My ancestor was a slave, maybe.


I’m doing some genealogy work with the help of Ancestry.com. If there is a paper trail in your family then there is a good chance Ancestry.com will be of some help.

It is with that in mind I’ve followed the breaking story regarding President Obama. The researchers at Ancestry.com have discovered a possible link between the President and the “first slave” in the English-speaking colonies. Some of us ancestry members even got to see the  family tree on the bottom of the page.

(Note that I said English-speaking because the Spanish had enslaved thousands of Indians well prior to Jamestown and Plymouth Rock. So, I’m real sure this first slave thing is accurate. Now if they said first African slave maybe they would be on to something.)

Jamestown. President Obama’s ancestor is not pictured 😉

The story regarding the President traces him back on his mother’s side (she is white, his father was black and from Kenya) to a family named Punch or Bunch.

The big assumption is that Punch and Bunch (sounds a little funny, like a British comedy) are the same. It’s assumed that people wrote down how I name sounded and that over time, Punch became Bunch and hence the President can be traced back to “slave #1” in the English-speaking New World, circa 1640.

It’s plausible and having worked with names, especially German ones, I know a great deal of variation is possible.

For example my name of Roeder can appear to be Roder with or without an umlaut thingy, or Radar with or without an umlaut thingy or Raeder, with or without an umlaut thingy. And that’s just a smattering of the most common variations.

Another example is my great-mother’s maiden name. She is listed in American records as a “Steldt.” I believe I found her listed on the manifest of an immigration ship (1887) as Emilie Steldt. When I found this link I thought I had the connection I needed to Germany because Emilie’s parents were listed. A search in the German records produces no links to Steldt although I found that the name “Stell” is much more common in German than Steldt.

To make matters worse Emilie’ s parents didn’t leave much of paper trail in the US. In fact, her dad, my great-grandfather(3) was deported one month after he was made a citizen. How weird is that? I have no idea why. This occurred well before WW1 so he was hardly a spy for Germany.

Here’s the bottom line with my great-mother. I have one link to her probable parents and immigration date, but no means to verify with absolute certainty (at this point) that she in particular is my great-grandmother. It is plausible, even likely that Emilie Steldt (who may have been a Stell in Germany) immigrated in 1887 with her parents an to Chicago first and then to Milwaukee where she married my great-grandfather in 1890.

But, likely is not the same as a fact.

No one really cares one way or the other if my great-grandmother was a Steldt or Stell (except me). In the case of the President, many people do seem to care if Punch became Bunch. The question is why?

I have a theory of why the left jumped on this story with a certain amount of relish. I think it’s similar to the Elizabeth Warren thing where she claimed to be part Cherokee. For libs, being some sort of oppressed minority is a credential to brag about. I think it’s called Identity Politics.

The irony here is that President Obama may not be descended from slave #1 anymore than Elizabeth  Warren is part Cherokee. I find that humorous.

In the meantime I’ll keep researching my family tree. Sooner or later I’ll find a marketable link I can exploit. Maybe Emilie is an Eskimo name.

From Ancestry.com


5 comments on “My ancestor was a slave, maybe.

  1. OK, I really enjoyed this post. That’s as far as I’m allowed to confess at this time. Secondly, an umlaut is that “thingie” that hangs down from the back of your throat (trust me, the entire world has this wrong….everyone thinks it’s a uvula….: the pendent fleshy lobe in the middle of the posterior border of the soft palate…………. both words need to be removed from the english language along with rooster…the more you say those words, the worse they begin to sound..) All are bad examples of “words”. Next, I’m not sure, and I love starting things like this…..see if there’s a connection between Ancestry.com and the Mormon church. I thought I had a vision once where that information was revealed to me, but now I’m not so sure…….Great post…I love to laugh….Thanks…

    • Thanks for pointing out the word is “thingie” and not “thingy.” However, a web search for the word also gives “thingee” and “thingy” is more popular than “thingie.” English is one tough language and don’t get me started on uvula. I tried to say it and choked and up came rooster.

      As for the Mormons and Ancestry.com…you are the 2nd person to mention it to me. I would not be surprised. The LDS also runs a free website that is very useful in tracking down church records. Thanks for the comment. One laugh deserves another. LOL

  2. Your point is certainly true. Is the relationship between Obama and Punch a fact? Perhaps not. In researching my own family history, I have encountered instances where something seems likely, but I cannot prove it; and yes, I don’t then claim it. It is probably the same in this situation, though probably a lot more of a challenge for African-American genealogy than for any of my own. I really cannot speak for the “libs”, “identity politics,” or the media, but if it is true it is certainly a compelling story.

    • Thanks for comments. I don’t follow a lot of genealogy blogs but follow yours because I learn something about how it is done. Thanks for all your hard work and sharing what you know.

      Yes, I’m sure it’s more of a challenge without much of a paper trail or oral history but I’ve run into the same. According to the 1910 census my great-grandmother could not read or write English and she had been here 27 years! No wonder my dad’s memories were off! hahaha thanks again

      • Thank you for the follow and for the kind words about my blog. I’m still trying to get some more info up on it. Genealogy is really challenging. I face a major brick wall with one of my branches, as they trace back to Hungary, and records are very difficult to find or access, particularly without going there and getting permission to view them. I suppose we can all relate to African-Americans in the difficult of tracing a genealogy, though it is much easier by comparison for people of European descent. As far as Obama’s roots go, I have no idea if what is assumed to be his descent from John Punch is accurate or not. Personally, I have found assumed genealogies usually end up being false, but I am not a professional genealogist, so who knows. 🙂

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