In her new autobiography, Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) reiterates claims that her parents “eloped” despite the existence of a marriage certificate and contemporaneous press accounts of their wedding.
Although the subject caused her a major headache during her 2012 campaign for Senate, Warren devotes less than 1,500 words in the book to her claims of Native American heritage. But the account also includes a subtle, but notable, shift in how she describes what happened when her parents were married in 1932.
In 2012, Warren began saying that her parents had been forced to elope because her father’s parents opposed their son marrying a woman with Native American ancestry.
For instance, May 31, 2012 she told the Boston Globe:
In the 1930s, when my parents got married, these were hard issues. My father’s family so objected to my mother’s Native American heritage that my mother told me they had to elope. [emphasis added]
William Jacobson at Legal Insurrection noted at the time that this was the first time then-candidate Warren had ever publicly claimed her parents had eloped and told the story of their purported elopement as well as the motivations she claimed were behind it.
As the story gathered interest from the press during the campaign, candidate Warren elaborated even further on the story. On June 29, 2012 she told Jim Braude on NECN’s BroadSide program:
My mom and dad, uh, were very much in love with each other and they wanted to get married and my father’s parents said absolutely not, you can’t marry her because she’s part Cherokee and she’s part Delaware. After fighting as long as they could my parents went off, they eloped . . .
In the book, Warren repeats the tale but doesn’t explicitly say why her father’s parents were opposed to the marriage other than that they “looked down on my mother and her family.”
“They [Senator Warren’s father’s family] looked down on my mother and her family, and when my father announced that he wanted to marry my mother, his parents were adamantly opposed,” she writes. “But my daddy and mother were very much in love, so they eloped–no fancy dress and no big group of friends and family.”
“Despite the trouble with Daddy’s family, my mother never hid anything from us. Everyone on our mother’s side–aunts, uncles, and grandparents–talked openly about their Native American ancestry,” Warren writes. “As my mother got older, as she lost first her father and then her mother, her brothers, and two of her sisters, she spoke more forcefully than ever about the importance of not forgetting our Native American roots.”
Like Warren’s broader claim of Native American ancestry, the available evidence does not support that her parents eloped, which means to marry in a secretive and hurried fashion, often leaving one’s place of residence in haste. It appears, instead, to have been a small wedding officiated by a Methodist pastor at either a church or the church parsonage in a community near the home town where both the bride and groom resided.
In a June 1, 2012 article, Breitbart News revealed this copy of what it appears to be Warren’s parents’ certificate of marriage, marriage license application and marriage license from Hughes County, Oklahoma. The certificate of marriage at the bottom of the document is dated January 4, 1932.
According to the certificate of marriage at the bottom of the document, the marriage took place in Holdenville, Oklahoma, the county seat, located approximately 14 miles from Wetumka, Oklahoma, which both the 21-year-old groom, Donald J. Herring, and 19-year-old bride, Pauline Reed, declared as their residence.
The ceremony was officiated by Sidney H. Babcock, pastor of the Methodist Episcopal Church South of Holdensville, Oklahoma. His signature appears at the bottom of the document.
Mrs. Sidney Babcock, wife of the pastor, and Ms. Alyne Geren, a friend of both the bride and the groom, were witnesses, according to the document and contemporary local press accounts of the wedding first reported by Twila Barnes, an enrolled member of the Cherokee tribe and a highly respected Cherokee genealogist.
The Wetumka Gazette, the home town newspaper of both the bride and groom, carried an account of the wedding in its January 8, 1932 edition, just four days after the wedding took place.
“The marriage of Donald Herring and Miss Pauline Reed, two of Wetumka’s most popular young people, came as a surprise to many of their friend when they returned from Holdenville late Saturday afternoon and announced their marriage,” the article said. “Both of the young people,” it continued, “were reared in Wetumka and are popular members of the younger set.”
“Mrs. Herring,” the Gazette reported, “is the daughter of H.G. Reed, building contractor of this city, and has always been prominent in the social and church activities of the younger people and being a gifted singer has identified herself with the music lovers of the community.”
“The Gazette joins a host of friends in wishing for these young people a long and happy life together,” the article concluded.
As the genealogist Barnes asked after discovering this contemporary local report of the wedding, “If Ms. Warren’s parents eloped due to her mother being ‘Cherokee and Delaware’ and it was such a disgrace, why did they rush back to Wetumka the same day they were married and proudly announce it to everyone?”
Further, she asks “If there was shame associated with the marriage and it caused so many problems, why was it happily announced in the local paper and why did the town seem to celebrate the marriage of the two popular young people?”
As William Jacobson noted at Legal Insurrection in August 2012, “[b]ecause the events took place in a time and place where there was scant documentation of life, and because all the persons with first-hand knowledge were long dead by the time Warren told the story publicly, we cannot know conclusively about the circumstances of Warren’s parents’ marriage.”
Regarding the broader claim of Native American heritage, Warren’s standard of proof in the book is simply “family folklore,” unsubstantiated assertions made to her by family members about Cherokee and Delaware ancestors.
Despite a protacted public debate on the subject and investigations by numerous experts into the matter, there remains no credible evidence that Warren has Native American heritage.