President Obama's election was no doubt historic, but in a sense, the presence of Michelle Obama in the White House is even more remarkable. She, daughters Malia and Sasha, and her mother, Marian (Shields) Robinson, are the first descendants of slaves to reside at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue as members of the first family.

Last year, I spent nine months researching Mrs. Obama's ancestry, and some of my findings were shared in the New York Times, including the tale of her great-great-grandfather, Dolphus Shields and his mother, Melvina McGruder.

"First Grandma" Marian's family lived in Chicago, so I don't know whether she ever met her Alabama-based great-grandfather Dolphus, but she would have been 12 years old when he passed away. I mention this because Dolphus was born into slavery, yet lived long enough to overlap the life of a White House-bound descendant.

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