FIRST LADY Michelle Obama's white cousins?
Oh, my gosh!
Can you believe it?
Well, yeah. Just about every black American I know has white relatives. And I'd venture to say that many white Americans have black relatives, too, somewhere in their family tree.
It's just not always talked about openly. People aren't aware of it or might not want to be reminded of how mixed their bloodline is. The truth is that Americans of different backgrounds have been intermingling for centuries, often forcibly.
So it really shouldn't be a big surprise that a black woman who happens to be the nation's first African-American first lady has white relatives.
Out of the proverbial melting pot has come a group of people who have more in common with each other than not.
That's why it's annoying that some people treat the news of Obama's relatives as some kind of novelty. "Meet Michelle Obama's White Relatives" is how "Inside Edition" promoted yesterday's show in a news release.
Producers were hyped up over the fact that they'd uncovered white cousins of Michelle's - a woman named Debbie Shields, who is supposedly her fourth cousin, and the woman's 17-year-old son, Brandon. According to "Inside Edition," Shields' great-great-grandfather was also Michelle Obama's great-great-great-grandfather. In other words, these are very distant cousins that they'd come up with.
At first, the blond Shields didn't believe that there was a real connection between her and the first lady. She told "Inside Edition": "I thought it was a joke."
Megan Smolenyak., a Haddonfield-based genealogist whom I wrote about last month, said that she wasn't clear exactly what the connection was between this newly discovered relative and the nation's first family.
Smolenyak wasn't privy to the "Inside Edition" research, nor had she seen the show ahead of time. But Smolenyak doesn't discount the possibility that there could be a legitimate link between Shields and Michelle Obama.
"We know that this happens all the time," Smolenyak told me. "Since this story first broke, I've been hearing from a lot of descendants of the Shields family, hoping to be her cousin. But we just don't have proof.
"Michelle, like everybody, has gazillions of cousins," added Smolenyak, the chief family historian for Ancestry.com.
The New York Times published a piece earlier this year about Smolenyak's tracing Michelle's family tree back to a slave girl named Melvinia who had children with a white ancestor, presumably a slave owner named Charles Marion Shields. Michelle Obama's mother, Marian Robinson, is a Shields by birth.
I think Brandon Shields got it right when he told "Inside Edition," "I think it is incredible. The history of it. To go from slavery to the White House in a few generations."
The takeaway from all this should be that we're more interrelated than not. "Mathematically, we're all 50th cousins or closer," as Smolenyak likes to say. "We're all kissing cousins. We just don't realize it."