scorecardresearch Skip to main content

Document ties Warren kin to Cherokees

Genealogist cites application for marriage license dating from 1894

Scott Brown said Elizabeth Warren should answer questions about reports that she has been listed as a Native American.
(Boston Globe) Scott Brown reacts to Elizabeth Warren's Native American status. Video by Glen Johnson

A record unearthed Monday shows that US Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren has a great-great-great grandmother listed in an 1894 document as a Cherokee, said a genealogist at the New England Historic and Genealogy Society.

The shred of evidence could validate her assertion that she has Native American ancestry, making her 1/32 American Indian, but may not put an end to the questions swirling around the subject.

Intense focus on Warren’s heritage comes as the Democrat has faced several days of scrutiny about whether she has represented herself as a minority in her academic career.

The Boston Herald reported Friday that Harvard University Law School had promoted Warren as a minority hire when the school was under fire for a lack of diversity in its faculty.


Warren said Friday that she did not know the school had done so and that she did not recall using her Indian ancestry to advance her career.

But the Globe and other news outlets reported Sunday that Warren had listed herself as a minority professor between 1986 and 1995 in the Association of American Law Schools desk book, a major reference for legal professors.

A Harvard Law School spokeswoman, Sarah Marston, said Monday that the school would not comment on Warren or why it chose to promote her heritage.

The Warren campaign sent statements last night from deans and faculty at four universities where Warren taught, attesting that her ancestry never came up in the hiring process.

Chris Child, a genealogist at the New England Historic and Genealogy Society, said he began digging into Warren’s family history on Thursday, when media interest emerged.

At first, he found no link between Warren’s family and Native Americans in her native Oklahoma.

But Monday afternoon, he said, he discovered a few links. Warren’s great-great-great grandmother, O.C. Sarah Smith, is listed on her son’s 1894 application for a marriage license as a Cherokee.


Child also found that Warren’s great-grandfather, John Houston Crawford, had lived in Native American territory, but identified himself as white in a 1900 census.

Child cautioned that the search for ancestry often takes a long time and that more information could still emerge as he continues to research the issue.

But he said Warren’s family is not included in the official Dawes Commission rolls, a census of major tribes completed in the early 20th century that Cherokees use to determine tribal citizenship.

The Delaware Nation, from which Warren has said she is also descended, did not return calls Monday.

“If you have ancestry, that’s great,’’ said Lenzy Krehbiel-Burton, deputy director of communications for the Cherokee Nation, based in Oklahoma. “We encourage you to research it and do your proverbial homework. With a margarita-sized grain of salt, there is a difference between having ancestry and being a citizen.’’

Krehbiel-Burton said about 9 percent of Oklahoma residents identify as at least part Native American on the US Census, regardless of the color of their skin. But she said documentation is essential to proving it.

On Monday, several universities where Warren taught before Harvard were unable to provide her employment records, which could shed light on whether she ever used her ancestry when applying for a job.

At the University of Texas, where Warren taught from 1981 through 1987, a records coordinator said Monday that computer records there list her ethnicity as white.


Warren told reporters Friday that she is proud of her Cherokee and Delaware heritage, familiar to her and her brothers through stories “told by my mom and my dad, my mamma and my pappa. This is our lives.’’

But her campaign has not been able to document it.

The lack of clarity on the issue prompted US Senator Scott Brown’s campaign to question Warren’s credibility and call for her to “come clean.’’ Warren’s campaign shot back Monday, accusing Brown, a Republican, of “nasty insinuations.’’

“If Scott Brown has questions about Elizabeth Warren’s well-known qualifications - from her high marks as a teacher to her nationally recognized work on bankruptcy and the pressures on middle-class families - he ought to ask them directly, instead of hiding behind the nasty insinuations of his campaign and trying to score political points,’’ Warren’s campaign manager, Mindy Myers, said in a statement.

Brown himself was less pointed yesterday, even as his campaign has been fueling the story.“I know the media has been asking a lot of questions, and I’ve been following it just like you have,’’ Brown told reporters. “So, if there are questions, you know, she should answer them.’’

When Brown was asked yesterday whether he was suggesting Warren is not qualified, he demurred.

“I have no knowledge,’’ he said. “You’re asking a lot of questions, and I’m learning about it as you are. And you ask a lot of questions, and she should answer them.’’

Glen Johnson of the Globe staff contributed to this report. Noah Bierman can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @noahbierman.


Correction: Because of a reporting error, an earlier version of this story and the accompanying headline incorrectly described the 1894 document that was purported to list Elizabeth Warren’s great-great-great grandmother as a Cherokee. The document, alluded to in a family newsletter found by the New England Historic Genealogical Society, was an application for a marriage license, not the license itself. Neither the society nor the Globe has seen the primary document, whose existence has not been proven.