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  • Notes on the Ancestry of Senator Barack Hussein Obama, Jr.

    Gary Boyd Roberts

    Published Date : April 1, 2008

    The ancestry of Obama’s father, an economist in the Kenyan ministry of finance and member of the Luo tribe of Kenya, can be traced for several generations. The Senator’s grandparents were Onyango, later “Hussein Onyango Obama,” and his wife Akumu, and Onyango’s parents were Obama and Nyaoke; Obama was a son of Okathe, son of Obongo, son of Otondi, as per the Senator’s own Dreams from my Father, pp. 394 et seq.

    Senator Obama’s mother, named in part for her father, was Kansas native Stanley Ann Dunham, daughter of Kansas natives Stanley Armour Dunham and Madelyn Lee Payne, and granddaughter of Ralph Waldo Emerson Dunham, Ruth Lucille Armour, Rolla Charles Payne, and Leona McCurry, all except Ruth also natives of Kansas. R.W.E. Dunham was the son of Indiana natives Jacob William Dunham and Mary Ann Kearney; Ruth Lucille Armour was the daughter of Harry Ellington Armour and Gabriella Clark, natives of Illinois and Missouri; Rolla Charles Payne was the son of Charles T. Payne and Della Wolfley, natives of Missouri and Ohio; and Leona McCurry was the daughter of Missouri and Arkansas natives Thomas Creekmore McCurry and Margaret Belle Wright (this last, so far as we know, not related to Senator McCain’s mother, Roberta Wright McCain).

    In the next generation, the parents of Mary Ann Kearney were Irish native Falmouth Kearney (son of a shoemaker in Moneygall, co. Offaly) and Ohio native Charlotte Holloway. Harry Ellington Armour was the son of Ohio native George W. Armour (not of the meatpacking family) and Nancy Ann Childress of Clark County, Missouri; Nancy Ann’s parents were John P. Childress (whose father was originally, it seems, a Childers, so there is no relationship to First Lady Sarah Childress Polk) and Catherine Ament, whose father Philip Ament (1755-1836) of York County, Pennsylvania and Bourbon County, Kentucky is also an ancestor of Lyndon Johnson. The Payne, Wolfley, McCurry, and Wright ancestry can also be traced for a few generations into Monongalia County, Virginia (now West Virginia), Bourbon County, Kentucky, Dauphin County, Pennsylvania, and Delaware and Licking Counties, Ohio. New surnames introduced through these four families include Black, Abbott (perhaps of the families of Andover and Rowley, Massachusetts, but no connection has yet been found), Creekmore, Allred, Bowles, Taylor, Perry, Wright (also unrelated to McCain’s mother), Wilson, Ellis, Jones, Bunch, Thomas, Toot, Hoskins, Williams, Wilburn, Thompson, Ray, Shockey, Teague, Bellamy, Hudson, and Row – mostly of Ohio, Pennsylvania, Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas, Virginia, and North Carolina.

    Among the Senator’s great-great-grandparents, Jacob William Dunham (1863-1936) and Gabriella Clark (born 1877), may be traced to several colonial families of keen historical interest. Jacob William Dunham was the son of Jacob Mackey Dunham and Louise Eliza Stroup, and grandson of Jacob Dunham, Catherine Goodnight, John Stroup, and Eliza Jane Clemmons. Gabriella Clark was the daughter of “Dunham family hero” Christopher Columbus Clark (also mentioned in Dreams from my Father) and Susan C. Overall, and granddaughter of Kentucky natives George Washington Overall and Louisiana Duvall. Jacob Dunham, a native of Berkeley County, Virginia (now West Virginia), was the son of Samuel Dunham and Hannah _____, the former of Woodbridge, New Jersey, and the grandson of Jonathan Dunham and Mary Smith, also of Woodbridge. Catherine Goodnight (with a surname in the ancestry of Harry Truman, see below, whose provable kinship to the Senator, however, is through the Duvall family) was of Pennsylvania German ancestry, as was, in part, Ohio native John Stroup. George Washington Overall was the son of Robert Overall and Annie Browning, daughter of James Browning and Susanna Hickman of Culpepper County, Virginia. Lousiana Duvall, daughter of Annapolis native Gabriel Duvall and Mary Grable, belonged to a well-known Maryland family treated in H.N. Newman, Mareen Duvall of Middle Plantation (1952). Gabriel’s parents were John Miles Duvall and Anne Roselle Philomena Tarleton, this last of the same family as the American mother of British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan.

    The Senator’s colonial ancestry of interest is derived through Jonathan Dunham, Mary Smith, James Browning, Susanna Hickman, and John Miles Duvall. As covered in New England Ancestors, vol. 8 (2007), 2:11 (which incorporates evidence from Dunham DNA research) Jonathan Dunham and Mary Smith were children of Benjamin Dunham, Mary Rolph, Shubael Smith, and Prudence FitzRandolph, all of Woodbridge, New Jersey (but Shubael Smith was born in New Castle County, Delaware). James Browning was the son of John Browning of Culpepper County, Virginia, and Elizabeth Demarest of New Castle County. Susanna Hickman was the daughter of James Hickman and Hannah Lewis, granddaughter of Edwin Hickman and Eleanor Elliott, and great-granddaughter of Thomas Hickman and Margaret Thacker. Elizabeth Demarest belonged to a New York/New Jersey Dutch family well covered by several genealogies; her maternal grandmother was a Vreeland of Bergen County, New Jersey. In addition to the Senator’s New England and Southern colonial ancestry discussed below, Mr. Obama also descends from several colonial Dutch families in the ancestry of many Americans.

