A report published by Ancestry.com tracks Obama’s family tree 10 generations to a man named John Punch — known as America’s first slave. Surprisingly, the connection isn’t through Barack Obama Sr. but Obama’s mother, Stanley Ann Dunham, who descended from a North Carolina family who intermarried with freed slaves.
President Obama’s lineage can be traced back three centuries to a mixed-race family called Bunch, the father of whose patron, John Bunch II, isn’t clear. But there’s reasonable evidence to suggest that the man is John Punch. The difference in spelling can be explained by researchers’ tendency to simply record names as they sounded.
Both John Bunch’s wife and mother were white — and so, if this connection is true, Obama descends from the first-known half-black family in America.
Most people will be surprised to learn that U.S. President Barack Obama has African-American ancestry through his mother. His father’s Kenyan origins are well known, but most people do not realize Obama’s mother, Stanley Ann Dunham, has ancestors among the first African-American settlers of Colonial Virginia. These early settlers were the Bunch family and theirs is a curious story.
Some members of this Bunch family passed for white and stayed in Virginia—they are President Obama’s ancestors. This Virginia branch intermarried with local white families and, for all intents and purposes, was eventually perceived to be white. They initially resided in Virginia’s York and New Kent counties, moved to what became Hanover County, and then relocated further upstream to Louisa County, Virginia. President Obama’s Bunch ancestors eventually migrated to Tennessee. Even in contemporary generations there was some awareness about mixed race in the maternal branch of Obama’s family.
The report cites Obama’s Dreams From My Father:
Obama related the belief that his maternal grandmother, Leona McCurry, had a “distant ancestor [who] had
been a full-blooded Cherokee,” but the “lineage was a source of considerable shame” to Leona, who “blanched whenever someone mentioned the subject and hoped to carry the secret to her grave.”