DNA Results in Michelle Obama’s Family Tree

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DNA Results in Michelle Obama’s Family Tree

Interesting article today in The New York Times on DNA results in Michelle Obama’s family tree. This continuing research on Michelle Obama‘s genealogy, include DNA results that link her to distant cousins.

The discovery of this unexpected family tie between the nation’s most prominent black woman and a white, silver-haired grandmother from the Atlanta suburbs underscores the entangled histories and racial intermingling that continue to bind countless American families more than 140 years after the Civil War.

The link was established through more than two years of research into Mrs. Obama’s roots, which included DNA tests of white and black relatives. Like many African-Americans, Mrs. Obama was aware that she had white ancestry, but knew little more.

The bloodlines of Mrs. Obama and Mrs. Tribble extend back to a 200-acre farm that was not far from here. One of their common ancestors was Henry Wells Shields, Mrs. Tribble’s great-great-grandfather. He was a farmer and a family man who grew cotton, Indian corn and sweet potatoes. He owned Mrs. Obama’s maternal great-great-great-grandmother, Melvinia Shields, who was about 8 years old when she arrived on his farm sometime around 1852.

All four of Mrs. Obama’s grandparents had multiracial forebears. There were Irish immigrants who nurtured their dreams in a new land and free African-Americans who savored liberty long before the Civil War. Some were classified as mulatto by the census, while others claimed Cherokee ancestry.

The DNA results in Michelle Obama’s family tree are now supplemented with continuing research on her ancestors. The New York Times published an additional article, “In First Lady’s Roots, a Complex Path From Slavery,” featuring research results from noted genealogist Megan Smolenyak Smolenyak:

In 1850, the elderly master of a South Carolina estate took pen in hand and painstakingly divided up his possessions. Among the spinning wheels, scythes, tablecloths and cattle that he bequeathed to his far-flung heirs was a 6-year-old slave girl valued soon afterward at $475.

In his will, she is described simply as the “negro girl Melvinia.” After his death, she was torn away from the people and places she knew and shipped to Georgia. While she was still a teenager, a white man would father her first-born son under circumstances lost in the passage of time.

In the annals of American slavery, this painful story would be utterly unremarkable, save for one reason: This union, consummated some two years before the Civil War, represents the origins of a family line that would extend from rural Georgia, to Birmingham, Ala., to Chicago and, finally, to the White House.

The outlines of Mrs. Obama’s family history unfolded from 19th century probate records, yellowing marriage licenses, fading photographs and the recollections of elderly women who remember the family. Ms. Smolenyak, who has traced the ancestry of many prominent figures, began studying the first lady’s roots in earnest after conducting some preliminary research into Mrs. Obama’s ancestry for an article published in The New York Times earlier this year.

By |17 Jun 2012|African American Genealogy, Genetic Genealogy DNA|Comments Off on DNA Results in Michelle Obama’s Family Tree

About the Author:

Nancy Loe has an MA in American History and an MLS in Library Science and Archives. She has appeared on PBS’s American Experience, at Rootstech, SCGS Jamboree, and state and regional genealogy conferences. Her website was featured in Family Tree Magazine's “Social Media Mavericks: 40 to Follow.”