The First Lady's Family Tree

Thursday, July 05, 2012

First Lady Michelle Obama looks on as US President Barack Obama speaks before signing a memorandum on childhood obesity February 9, 2010 in the Oval Office (Getty Images)

New York Times correspondent and author of American Tapestry: The Story of the Black, White, and Multiracial Ancestors of Michelle Obama, Rachel L. Swarns, discusses her book about the ancestry of Michelle Obama, illuminating the complexity of racial intermingling in a changing nation.


Rachel Swarns

Comments [21]

tn5rr2012 from Springfield, TN

I have been a genealogist for over 25 years now and I help people start their family trees. I can tell you for a that American citizens are all mutts of the Heinz 57 variety. Black and White are political words that continue to spread hate and discourse. If you want to find out who your ancestors are and what variety of Heinz 57 you are, drop on over to my website and send me a message.

Jul. 08 2012 02:19 PM
jim from nj

Can anyone provide the genetic requirements to be black or white?
Stop this ignorance now.
Black is not a race, white is not a race. Race is not a genetic term.
Black is a term of historical distinction.
Call yourself any friggin thing you want. But this confusing of terms with gentetics is wrong, ignorant and dangerous.
So, again, what are the genetic requirements to be Black. To see what a impossible question is, ask yourself, who would be the ones deciding those requirements.

Jul. 05 2012 02:21 PM

My last comment.

My other reply.First to the host,his friend is wrong and and was doing more myth making and the callers.
Alot of the skin tones you could find in africa without white admixture.second african amercians come from regions of africa or ethnic groups that look more like them must there was mixinfg within these groups over in america.climate has some things to do with skin tone becoming abit lighter too,so,so african americans do look still clearly african.
Well most do.

Even if most african american have admixture,it's on average small,so it will have nothing to do with skin tone or looks.
The admixtue will be small to make a impact,and since the average african american would be 13% european in dna there would be no need 20% or more to have a impact and even at times you could still look clearly black

.ANYWAY most african american do not really have admixture and for native american dna in african american,only 5% and recen reporst saying 2% of african american have native dna.

MissNyasha wrote:
Why do Black Americans continue to lie and say we are all mixed? In the south, there are areas where many of the black people have very little admixture and still look like their ancestors. Many parts of the midwest too. But we will not acknowledge that; we only focus on the Black Americans who have a high amount of admixture in their ancestry and say they represent the majority of AAs when they don't.

Most african americans do not have admixture
[QUOTE]Originally posted by lamin:
[QB] The most comprehensive scientific study to date is that of Tishkoff(2008). In this study AAs carry 13% non-African genes and belong to the Niger-Kordofanian African macroscopic groupings.
The question is how is that 13% spread through the AA population. Is it Kittles's 27% or Shrivers's 95%?[/QB]

Originally posted by lamin:

As mentioned above the most comprehensive study to date is that of Tishkoff. As seasoned geneticist she and her team would know what an adequate sample size would be and how expansive should be the research field. The question again is how would 13% be spread through a population?
Kittles's research would better support Tishkoff than Shriver in terms of American racial sociology and the priciples of averages, variances, and standard deviations.
A more prosaic approach would also support Tishkoff's analysis. For every year since 1619 and before the offspring by AA females have been maximally AA males. Infusions from other groups--again because of American caste and racial attitudes--have been relatively small.[/QB]

Jul. 05 2012 12:39 PM

I hope brian the host could correct what the callers have said.The guest was's not good to guess if you do not have clear info and to say you do and tell misinfo on the air.

> below this person is saying most aftican americans do not have admixture

Originally posted by lamin:
[QB] It is a trivial point because given the data from
haplogroup analysis there really are no "non-admixed" groups
existing among human populations. Take the case of Europe. In
that small Asian peninsula you have had migrations from Central
Asia, from Africa North of the Sahara, etc. in relatively recent
times--i.e. from the Neolithic onwards. That's why Europe
confined to a landmass less than the size of the Congo is
home to a number of haplogroups. In the case of
Y-haplogroups you have R, I, E, J, etc. all found outside of
Europe[exception possibly I].

In the case of African transplants to the Americas the genetic
data is all we can reliably go on. Family anecdotes and
eyeball impressions are just non-scientific.

In the case of African Americans the Tishkoff et al. data is
the most comprehensive to date and her team's analysis put
the European contribution to AAs at 13%(Tishkoff 2008). Since
13% would be necessarily a skewed average--given racial
attitudes--then that 13% would tend to cluster among 25-30% of the
AA population. See Kittles on this. This would mean that
75-80% of the AA population would have only zero or just
trace elements of European ancestry.

In the case of African transplants in the Caribbean area the
confined African populations had no alternative but to
procreate among themselves given that the plantation landlords
were in a small minority and mostly absent--away in Europe.
Plus the fact that the small hybrid Euro-African population
quickly formed their own racial buffer caste between the
Africans and the small resident European populations.


> most african americans do not have admixture.


Jul. 05 2012 12:31 PM

I got this from another website.

Brainiac2 wrote:

Many black folks I have spoken to give it a lot of thought and think it's ironic that Anglo American whites are always pointing out how mixed AAs are but don't seem to notice how mixed they themselves are.

