Tracing Michelle Obama's roots to a 6-year-old slave in South Carolina

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michelle.jpg

Fraser Robinson III, Marian, and their children, Craig and Michelle - now Michelle Obama.

The New York Times reports the fascinating story of Michelle Obama's slave heritage back to a 6-year-old slave girl named Melvinia in pre-Civil War South Carolina.

The Times story covers the first lady's history to her great-great-great-grandparents, the lone girl and an unknown white man after she had been willed to a family near Atlanta a few years before the Civil War. Born from that coupling was Dolphus T. Shields.

The exploration of family roots by Megan Smolenyak, a genealogist, and The New York Times -- bears out longstanding family rumors about a white forebear, the former Michelle Robinson said.

The Times reports that it's unclear who the actual father of Dolphus Shields was once Melvinia became the property of Henry Shields in 1852:

It is difficult to say who might have impregnated Melvinia, who gave birth to Dolphus around 1859, when she was perhaps as young as 15. At the time, Henry Shields was in his late 40s and had four sons ages 19 to 24, but other men may have spent time on the farm.

"No one should be surprised anymore to hear about the number of rapes and the amount of sexual exploitation that took place under slavery; it was an everyday experience, " said Jason A. Gillmer, a law professor at Texas Wesleyan University, who has researched liaisons between slave owners and slaves. "But we do find that some of these relationships can be very complex."

Just as interesting is the family tree the Times has put together as the Robinson family history has pieced together, The Family Tree of Michelle Obama: The First Lady. It traces her family steps through tattered paperwork and faded photographs back to that 6-year-old slave on a Carolina plantation. It also serves to illuminate the mixed-race background of the first lady's heritage and discusses how that's becoming a much more common reality in a nation made up of so many races and heritages.

Much like a report in the Chicago Sun-Times exploring the family tree of Barack Obama, the Times report illuminates a rich, multi-ethnic background for the first lady, though Michelle's history is far less well-known.

When Melvinia died in 1938, her death certificate marks "don't know" in the space asking for the 90-year-old's parents name, so the retracing ends with her.

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37 Comments

i can trace my family back to 1650 in virginia.
my greatest grandfather signed the blisland complaint in 1676. 100 years before the declaration of independence.
think it will make the paper?

And now the rape and incest is brought on by African Americans. You would think that knowing their roots were supposedly so horrific, they would not do onto others what they didn't want done onto them.

We will continue to pay this. Get over it and move on. That is what strong, mature, intellectual adults do.

Probably, if you wern't a nobody. What a stupid comment.

Why doesn't President Obama do the same ancestry tracking? We would all love to see where he came from. But he does not want to reveal that information.

Hi James,
I think if your were the President or Vice President of the United States... you would make the paper. They do it for all Presidents. What might you be suggesting?

Oh Boy..lets all get down on our knees and worship Michelle Obama cause her great great grand daddy was a slave...get off your high horse already and quit sucking up!!

Lordy lordy when will the reparation talks begin anew?????????

Actually, we have done an extensive look at President Obama's lineage - linked out of this post.

Eric I. In case you didn't know....Michelle is not the President. How about Mr. Obama give us his ancestry information...I'm sure he knows it but he prefers we dont......By the way...I'm sick and tired of Michelle....

If only there were still slaves.... if only.

PRESIDENT OBAMA'S FATHER WAS FROM KENYA, AND HIS MOTHER WAS BORN IN KANSAS, HE DOESN'T HAVE TO FIND HIS ROOTS, HE KNOWS HIS ROOTS, AND HE IS VERY PROUD OF HIS ROOTS, ARE YOU PROUD OF YOUR ROOTS, THAT IS THE BIG QUESTION!
IF PEOPLE WOULD WATCH ROOTS THE MINI-SERIES THEY WILL KNOW ABOUT SLAVERY, AND HOW THE SLAVE MASTER LOVED BLACK YOUNG WOMEN, AND THAT IS WHY YOU HAVE MIXED RACE INDIVIDUALS FROM BACK IN THE DAY, BASICALLY THESES WOMEN WERE RAPED BY THE SLAVE MASTER!

I am a third generation from slavery. My great grandfather was born 1848. He died two weeks after I was born in 1952. My paternal grandfather was over 40 when my mother was born. It is amazing how my mother can remember the stories that her grandfather told her about his life as a slave. And, we noted how sad they were, but we do remember his accomplishments. My grandfather provided land to build schools, churches, and parks for his community. I am truly sorry for those who cannot trace their ancestry. Since slaves were taught not to trust or depend upon one another, doing so closed the book on family values. Decendants of slavery certainly wanted to forget about this unpleasant past. James, why would anyone care about your family's accomplishments? Your comment was mean spirited and it sucked!

James, get a hobby and if you don't want to hear about Michelle Obama, I suggest you don't read the article.

with all that digging, did they come upon Boowack's missing birth certificate? I heard the Kenyan government is holding on to it to keep that "aid" money flowing to the dictator. One thing for sure — he isn't my president, he will never be my president, in fact legally he ISN'T president.

