Thursday 23 February 2017

President's ancestry tree has thorns

Cristian Salazar

US PRESIDENT Barack Obama found out years ago he had an Irish ancestor who fled the country in 1850 in the wake of the 1848 potato famine.

He can now claim 28 living relatives who also descended from that Irishman, including a Vietnam veteran, a school nurse and a displeased Arizona Republican.

The president's newly identified relatives are revealed in a study released by Ancestry.com, a family history website whose genealogists also traced descendants of 23 other Irish passengers on the ship that brought ancestor Falmouth Kearney to the US, aged 19.

The survey allowed genealogists to further trace branches in Obama's family tree and others who arrived on the ship, known as the Marmion, on March 20, 1850.

According to the survey, the passengers' descendants live in Canada, Syria and throughout the US.

Among Obama's newly identified relatives is 83-year-old Dorma Lee Reese, of Tucson, Arizona.

"I'm not a Democrat, so I can't say I clapped," said Ms Reese, a retired brain-imaging technologist. "I don't appreciate what he's done by any means, but I do appreciate that he holds that office."

The original Mr Kearney arrived with his brother-in-law William and his wife, Margaret Cleary. They were destined for Ohio, where Kearney's relative had left property in his name. Kearney married, had 10 children and later settled in Indiana, where he worked as a farmer.

Mr Obama's mother, Ann Dunham, was a descendant of one of Mr Kearney's daughters, Mary Ann Kearney, and Jacob William Dunham.

When the 903-tonne Marmion arrived after a 3,000-mile (4,830km) voyage to New York Harbour from Liverpool, England, carrying 289 passengers, it was following a well-worn route used by masses of Irish emigrants.

Among the carpenters, bricklayers and shoemakers arriving that day was Mr Kearney, listed in records only as a labourer.

Like many of the passengers, he was fleeing a country ravaged by a potato blight that left the country starving.

From the 1840s to the end of the 1850s, about 1.7 million Irish immigrants went to the US.

On the day of the Marmion's arrival, the 'Brooklyn Daily Eagle' reported that the St Patrick's Society in Brooklyn had held its first annual banquet; a toast was made to the passengers' homeland, referring to it by its ages-old nickname: "Though gloomy shadows hang o'er thee now . . . as darkness is densest, even just before day, So thy gloom, truest Erin, may soon pass away."

By 1860, the then-city had the largest Irish population in the world outside Ireland.

Nearly 37 million Americans claimed Irish ancestry in 2009, according to census estimates.

Ancestry.com revealed Mr Obama's Irish roots in 2007, but it is uncovering its new findings this week following months of work as part of a larger project on Irish heritage.

Other distant Obama relatives include Roma Joy Palmer (66), of Mulvane, Kansas, who is retired from the insurance business, and Daniel Dillard (63), a Vietnam War veteran and retired community college professor.

"I really don't like to claim a relationship to Obama. He is not my favourite president," said Ms Palmer, a Republican. "I don't have anything against him personally. But I don't think we have the same agenda."

Mr Dillard, though, said he took pride in his family "being related to a president of the United States", even though he is a registered Republican, did not vote for Mr Obama and opposes his politics.

Sandra Wes (65) of Hereford, Arizona, also was identified by Ancestry.com but had already discovered years ago that she was distantly related to Obama when she investigated the Dunhams of Kansas.

"I figured there had to be a connection," she said.

Ms West, who is a nurse at Palominas Elementary School, said it had become a running joke and that the principal had suggested requesting a tour of the White House.

But Ms West figured the president already had enough going on.

"I don't think he would want to pay much attention to me," she said.

"I'm sort of a peon down the road. I'm nobody special."

Irish Independent

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