True to a point,because alot of this black americans are mixed stuff i hear alot of the times too are from african americans themselves.THEY Just keep bring it up when nobody ask them.
I think alot of whites do not care about that,since they still see a black african looking person and if whites bring it up it's really to divide and conquer and or they just don't know better and copy what they heard.For black american that keep bring it up,it's for other reasons,brainwashing,copy cats,self hate,just don't know better etc. so it could be varied reasons has well.
There are recent studies coming saying that most black americans do not have admixture and if most do it's not that high and there are still alot of african americans that do not have admixture from whites or native americans.
For the african americans that do have admixture,the average admixture rate on average is small ANYWAY,so it's not has high has once thought.
Recent studies are coming saying that most african americans or black americans do not have admixture,but there are alot that have varied forms of admixture.maybe up to 40% of african american have some form of admixture,so that's still alot.
So it makes seem that most african americans have admixture because 40% or abit lower is alot.
When a population group has alot of it's members with admixture then alot of folks think most folks in the population have admixture because a large minority does.
Alot folks tend to not be clear thinking on this and myths like the other post has said comes up, AND WHEN TEST RESULTS COME IN THEN YOU HAVE A LOT OF DENYING GOING ON.
keep in mind these test are not that perfect so folks should wait until test taking becomes better,but some tests have better results than others
Anyway recent test results are showing that most black amercans do not have admixture.

Jul. 05 2012 12:10 PM
fuva from harlemworld

Becky's point about genealogical testing for blacks is strong...

Jul. 05 2012 11:53 AM
Lucie from Queens

Is she related to the Robinson family? She might have an extended family in Togo, West Africa. The American Embassy there had a reunion for the descendents of Robinson... who was on an expedition in the late 1800/early 1900 and had a family there... the Kwadzo family. Maybe Ms. Swarns can check this with the Embassy.

Jul. 05 2012 11:52 AM
Amy from Manhattan

I can't remember the name of the TV program, but they did genetic testing on some well-known African-Americans, incl. Oprah Winfrey--whose genome didn't include any evidence of European ancestry (I think it was all African & Native American).

And Claire, I'd say that if anything, there's *more* diversity among African-Americans than among European-Americans, because "white" is defined as having only European ancestry, whereas *any* degree of African ancestry makes a person "black."

Jul. 05 2012 11:45 AM
fuva from harlemworld

"john from the office" is CORRECT about the question of consent!!

Jul. 05 2012 11:43 AM
john from office

Most men, if they OWN a female slave, would use her for sex. If the men are being honest.

The power relationship adds up to rape, even if the sex is on consent.

Jul. 05 2012 11:41 AM
The Truth from Becky

"consensual marriage?" Brian, I fear you are too immature to discuss this subject! It was rape, non consensual sex.

Jul. 05 2012 11:41 AM
fuva from harlemworld

The studies confirm that the vast majority of native blacks have white ancestors. And, again, the rape of black women was systemic (and traumatizing).

Jul. 05 2012 11:39 AM
Laura from UWS

Please do NOT speculate!
GET THE FACTS about what percentage of descendants of slaves are part white!!
I'm shocked that you're trying to guess based on skin color.
Thank you.

Jul. 05 2012 11:39 AM
The Truth from Becky

annd...why is this a story? Is it because she is the First Lady? This is NOT news!! I agree a DNA test should be provided to any Black American that wants one along with reparations.

Jul. 05 2012 11:38 AM
fuva from harlemworld

In fact, Claire, many native blacks look like blacks in the motherland, despite the genealogical complexity. It's something I've found blacks frequently remark about when visiting the motherland.

Jul. 05 2012 11:36 AM
The Truth from Becky

Uhh correction Brian, Most Black People are descendants of slaves and slave owners!! Be honest if you are going to speak on this subject!!

Jul. 05 2012 11:35 AM

I'm sure it's an interesting book -- and Michelle Obama's story is not unique. However, I am uncomfortable with someone doing research on another person -- even a public person -- without their consent or knowledge. How would you feel if your family history was exhumed for public consumption before you even knew about it yourself. At least with Henry Lewis Gates, people participate willingly and learn the results before the program airs for the rest of us.

Jul. 05 2012 11:34 AM

I was born and raised in N.C. My ancestors include Mayflower Puritans, ship, dock, and slave owners in Charleston, S.C. I'm writing this on a desk given in partial payment to a blockade runner from the Confederate Ambassador to Britain. On my father's side is a carpenter from Brooklyn who carved an American eagle in Andersonville prison, a few miles from Plains, Ga. I would LOVE to meet relatives who were former slave of my family. (Charleston, a white majority city, went for Obama in '08.) When I meet African Americans from Charleston, I call them cousin and tell them I was in the civil rights movement in the South. They smile and shake hands. There were white Southeners from all over the South in the movement. A highly underreported fact. I'm still working for racial justice in New York City. Stop and Frisk isn't only racial profiling, it's racist. I'd like to get a DNA test and find myself to be Jewish, black, latino, Asian, you name it.

Jul. 05 2012 11:34 AM

Amazon page of this book has some interesting comments. Especially, the ones that rate the book very low....

Jul. 05 2012 11:33 AM
fuva from harlemworld

I'm suprised to find that this is a newsflash for many more people than I expected. Just about all blacks (motherland immigrants excluded) have a few white ancestors. (And the story is usually sordid.) Michelle's ancestral tale may be interesting, but it is common/ the norm.

Jul. 05 2012 11:33 AM
Claire from White Plains

Most African Americans are of mixed background. How many of us actually look African? We are of all shades, hair types and other features. The diversity is just as broad as it is in so called "white" Americans. I think we are all more alike that many would choose to believe.

Jul. 05 2012 11:30 AM

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