First Lady Michelle Obama’s Irish slave owner roots


Michelle Obama’s original Irish ancestor has been traced and named as Andrew Shields, an Irish immigrant who fought in the American Revolution as a Georgia resident.

Andrew Shields was Michelle Obama’s great-great-great-great-great-great-grandfather and his family was slave owners.

Michelle Obama’s great-great-great-grandmother Melvinia was a slave who had children by Charles Shields, grandson of Andrew Shields, the Times reveals.

One of those children, Dolphus Shields, born in 1859, was Michelle Obama’s direct ancestor.

It is not known in Ireland where the Shields came from but it was likely Northern Ireland as the family was Protestant and there was considerable Scots Irish emigration to the American south at the time.

This article in The Times is adapted from “American Tapestry: The Story of the Black, White and Multiracial Ancestors of Michelle Obama” by Rachel L. Swarns, a new book due out this week. Swarns used DNA technology to prove the links.

The book traces dozens of white relatives of Michelle Obama, none of whom knew of their connection through slavery to the First Lady.

Most were shocked to learn the connection and hoped that the Shields-Melvinia relationship was not one of rape and coercion but love.

"You really don’t like to face this kind of thing,” said Mrs. Joan Tribble, whose ancestors owned the First Lady’s great-great-great-grandmother.

“To me, it’s an obvious love story that was hard for the South to accept back then,” said Aliene Shields, a descendant who now lives in South Carolina, pointing to the fact that they had several children together.

Melvinia was just 15 when she gave birth to Dolphus in 1859. She was an illiterate woman who was confined to work in the fields by the Shields family.

The Times first reported the Irish link to Michelle in 2009.

Megan Smolenyak, the same genealogist who discovered that President Obama’s Irish roots go back to Moneygall in County Offaly, has discovered that Michelle Obama's family tree has a large Irish branch.

Smolenyak traced Michelle's heritage back to the young slave girl Melvinia Shields, who was once traded for $475.

Melvinia became the property of Henry Shields in 1852.

Smolenyak said the young girl still haunted her. "It's still jarring to see dollar signs associated with human beings," she said.

Michelle's Irish roots were one of the major findings in Smolenyak's research. Smolenyak spent nine months researching the First Lady's family tree in conjunction with The New York Times.

Smolenyak began the project just before Obama was named president and she said she hoped that her discovery will please the First Lady.

"The vast majority of people are happy when their heritage is just kind of handed to them," she said. "She's got a really rich ancestry. This would be my fantasy: that she's clicking [on the Web site] through all the branches of her family tree, sitting there with Sasha and Malia and Marian Robinson, and I hope they're pleased."

In  2007, Smolenyak found out where in Ireland Obama’s family came from after tracing Obama’s third great-grandfather on his mother’s side, Fulmoth Kearney, who journeyed from Moneygall in County Offaly to the U.S.

Originally published in 2012.


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