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Stapleford: Two U.K. villages claim Obama’s ancestors hailed from there

By GEOFF ZIEZULEWICZ | STARS AND STRIPES Published: August 23, 2009

STAPLEFORD, England — Amid the stateside health care rage, two wars, a melting economy and that whole "birther" movement, President Obama can be forgiven for not addressing the "news" coming out of England.

The British villages of Great Shelford and Stapleford, about 20 miles from RAFs Lakenheath and Mildenhall, are claiming familial ties to the 44th president.

According to genealogists, Thomas Blossom — who hailed from Great Shelford and Stapleford in the 17th century — is believed to be Obama’s great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandfather. Blossom then left these villages just south of Cambridge for Plymouth Colony, America’s first permanent Puritan settlement.

For locals here, it’s the biggest celebrity connection since the Duke of Leeds called the area home more than 100 years ago.

Locals sent a letter to Obama earlier this year informing him of the connection and offering to host him for a visit. So far the White House hasn’t replied.

"I don’t think we’re on the tourist map, but it would put us on the tourist map," said Keith Craney, who edits the Stapleford village newsletter. "He’s near enough, he lands at Mildenhall and it’s only half an hour away. We can even land a helicopter on the village green."

Since news of the connection broke earlier this year, Stapleford and Great Shelford have been reveling in their personalized slice of Obamamania, albeit in a typically reserved and sensibly British fashion. The Shelford Delicatessen proudly rolled out its
" ‘Yes We Can’ flan," while Pasha Kasim introduced "Barack O’bhuna," a curry dish at his Zara Indian Cuisine restaurant.

"He has a good link with Shelford," Kasim said. "And we thought, let us honor him with something, make a curry named after him."

Thomas Blossom’s father, Peter, was a man of modest means who died in 1597 and is believed to have lived in Great Shelford before being buried in the St. Andrew church cemetery in Stapleford, although no gravestone remains.

As a result of these historic ambiguities, a bit of friendly back-and-forth emerged between the two towns regarding who can stake their claim to Obama’s ancestry and a potential presidential visit.

"He will definitely choose Shelford over Stapleford," Duncan Grey, head of an annual festival in Great Shelford, told the Cambridge News. "The fact is that genealogists believe not only was his ancestor Thomas Blossom born in Great Shelford but so was Thomas’ father, Peter. I think they were just passing through Stapleford. I mean, who would want to stay there?"

Obama’s British lineage emerged after five years of research that began after his 2004 election to the U.S. Senate, according to Christopher Child, a genealogist with the New England Historic Genealogical Society.

"It got a little serious when he became a major candidate," Child said.

Child and his colleagues used online resources such as the 1930 and 1850 U.S. Census Bureau data and further peeled back the president’s "pedigree" via records, wills, probates and other musty pieces of written record.

In the end it was discovered that Peter Blossom died at the Plymouth Colony of "an infectious fever," sometime before March 23, 1633, and was a friend of Plymouth founder William Bradford, Child said.

Alan Bullwinkle, a Stapleford history buff, disputes the Thomas Blossom-Obama connection, pointing to another Thomas Blossom elsewhere in England.

Obama’s Thomas Blossom married a "well-to-do" Cambridge woman named Ann Elsden before heading to Holland and then the New World, and Bullwinkle said he doubts Peter Blossom’s modest means would have made his son Thomas an ideal mate for Elsden.

There is no mention of a son named Thomas in Peter Blossom’s will, Bullwinkle noted, although Blossom does leave 12 pence to another son before praising his wife as "a gode wenche as any could be and therefore worthy of the same."

Child said the society considers the Cambridgeshire connection "more likely."

"Chronologically and geographically, this possibility would make sense," he said.

Obama also shares common new world ancestry with the Bush presidents, Lyndon B. Johnson, Jimmy Carter, Harry Truman and James Madison.

"There’s a little over 20 presidents that are related to other presidents in different ways," Child said. "It’s a small population that settled in New England and then their descendents just go everywhere."


The remains of President Barack Obama’s ancestor might rest in this cemetery near St. Andrew church in Stapleford, England.
DAVID HODGE/STARS AND STRIPES