Elizabeth Warren’s Roots

Since a spontaneous discussion has sprung up about Elizabeth Warren’s announcement that she’s part Cherokee, I thought I would give the discussion its own post.

Steve’s the genealogist in our family. My family really quickly goes back to Ireland and Italy. Between shabby record keeping, small villages where everybody has the same last name, and foreign language issues, I very quickly got a dead-end on my research. Steve  has family on both sides that goes back before the Revolutionary War, so he has easier access to records. He’s probably related to some of you.

Now, let’s talk about Warren. So, her announcement is surely a sign that she’s going to run in 2020. One of my friends on Facebook linked to an article with a headline, “Warren is 1% Cherokee, and 100% Running for President in 2020.” I think she hoped to galvanize the left behind her, as she attacked Trump for his Pocahontas comments, but I’m seeing a lot of “meh” on Twitter. I think it was a misstep.

Alright, let’s talk genealogy. Who has mapped out their families? Any famous relatives? Anybody do the DNA kits? Those kits are apparently a sham, but I got one for Steve for his birthday. My Italian aunt did it and it said that she was 99 percent Italian with 1 percent Eastern European. Steve said that there were supposedly Trojans that when to Italy after the Trojan War, so that might be true.

 

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39 thoughts on “Elizabeth Warren’s Roots

  1. “Those kits are apparently a sham.”

    LOL, they are not a sham.

    I have helped ten people find biological fathers (and in some cases mothers) in the last year or so. In one case, the woman’s biological first cousin was in tears because the biological aunt had always wondered what happened to her sister’s child placed for adoption. DNA tests found and confirmed these people. Once the actual family members are located, they mostly confirm what the DNA tests have shown unless they are in denial or the people who knew the truth are dead.

    Ancestry is right now the strongest and most reliable testing company. MyHeritage is currently a sham. FTDNA and 23andMe have flaws in the client interfaces they use. The tests are legit; it’s just that most people don’t know how to read the results.

    If anyone wants advice on reading DNA test results or building a tree, I do it for free (for now). Hit me up in email.

    Oh man, this is reminding me I need to prepare a presentation on GEDMatch for tomorrow night’s genealogy group meeting.

  2. Well, today is a slow day at work, so I do have time for this. I don’t think those kits are shams. The one I did was FTDNA. I’ve been meaning to try another but I have to do some research about which one is best. (Although maybe I’ll just rely on Wendy.)

    As to why my DNA results differ slightly from expectations (as I mentioned in the previous post), I suppose one possibility is that my maternal grandmother deceived my grandfather, and substituted the genes of some Swedish workman for my grandfather’s New England ones. But that is inconsistent with what I know about her generally, and there are plenty of other possible explanations.

    1. “But that is inconsistent with what I know about her generally, and there are plenty of other possible explanations.”

      Yeah, the simplest explanation is that there was a lot of Scandinavian activity in the area of England your ancestors are from.

      Our Scandinavian ancestors really got around.

  3. I was skeptical of Warren before — I mean, I will absolutely vote for her if she is the Democratic nominee, but I’ve never been wowed by her — but this event confirms for me that she is not the right person to take on Trump. She just does not have the right political instincts to withstand an entire campaign against him and this episode is clear evidence of that.

    In my mind, there are there types that have a good shot against Trump.

    One, the scummy type, someone who works at Trump’s level. Avenatti, I guess, although god I hope not

    Two, a hope and change inspirer a la Obama in 2008. O’Rourke seems like the best fit here but I’m not convinced he can rally the coalition of educated whites and working class people of color the way Obama did.

    Three, a straight shooter. Not a technocrat centrist, necessarily, but someone who has the political savvy to know how not to get drawn into Native American ancestry, birth certificate, Swift boat type of attacks. I’ve noticed that younger Democrats are much, much better at this. They learned that it is impossible to win those fights so they provide terse responses and always pivot back to policy. And they do that over and over and over until the fervor dies out. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is very good at this, although I don’t think this skill is tied to being leftist. Not sure who in the current field meets this definition since it is mostly crowded by establishment old farts.

    Anyway, Warren is none of these and is really just a bad match against Trump. Guess it is better to learn that now than in 20 months from now.

