Goodnight Mr President

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Goodnight Mr President

Post  Sirop14 on Wed Apr 08, 2009 11:49 pm

Barack Obama is not, as you might have thought, Irish or even Kenyan but Alsacien – or partly, anyway. The six times great grandparents of the new President of the United States came from Bischwiller, 30 kilometres north east of Strasbourg. Christian Gunther, archivist to the commune of Bischwiller, has uncovered the 18th century registers that reveal the origins of Obama’s maternal grandmother and hence the President himself.

Barack Obama from Alsace

In 1718 Alsace was recovering from yet another war between France and the Teutons beyond the Rhine in the form of the Hapsburg Empire. The province had been French since the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648 and the local seigneurs recruited colonists from over-populated Switzerland to repopulate the devastated countryside. In Bischwiller a street – the Neue Gas, the new street - was set aside for them to build their houses and it was here that the parents of Christian Gutknecht set up house, where he was born in 1722. There he married the daughter of another immigrant Swiss family, Marie-Magdalena Grunünholz. Their fathers were colleagues in the night watch whose duty it was to patrol the town during the hours of darkness and guard against fire and other dangers. They were charpentiers in their day jobs, carpenters specialising in roofs and the timbers of half-timbered houses. Christian himself, the Alsacien records show, was a tobacco processor.

In the 1740s Alsace was overwhelmed by another war over the Austrian succession and the couple finally decided to take the risk of emigrating from the kingdom of France to the American colonies of the King of England. Travelling down the Rhine, they took ship for America and settled in Pennsylvania which had already attracted other German speakers. They were among the fortunate. Many emigrants were defrauded or ill-treated by unscrupulous ships’ captains and never reached their destination: a number of Alsaciens had paid in advance to get to America, only to find on reaching Holland that there was no ship.

Once safely settled in the American colonies they changed their name from Gutknecht to Mr and Mrs Goodnight and over the generations the name of Dunham emerged and our lovely new President who, the genealogists say, is 4.73% Alsacien in origin. True, you might say, his ancestors were really Swiss, but nothing will dampen the enthusiasm of archivist Christian Gunther, who hopes soon to be able to identify the house Obama's forebears occupied, and who breathlessly awaits the arrival of the new President at the NATO conference in April in Strasbourg.

Will Obama return to visit his roots in neighbouring Bischwiller?
Robert Harneis

Archivist Christian Gunther points to name Gudknecht in an 18th Century town register


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