Sucking up? I dont think so. As far as I can remember there have always been tons of articles written about the president's wife, kids, family, etc. Why do you seem to take it so personally?? Get a grip.

I think most races will never understand what it means to be black.

Ha! I love the fact that the people wondering where the family linage for President Obama is (grrr), are too stupid to click on the link for that information, just above in the article.

I have been tracing my family roots for thirty years and just recently visited the sites of some of my earliest ancestors in Virginia. All of my ancestors were very early immigrants to Maryland and Virginia. Their descendants fought in the RW and they all owned slaves.

In the process of documenting my family history, the first document that I retrieved included the distribution of the slaves as part of the estate. This was a profound emotional shock to me. I should have anticipated the issue, but dealing with it was difficult.

Since these Virginia and Maryland folk migrated to the Carolinas, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Alabama, slaves were involved in the documents, but not as much as I might have thought. Some of my ancestors became Methodists along the way, and as such, did not own slaves. Some were Baptists and had slaves until after the Civil War. Some were apparently too low down on the economic level to be able to support slaves. One document that was really a shock was that one of my ancestors "rented" slaves from another owner. Commodities.

I grew up in Texas in the 1950's. Talk about discrimination. There were black schools and white schools. Those of you who want to be absolved of blame and rant now about Michelle and Barack need to understand those of us who have traced our family histories diligently, found the dark spots (and, believe me, everyone has them) and confronted them.

For those of you who rant about Michelle Obama's tracing her ancestry -- I know the author of this search. She is a true professional in every sense.

I challenge those of you who rant. Take the time and the effort to trace your own family histories. Find the high spots and the low spots -- there will be both. The search is invigorating, and humbling. You think that you can rant from some moral highway. I will guarantee you that if you trace your family history back seven or eight generations you will learn an enormous amount about American history and the migration of immigrants along the way, you will also gain a deep emotional investment into the understanding of the highs and lows of this history.


I have been tracing my family roots for thirty years and just recently visited the sites of some of my earliest ancestors in Virginia. All of my ancestors were very early immigrants to Maryland and Virginia. Their descendants fought in the RW and they all owned slaves.

In the process of documenting my family history, the first document that I retrieved included the distribution of the slaves as part of the estate. This was a profound emotional shock to me. I should have anticipated the issue, but dealing with it was difficult.

Since these Virginia and Maryland folk migrated to the Carolinas, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Alabama, slaves were involved in the documents, but not as much as I might have thought. Some of my ancestors became Methodists along the way, and as such, did not own slaves. Some were Baptists and had slaves until after the Civil War. Some were apparently too low down on the economic level to be able to support slaves. One document that was really a shock was that one of my ancestors "rented" slaves from another owner. Commodities.

I grew up in Texas in the 1950's. Talk about discrimination. There were black schools and white schools. Those of you who want to be absolved of blame and rant now about Michelle and Barack need to understand those of us who have traced our family histories diligently, found the dark spots (and, believe me, everyone has them) and confronted them.

For those of you who rant about Michelle Obama's tracing her ancestry -- I know the author of this search. She is a true professional in every sense.

I challenge those of you who rant. Take the time and the effort to trace your own family histories. Find the high spots and the low spots -- there will be both. The search is invigorating, and humbling. You think that you can rant from some moral highway. I will guarantee you that if you trace your family history back seven or eight generations you will learn an enormous amount about American history and the migration of immigrants along the way, you will also gain a deep emotional investment into the understanding of the highs and lows of this history.


That information is already available. That's why he refers to his cousin Dick Cheney as 'the black sheep' of the family.

that's so true bbb because they did not read the article. It's all over the internet, too!

are people surprised that the relatives of blacks today are decendents of slaves. They are not from poland or germany.Most have family from the south which are previosly salve states.......duhh!

Good Grief. What's going on with you? You're probably one of those folks who hates everything about the Obamas. Or, hate anyone who pulls themselves up by their "bootstraps!" What color are yours? Let's trace George Bush's psychological roots! Or, better yet, the roots of the idiots in the Republican Party who keep putting people in office who can't stand having a written constitution and think every one of them should have their private, personal stab at circumventing any and every law!!! What are you so angry about? One wonders just how far you have gotten in life - well, as far as an anonymous blog anyway.

I have no idea what people could mean when they say Obama "doesn't want us to know" his family history. Seriously, what is hidden there?

But - about this news story - I don't know why they always refer to Melvinia as a "6 yr old girl", except that that was the first reference to her. She did grow up. And, yes, Mrs. Obama had a slave for a great-great-great grandmother - or one could say, on the flip side, that she is a descendant of a slave OWNING family. Whatever happened to produce Dolphus Shields, his father is EQUALLY michelle's ancestor. By contrast, I, a white woman, have no slave-owning ancestors in my family tree.

So race in the US is complicated - African american families are probably MORE likely to have ancestors who benefited from, as well as sufered under, slavery, than many white people

My thing is, how people keep talking about how it's no big deal that black people were slaves, but it is a big deal with people hanging dogs. Are you really trying to tell me black people are less important than dogs? How stupid can Americans be!!! Also, have anyone traced their family back to hanging black people, well you don't have to go back to your great great great, you just need to talk to your great white grandfrather and see what you might learn. Oh I believe that's why you love dogs so much becuz they were so precious to whites to hunt blacks down until you feel in love with them so yes it's more of a crime to hang dogs instead of a blacks. It's so obvious that racism still here. I see it everyday!!!

