Hey there cuz…oops, I mean, Hello Mr. President


by Deb Pleasants | April 9, 2009 • With Nellie our electronic navigator safely guiding my husband Mike on our 1,100-mile trek to visit our nation’s capital, I kicked my feet up on the dashboard of our recreational vehicle and turned my attention to a packet of papers Mike’s brother-in-law handed us during our Indiana pit stop. John, the family genealogist, had recently unearthed some startling information he thought would make great reading on our long drive.

A Motherly Eye is the blog of Deb Pleasants, a stay-at-home-mom (mother of four) who moonlights as a freelance writer and citizen journalist. Her short stories, essays and poems can be found on her blog

The papers consisted of a series of people’s names dating back to 1500s England and ended with the name of our eight-year-old son Jaden. I sat there jerking my head from staring at the papers resting on my lap to staring at my son sitting at the RV kitchen table behind me. Could this really be true? Could my son—who was successfully dividing his time between playing a game on his Nintendo DS and watching a movie on the portable DVD player—really be a cousin of President Barack Obama? WOW!

I can hardly wait to get back home to tell my friends and watch their mouths drop. I bet most will think the road from our son to our President goes through me, assuming some common African ancestry must connect us. This is amusing to me because I have no clue who is in my family tree. Since both of my parents descended from slaves, and slave owners generally didn’t keep detailed records of property (slaves were property not people), it’s impossible to find accurately trace my lineage. Like most black Americans with the slave ancestry, our family tree dead ends after only a few generations. Mike, on the other hand, is white—his mother is 100 percent Irish and his father is part Irish, English and a little Turkish. Their knowledge of their ancestral lines dates back centuries before the immigrated to the United States.

According to the packet, a man named John Cocke married Elizabeth Walfurlong circa 1600 in England and together they had two children (well, two that matter for this story). Their daughter Dorothy’s descendants lead to Barack while their son Richard’s descendants converge with the Pleasants. The end result, Jaden is the 11th cousin one time removed of Barack. More precisely, he is the eleventh cousin of Barack’s mother Ann Dunham; hence, he is one time removed from Barack. The records also reveal Mike is the 10th cousin of Barack’s grandfather, Stanley Dunham; making him twice removed from Barack—that’s Barry to his family.

As we approached the outer edges of DC, my “what’s in it for me” mind was quickly devising ways I could use this new information to our advantage, oooh…the possibilities. Maybe we could show the guard our paperwork and he would instantly grant us entry to the White House. While there, Sasha and Malia might invite their cousin Jaden to play on their new jungle gym. Being a gracious host, Barack would naturally offer to put us up for the night; in the Lincoln Bedroom, perhaps—why not we’re family.

The sound of Nellie’s voice directing Mike through the congested DC traffic snapped me back to reality and I quickly recognized all we truly had was bragging rights. Jaden can impress his third grade classmates when he gets back to school. Mike and I can use it as a conversation starter whenever we’re in an awkward social setting, like at a cocktail party. Or, we could get a bumper sticker made that says, “Thanks for electing my cousin President of the United States.” That’s probably about it.

We finally reached our camping destination, Cherry Hill Park just outside DC, and walked into the office to check in. The office/camp store was saturated with countless souvenirs of DC landmarks, as well as, the president’s face embossed on nearly every coffee mug or shot glass. However, the one item that caught my eye the most was a 5×7 laminated index card sitting at the registration counter. It was a free recipe card titled “Obama Family Chili Recipe.” I stuck the card in my purse and went back to the RV. Chili is one of my favorite foods and I looked forward to someday hosting a dinner party and serving this chili to our friends. And, if they ask about the chili I’ll look them right in the eye and say, “It’s a special family recipe.” Then I’ll smile because…it is.