Genealogy is my hobby. It’s relatively easy these days to track down your ancestry using such online tools as rootsweb.com and ancestry.com. Much of genealogical research involves sorting family lore from fact.
Based on hard evidence, I can assert with confidence that I am Senator Patrick Leahy’s third half-cousin. We both take our name from our common great-great grandfather, Andrew Leahy, born in Ireland around 1809, died in Hemmingford, Quebec in 1882.
Senator Leahy’s great-grandfather Andrew was the son of Andrew Leahy and his first wife, Anastasia Ryan. My great-grandfather, Patrick, was the son of Andrew Leahy and his second wife, Honora Devine. I can show you Quebec Catholic church records and American census records that trace both our lineages.
Also based on hard evidence, I can confidently assert that my friend Dr. Milton Wolf, tea party activist and author, is President Obama’s second cousin, once removed.
Another tea party friend of mine, Mark Kevin Lloyd from Virginia, had for years been told by his grandmother that he was a direct descendant of Patrick Henry. When I edited Mark’s e-book, The Battle for Virginia’s 5th District: How the Ancestral Spirit of Patrick Henry Inspired Me to Join the Tea Party, for Broadside Books’ Voices of the Tea Party e-book series, I researched this claim before we published the book. I couldn’t find any evidence to support Mark’s family lore. Therefore, when we described his connection to Patrick Henry we said:
As a child, Mark Lloyd’s grandmother always told him that he was a descendant of Patrick Henry. Though he’s still trying to document the connection, he likes to believe that he is guided by Henry’s spirit.
In contrast, Elizabeth Warren, the current Democratic candidate for the United States Senate in Massachusetts, has for 25 years asserted that she has Native American ancestry but has never produced one bit of credible evidence to support that assertion. Shockingly, several of the law schools that have employed her have accepted her assertion without requiring her to provide evidence to support the claim.
When pressed recently to explain her assertion of native American ancestry, Warren gave a long, rambling response:
“I have lived in a family that has talked about Native America, talked about tribes, since I’ve been a little girl,” she said. “I still have a picture on my mantle at home, and it’s a picture of my mother’s dad, a picture of my grandfather, and my Aunt Bee has walked by that picture at least a 1000 times, remarked that her father, my Pappa, had high cheekbones, like all of the Indians do, because that’s how she saw it, and your mother got those same great cheekbones, and I didn’t. And she though this was the bad deal she had gotten in life. Being Native American has been a part of my story, I guess since the day I was born, I don’t know any other way to describe it.”
But for over a quarter of a century, Ms. Warren has surely known that her claim of Native American ancestry cannot be supported by credible evidence. Yet she still did and has persuaded her law school employers to accept it.
William Jacobson at Legal Insurrection notes that Warren first claimed minority status in 1986, when an official publication of the Association of American Law Schools placed her on a list of Minority Law Teachers. She was, at the time, employed by the University of Texas. In 1994, the same publication placed her on a list of Minority Law Teachers while she was employed by the University of Pennsylvania.
Neither the University of Texas nor the University of Pennsylvania appear to have checked on the validity of Ms. Warren’s assertions. Harvard may still list her as a “minority teacher,” although it’s hard to get the administration to issue an official statement on that topic.
Indeed, as recently as 1996, Harvard Law School spokesman Mike Chmura was touting Warren’s Native American ancestry, as Noreen Malone reported this week in New York Magazine:
“Although the conventional wisdom among students and faculty is that the Law School faculty includes no minority women, Chmura said professor of law Elizabeth Warren is Native American,” read a 1996 Crimson article, timing that provides grist for those who want to imply that identifying as Cherokee was a careerist move that helped her get inside the most rarified Ivy gates.
Now, decades after Ms. Warren first began making these unsubstantiated claims about her Native American heritage, Chris Child, a researcher at the New England Genealogical Office, has offered one bit of evidence that some claim support Ms. Warren’s contention that she has Cherokee heritage. But it’s not much.
Mr. Child found that Ms. Warren’s great-great-grandfather, Preston Crawford, had a brother, William Crawford. In 1894, when William Crawford was about 57 years old, he submitted a marriage application to the officials of Logan County, in what was then Oklahoma Territory. In that application, William Crawford stated he wished to receive a license to marry Mary Long, and he further stated that his mother, O.C. Sarah Smith, was a Cherokee.
Here’s the problem with that evidence: Nowhere do the records of that time support William Crawford’s claim.
We know that between 1794 and 1799, Wyatt Smith and Margaret “Peggy” Brackin Smith had a little girl they named O.C. Sarah Smith. There’s no evidence that “Peggy,” O.C. Sarah’s mother, was Cherokee, and her father’s father–Andreas Smith–was the son of two Swedish immigrants, Hans Jurgen Smidt and his wife Maria Stalcop, who settled in Delaware shortly before Andreas’ birth in 1731.
O.C. Sarah Smith–known in some records as “Oma” or “Neoma”–appears to be the mother of both Elizabeth Warren’s great-great-grandfather, Preston Crawford, and his brother, William Crawford, who is said to have claimed she was Cherokee on that wedding application.
It is upon this claim by O.C. Sarah Smith’s son that Ms. Warren’s assertion of Native American ancestry precariously sits. But under the best case scenario for Ms. Warren, her great-great-great grandmother O.C. Sarah Smith was only half Cherokee and half Swedish, making her not 1/32 Cherokee, as most press reports have stated, but 1/64 Cherokee.
However, it is more likely that O.C. Sarah Smith had no Cherokee heritage.
Census records that listed O.C. Sarah Smith Crawford (her married name) as a resident of Tennessee in 1830, 1840, and 1860 classify her as white, not Indian.
So why would Ms. Warren’s great-great-grand-uncle make up such a thing? Perhaps he showed the same kind of tendency towards ancestral “embellishment” that she herself seems to exhibit, or perhaps there was some logistical or tactical benefit in the Oklahoma Territory of 1894 to him and his intended bride that encouraged him to make the claim. Or perhaps he believed it to be true, even though in all probability it was not. We will likely never know.
But what makes this story so important?
It’s important because Elizabeth Warren has just become the poster child for everything that’s wrong with the way the left engages in political dialogue. They make assertions that are either simply untrue or cannot be substantiated by any evidence, and they call anyone who would challenge them a racist, a flat-earther, a “bow-tying white boy”, or worse.
As Ronald Reagan said, “the trouble with our liberal friends is not that they’re ignorant; it’s just that they know so much that isn’t so.”
Michael Patrick Leahy is the Editor of Broadside Books’ Voices of the Tea Party e-book series and author of Covenant of Liberty: The Ideological Origins of the Tea Party Movement.