President Obama’s ancestry has always been a hot topic. Between the birther debates that the Supreme Court dismissed last month to the country’s differing opinions about his race, the commander-in-chief’s biological roots have long been a hot-button issue.
But the most recent discovery into the president’s complicated genealogy will likely fuel even more chatter.
According to the New York Times, a team of genealogists has discovered the president’s slave ancestry.
As the son of a Kenyan father and white American mother, Obama is an African-American in the most literal sense. But until now Obama’s African American cred in a more contemporary sense had been a source of debate, since unlike most American blacks he was not thought to have descend directly from enslaved Africans.
However, the researchers say that not only did the president descend from an enslaved African, his ancestor was likely the first ever documented black slave in America. Furthermore, Obama’s slave heritage unfurls from perhaps the most unlikely familial line: his white mother.
The findings, which were announced Monday by Ancestry.com, stretch back nearly four centuries tracing Obama’s mother to a slave in colonial Virginia named John Punch. Although lacking definitive proof, the team said it had evidence that “strongly suggests” the president’s relation to Punch.
According to the Times:
In 1640, Mr. Punch, then an indentured servant, escaped from Virginia and went to Maryland. He was captured there and, along with two white servants who had also escaped, was put on trial. His punishment — servitude for life — was harsher than what the white servants received, and it has led some historians to regard him as the first African to be legally sanctioned as a slave, years before Virginia adopted laws allowing slavery.
The Obamas genealogy spurred interest in June 2012 when Michelle Obama’s white ancestry was uncovered. These discoveries–and thousands of others being made by average citizens as researching family origins becomes increasingly more popular–prove the interweaving of ethnicities over time is a true representation of America’s melting pot history.