    1. All true, but Hillary has got to be grateful that Elizabeth has shoved Hillary’s utterly disastrous ‘Monica was an adult’ remark off the front pages! I think the Dems’ best bet would be a centrist governor of a large state, but they are singularly in short supply these days. Brown’s too old, Cuomo has unsavory connections, Mass has a Reep… The Senate is full of eager folks who look in the mirror every morning and see ‘future President’, but usually that doesn’t work well.

  4. Laura said,

    “Steve has family on both sides that goes back before the Revolutionary War, so he has easier access to records. He’s probably related to some of you.”

    Yep. Hi, Cousin Steve!

    “Any famous relatives?”

    My great-great-great-grandfather was from the Ford family (which is very well researched), so the rich Fords are very distant cousins of mine. Other than that, only a locally notable person.

    “Anybody do the DNA kits? Those kits are apparently a sham, but I got one for Steve for his birthday.”

    My parents have done it and my husband will probably do one when we can get a good price. My parents’ results seemed plausible.

    “My Italian aunt did it and it said that she was 99 percent Italian with 1 percent Eastern European.”

    A lot of Eastern Europe is pretty close to Italy. It’s not that far away. Also, historically, there was a major slave trade involving Slavs (in fact, that’s the etymology of the word “slave”), so that makes sense.

      1. Jewish DNA is a b*tch to deal with. I was helping my friend who took an Ancestry DNA test and found out she was 51% Ashkenazi Jewish instead of 100% Italian, and finding leads on her father was very difficult. The community was so endogamous and the paper records are so bad and names changed so often that anything further away than 5 generations or so is just a crapshoot. I call it “objects in the rearview mirror are farther away than they appear.”

      2. Wendy said,

        “The community was so endogamous and the paper records are so bad and names changed so often that anything further away than 5 generations or so is just a crapshoot.”

        I can imagine.

      3. We had a family story of a Jewish ancestor 4 generations back. Per the DNA test, there’s no trace of such in me, but there is Irish. My theory is that it was more acceptable to claim to be Jewish than Irish at that time, in that place.

        It makes more sense with the ancestor’s name, which seems more Irish than Jewish.

        Many cherished family legends do not survive DNA testing.

      4. I also have some Jewish ancestry. (1/8, so I don’t worry about the Nuremburg Laws, although I guess my father would have been in trouble if we had lost the War.) My understanding is that Jewish ancestry generally cannot be traced before Jewish Emancipation, which would have arrived at slightly different times through Europe. So basically 1800 is as far back as you can go, unless your Jewish ancestors were particularly notable. FWIW, the FTDNA test reported the same 1/8 that we had found through documentary research.

      5. It’s fascinating to me that I’m one of four regular contributors to this thread that may have unacknowledged Jewish ancestry.

      6. Huh, y81. I thought “Oh, the Canadian Jewish family I worked with traced one of their lines back very far,” but I just looked and they only got back to the mid 1800s. So yeah.

    1. “A lot of Eastern Europe is pretty close to Italy. It’s not that far away. ”

      My brother-in-law is a very tidy 1/2 Slovak, 1/4 Polish, 1/4 Irish, and he tests as 65% Eastern Europe/Russia, 11% Baltic, 1% Germanic, and 23% Irish. Or as I refer to him, What You See Is What You Get, No Surprises.

      Me, other than the possible Cartagenan Moor my Dutch pirate ancestor may have impregnated, I am basically 100% European, 60% Irish/Scottish and 40% England/Wales/NW Europe (ie, Belgium, Netherlands and France). No African ancestry, no Native American ancestry, no Asian ancestry. I’m like David Duke’s dream girl. *vomitemoji*

      1. Wendy said,

        “My brother-in-law is a very tidy 1/2 Slovak, 1/4 Polish, 1/4 Irish, and he tests as 65% Eastern Europe/Russia, 11% Baltic, 1% Germanic, and 23% Irish. Or as I refer to him, What You See Is What You Get, No Surprises.”

        That is very tidy.

