NEW YORK – The Rev. Al Sharpton met Sen. Strom Thurmond only once – in 1991, while Sharpton was on a visit to Washington, D.C. The encounter was awkward because of the late South Carolina senator’s background as a prominent defender of segregation. “I was not happy to meet him,” Sharpton said of the senator who died in 2003. Their paths intersected again last week when Sharpton learned he is a descendant of a slave owned by Thurmond’s relatives. He was stunned by the information from the New York Daily News, which had obtained it from genealogists who tracked Sharpton’s roots and unearthed the data. “It was probably the most shocking thing in my life,” Sharpton said at a news conference Sunday, the day the tabloid revealed the story. His children have acknowledged that he fathered a biracial daughter, Essie Mae Washington-Williams, whose mother was a housekeeper in the home of Thurmond’s parents. 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! The professional genealogists, who work for Ancestry.com, found that Sharpton’s great-grandfather Coleman Sharpton was a slave owned by Julia Thurmond, whose grandfather was Strom Thurmond’s great-great-grandfather. Coleman Sharpton was later freed. “Based on the paper trail, it seems pretty evident that the connection is there,” said Mike Ward, a genealogist with Ancestry.com. The revelations surfaced after the Web site contacted a Daily News reporter who agreed to have his own family tree done. The intrigued reporter then asked Sharpton if he wanted to participate. Sharpton said he told the paper, “Go for it.” The genealogists, who were not paid by the newspaper, uncovered the ancestral ties using a variety of documents that included census, marriage and death records. Strom Thurmond was once considered an icon of racial segregation. During his 1948 bid for president he promised to preserve segregation, and in 1957 he filibustered for more than 24 hours against a civil-rights bill. But Thurmond was seen as softening his stance later in his long life. He died in June of 2003 at the age of 100. One of the longest-serving senators in history, he was originally a Democrat but became a Republican in 1964.