Elizabeth Warren's Cherokee Heritage Raises Questions

Chuck Burton/AP Photo

Elizabeth Warren is under fire for reports she claimed status as a minority lawyer based on a far-back blood connection to the Cherokee line.

The Boston Globe reported that the Democratic candidate challenger to Scott Brown in the Senate race in Massachusetts self-identified as a minority from 1986 to 1995, though she has no recent Native American family.

Genealogist at the New England Historic Genealogical Society Chris Child set out to hunt down Warren's ancestry last Thursday. In less than a week, he discovered documents citing an 1894 marriage record that lists Warren's great-great-great grandmother, O. C. Sarah Smith as Cherokee, meaning that Warren is 1/32 nd Native American.

Child said roots like these can take anywhere from weeks to months to track down, depending on the twists and turns of the family trees.

"Once you go back further than 150 years the records are more complicated to go through," Child said.

For example, that great-great-great grandma of Warren's also goes by the name "Neoma" or "Oma" in some records. Child said it's not unusual to find individuals listed under several different names at that time period.

The story kicked off Friday when the Boston Herald reported on an article that ran in the Harvard Crimson in 1996 about students' concerns regarding a lack of diversity among the school's faculty. In the story, Warren, who serves as the Leo Gottlieb Professor of Law at Harvard's Law School, was cited as Native American. Warren's identification as Native American pre-dates her time at Harvard.

Law School directories from the Association of American Law Schools from 1986-1995 list Warren as a minority law professor. During this time Warren taught at the University of Texas School of Law and the University of Pennsylvania Law School.

Though Warren reportedly said last week that she was proud of her heritage, she makes no mention of her ancestry during a profile of her childhood made by the Boston Globe. The reporter who wrote that story said he did not remember her mentioning anything about her Native American roots. Though he said in an email it was possible that he had forgotten, he thought it was "unlikely that she brought it up."

Polling shows Warren is in a tight race with incumbent Republican Sen. Scott Brown. Though hotly contested the campaign has remained relatively civil, thanks in large part to a pledge signed by both candidates to keep attack ads from outside groups out of their race. That pledge continues to be honored, but things are growing increasingly tense.

Since the story erupted on Friday, Brown has been relatively reserved- on Monday he told reporters that "if there are questions, she should answer them"-avoiding any outright attacks. His campaign manager, Jim Barnett, has said that Warren should "apologize for participating in this hypocritical sham."

Warren herself has not lodged any accusations at Brown either. Warren's campaign manager, Mindy Myers, suggested that Brown was trying to gain political points, and insinuated that there was a sexist aspect to these questions about Warren's ancestry- though she stopped short of lobbing the accusation outright.

"Once again, the qualifications and ability of a woman are being called into question by Scott Brown who did the same thing with the Supreme Court nomination of Elena Kagan. It's outrageous," Myers said in a statement.

Elizabeth Hartfield contributed to this report.