The White House said first lady Michelle Obama had not known many of the details of her family history and enjoyed reading it. She had declined to comment on the story for The New York Times because of the personal nature of the subject.
The slave girl Melvinia initially appears in the documentary record in 1850, the property of South Carolina landowner David Patterson, who owned 21 slaves.
After Patterson died in 1852, Melvinia was sent to a smaller 200-acre farm in Georgia, the home of Patterson’s daughter and son-in-law, Christianne and Henry Shields. She was one of only three slaves on the farm near Atlanta.