XLNT research, XNLT article. Millions of
African Americans have European ancestory.
Of course all of us have African ancestory.

Michael, check out ths song about President Obama's Irish roots.

Irish Obama Ballad

http://vodpod.com/watch/1099030-irish-obama-ballad

I am sure the whole Obama family will be glad to get this controversy about where he was born and if he is a natural born citizen behind them.

COURT ORDER FINALIZES SCHEDULE FOR TRIAL!
by John Charlton
(Oct. 7, 2009) — Today was published the Court order resulting from the Oct. 5th hearing in Barnett vs. Obama, issued by federal judge, David O. Carter, in the Southern Division of California.
The order, reads as follows:
On September 8, 2009, the Court previously set tentative case management dates. The Court now orders those dates be made final.
Case Management dates are as follows:
Motion for Summary Judgment Hearing — December 7, 2009, at 8:30 a.m.
File Motion for Summary Judgment — November 16, 2009
Opposition to Motion for Summary Judgment — November 26, 2009
Reply to Motion for Summary Judgment — November 30, 2009
Final Pretrial Conference — January 11, 2010, at 8:30 a.m.
Jury Trial — January 26, 2010, at 8:30 a.m.
The implication of the Court’s order finalizing the dates is obvious: you do not finalize dates unless there will be a trial. And there would not be a trial, unless the Motion to Dismiss requested by the Defense was in whole or in part DENIED!

Charges and evidences, easy court style, are at http://www.divine-way.com

It is so childish that many of us can argue about someting as foolish as this. I am the decendant of an Irish immigrant and a slave's child born out of slavery in 1871. I have traced my roots as much as I can and I have found that not all Slave owners where these evil people that the big screen and the history books make them out to be. lts all stop being judgemental because God has made us all equal in his eyes. If we focus more on how to love each other past our ethnic differences, culture, or skin color. We really will not have time to hate or judge each other. GOD IS LOVE

I don't care about her roots i want her to leave the WH for being the worst first lady ever, inside and outside, what an embarassment for America

If you google or bing his name and add genealogy, you will find lots of sites that have his lineage.

Some of the stories have Melvinia being valued at $475 as a child in Henry Shields will. I find this hard to believe it is more likely to be $4.75. In the early 1800's horses were worth more than a slave and they didn't even cost that much. I would really like to see a copy of this will.

Yes. Including a link in this post to an extensive family tree reported out by the Chicago Sun-Times.

You Michelle watchers need a hobby, I read this because I also do genealogy. Now we know why Michelle who is no lady, hates whites. The blacks suffered less than my American Indian ancestors.
I wish someone would dress that person. Maybe that is why she dresses so bad she still has slave mentality. There are men in my family who have married blacks and I have many black friends and roommat3s. I have had roommates of other nationalities. Why is it the blacks that are always moaning "you owe me" Obama is not black he is 6.5% black the rest is white that Michelle hates and African Arabs. The only word that does grace to Michelle starts with a C---.

wow, it's amazing how one well-researched, thoughtful and factually accurate story can generate such a heavy barrage of negative comments simply because it concerns the past of a prominent person, in reference to this country's history with race-relations.

Yes, it is interesting but how does her past have ANY bearing whatsoever on her as a person, or even her future. Do you respect someone less or more because their granddaddy slept with a slave woman he owned or if their great-great-grandmother has a convict past? No because judging someone on the basis of their heritage (something they had ABSOLUTELY no control over) is irrational and small-minded.

http://www.newsy.com/videos/michelle_obama_s_slave_roots

this video talks about the reactions to this story including an interesting interview with the reporter who says that the WH and Michelle were in the loop during the entire storywriting process and had the opportunity to veto the release of any information--but didn't.

Your heritage should not be a source of great pride nor cause for embarrassment. It is what it is.

Who gives a rats behind what her heritage is and the dilema's behind it. I am not impressed with anything about Barrack or Mychele Obama.......

Good to read Michelle's heritage. I read Barack Obama's book 'dreams for my father', and the book tells of his heritage. It made me ask my grandma of my heritage, and now I can go some 5 generations. It makes me proud. Pls go dig your geneology, it does have some satisfaction.

It's a shame that there are so many haters. There are so many options in the world to entertain yourself with, I'm just not sure why anyone would waste their time and energy making such negative comments that serve zero purpose but to hear themself talk.

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  • Maua: Good to read Michelle's heritage. I read Barack Obama's book read more
  • Debbie Sandusky: Who gives a rats behind what her heritage is and read more
  • ashaindra: wow, it's amazing how one well-researched, thoughtful and factually accurate read more
  • Marianne: You Michelle watchers need a hobby, I read this because read more
  • Craig Newman: Yes. Including a link in this post to an extensive read more
  • immom2all: Some of the stories have Melvinia being valued at $475 read more
  • immom2all: If you google or bing his name and add genealogy, read more
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