.S.
The company said Obama could be the 11th great-grandson of John Punch, an African slave in colonial Virginia. He is believed to have had children with a white woman, starting a family line that led generations later to Obama’s mother.
The White House declined comment Monday.
The Ancestry.com team used DNA analysis and marriage and property records to trace Obama’s maternal ancestry. The company says it can’t establish a definitive link because of gaps in family history. Researchers are missing a record connecting Punch to a presumed son who by his early 20s owned 450 acres (182 hectares) and grew tobacco in Virginia.