    The parents of Benjamin Dunham were Jonathan Singletary alias Dunham and Mary Bloomfield, who moved from Newbury, Massachusetts to Woodbridge, New Jersey; Jonathan’s father, the earliest known male-line ancestor of the Senator’s mother, was a Richard Singletary. Shubael Smith, was a son of John Smith and Susannah Hinckley, this last a sister of Governor Thomas Hinckley of the Plymouth Colony,  an ancestor also of the two Presidents Bush. Prudence FitzRandolph was the daughter of Samuel FitzRandolph and Mary Jones, also of Woodbridge, granddaughter of Nathaniel FitzRandolph and Mary Holley, and great-granddaughter of the royally descended Edward FitzRandolph (1607-1684/5) of Massachusetts and New Jersey, and his wife Elizabeth Blossom, and of Joseph Holley/Holloway (1605-1647) and Rose Allen of Sandwich, Massachusetts. This last couple are ancestors of President Gerald Ford (via Holley, Goodspeed, Comstock, Butler, Ayer, Gardner, and King families). Rose Allen was herself the daughter of George Allen, also of Sandwich, by an unknown first wife. George Allen in turn, was also an ancestor of British Prime Minister Sir Winston Churchill (via Jennie Jerome, his American mother, and Allen, Wilcox, Hall, and Jerome families).

    Among the Senator’s Virginia forebears, Martha (Thacker) Hickman was a daughter of Henry Thacker and Eltonhead Conway, daughter of Edwin Conway (about 1610-about 1675) and his wife Martha Eltonhead, another immigrant of royal descent. Edwin and Martha were also parents of Edwin Conway, Jr., father by Elizabeth Thornton of Francis Conway, father himself by Rebecca Catlett of Eleanor Rose “Nelly” Conway, wife of James Madison and mother of President James Madison, Jr. Martha had at least three sisters who also immigrated to Virginia; one of them, Alice Eltonhead, by her second husband Henry Corbin, left daughters Letitia and Frances, wives respectively of Richard Lee of Stratford Hall and Virginia governor Edmund Jennings. Of the children of these last Henry Lee married Mary Bland, and Frances Jennings married Charles Grymes; two of their children, Henry Lee, Jr. and Lucy Grymes, married each other (they were second cousins) and were parents of Revolutionary General Henry “Lighthorse Harry” Lee (III), father himself by Anne Hill Carter, of Confederate General Robert Edward Lee. Thus Senator Obama is third cousin nine times removed of President Madison and fifth cousin, twice over, eight times removed, of Robert E. Lee.

    The best royal descent for Edward FitzRandolph is from William the Lion, King of Scotland, who died in 1214, via an illegitimate daughter, Isabel of Scotland, who married Magna Charta Surety Robert de Ros. The male line of the FitzRandolph/FitzRandall/ FitzRanulph/FitzRalph family is one of the very few that can be traced before the Norman conquest of 1066. The best royal descent of Martha Eltonhead Conway is almost certainly from Edward I, King of England (died 1307) through the Bohun, FitzAlan, Goushill, Stanley, Savage, Bold, Gerard, and Eltonhead families of medieval and early modern England.

    As some of the above connections make clear, Senator Obama has a large number of distant notable cousins. The easiest to trace are the FitzRandolph, Duvall, and Eltonhead descendants. Through Edward FitzRandolph, the Senator may claim distant kinship to Confederate General James Longstreet, AT&T founder Theodore Newton Vail, First Lady Ellen Louise Axson Wilson (first wife of Woodrow Wilson), and artist Georgia O’Keeffe. Mareen Duvall descendants include President Harry Truman (via Duvall, Tyler, Holmes, and Truman families), Vice-President Richard Bruce Cheney (via Duvalls and Tylers), and perhaps the late Bessie Wallis Warfield, Duchess of Windsor. Eltonhead descendants include Richard Henry Lee and Francis Lightfoot Lee, signers of the Declaration of Independence, Continental Congress President Cyrus Griffin, Supreme Court Chief Justice Edward Douglass White, Jr., novelist John Dos Passos, Secretary of State Edward Riley Stettinus, Jr., and the wives of Revolutionary statesman Gouverneur Morris, Francis Scott Key, Edwin McMasters Stanton (Lincoln’s Secretary of War), and Senator Harry Flood Byrd. Kinships to living notables are now being traced. Tantalizing possibilities we wish to confirm further include astronaut John Glenn, actor Brad Pitt, filmmaker John Waters, and musicians Justin Timberlake and Loudon and Rufus Wainwright.

    With ancestry, like the Presidents Bush in New England, the mid-Atlantic states, and the South Senator Obama is certainly related to millions of contemporary Americans – perhaps even a significant percentage of the population.

    Gary Boyd Roberts
    Christopher Challender Child
    With help from William Addams Reitwiesner and others

    Ancestors
    Edward I, King of England
    William the Lion, King of Scotland
    Male-line FitzRandolph ancestors before 1066

    Presidential kin
    Madison (via Conway)
    Truman (via Duvall)
    Lyndon Johnson (via Ament)
    Ford (via Holley)
    2 Bushes (via Hinckley)

    British Prime Ministers
    Sir Winston Churchill
    Harold Macmillan

    Others
    Robert E. Lee
    Richard Henry Lee
    Francis Lightfoot Lee
    Georgia O’Keeffe
    Richard “Dick” Cheney
    Wallis, Duchess of Windsor
    Mrs. Francis Scott Key

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