        As you’ve no doubt discovered, Eastern Europe is kind of a mess. The borders kept shifting around, there’s been a lot of diversity inside the borders, and the people kept moving around (or being moved around). My husband, for example, was born in Poland, but he’s probably at least as ethnically diverse as I am.

        Come to think of it, that would make it worthwhile for both of us to do the testing, so we can see who “wins.”

      2. AmyP, be prepared for surprises. I met a woman over the summer whose brother-in-law had discovered his uncle was his father through such testing. According to her, he has still not recovered his equilibrium.

        I started getting into genealogy when I realized that our parents’ generation were passing away, and everyone in the family relies upon my aunt to know who’s who.

        One branch of my family tree is full of…improbabilities. It’s the line that claims (on Family Search) descent from Powhatan. That’s 15 generations ago, so if it were true, the fact that there’s no trace of such in my tests means nothing. But then again, that’s also the line that didn’t talk about my great-grandmother’s first marriage, nor the loss of a house during the Depression, and seems to have fantasized a mysterious provenance for a (multiple great-) grandfather. Said grandfather was most likely illegitimate, and his family went to great lengths to hide that fact. Funnily enough, his granddaughters all lied about their ages.

        So, the DNA tests are often more reliable than family history, depending on the family. DNA tests and the internet provide a great deal of information.

      3. Cranberry, I don’t understand. How would DNA testing distinguish whether a person was descended from his putative father versus his putative uncle? The father and the uncle, being brothers, would have the same DNA. (Not exactly the same, of course, but derived from the same ethnic groups.)

      4. y81, it was at a cocktail party? So this falls into hearsay. But if the father/uncle were half brothers, it’s quite possible for, say, one brother to have Italian ancestry and the other to have English ancestry.

        Brothers don’t necessarily have the same DNA. If cousins also did the tests, it would be suspicious if your results showed a closer relationship to your cousins than to your (supposed) siblings.

        (Searches) And apparently yes, the stronger DNA tests can distinguish between brothers: https://genetics.thetech.org/ask-a-geneticist/daughter-vs-niece-paternity-test

        But these are not the only tests out there. A more powerful test like the one offered by 23andMe or AncestryDNA can easily tell if your husband is the father or the uncle of the child.

        These can tell the difference because they look at a lot more DNA than does a standard paternity test (click here to learn more). And they are around the same price as the cheapest paternity tests.

        Pictures at the link that shows how different matches between nieces and daughters look.

      5. “How would DNA testing distinguish whether a person was descended from his putative father versus his putative uncle? The father and the uncle, being brothers, would have the same DNA.”

        Common myth about DNA testing. (Days of Our Lives is having a storyline right now that is based on this same myth.)

        DNA tests measure exactly how much DNA you share with your match. You do not share with an uncle the same amount of DNA you share with a father.

        Here is a screenshot of my top 6 matches using GEDMatch (the same tool that located the Golden State serial killer, bwahaha). https://imgur.com/X15kvE1

        I’m the W (matching myself, LOL–I have tested with several companies). You will see that my mom, who is the “G,” matches the same amount. The next 2 are my sisters, L and J. The bottom 2 (T and R) are my uncles.

      6. Cranberry said,

        “One branch of my family tree is full of…improbabilities. It’s the line that claims (on Family Search) descent from Powhatan. That’s 15 generations ago, so if it were true, the fact that there’s no trace of such in my tests means nothing. But then again, that’s also the line that didn’t talk about my great-grandmother’s first marriage, nor the loss of a house during the Depression, and seems to have fantasized a mysterious provenance for a (multiple great-) grandfather. Said grandfather was most likely illegitimate, and his family went to great lengths to hide that fact. Funnily enough, his granddaughters all lied about their ages.”

        Wow.

        Years ago, my husband and his mom discovered (while cleaning out an apartment after that great-uncle had not actually been great-grandma’s biological child. Great-uncle was great-grandpa’s kid born out of wedlock, but had been raised with his half-siblings, with the younger generation being none the wiser until the papers turned up.

      7. Apparently, there were a lot of fake genealogists in the early/mid 20th century who basically made up connections to royalty or famous people and published them as “legitimate” genealogy.

  5. I have very little interest in my ancestry, and much less in Elizabeth Warren’s. Someone in her family said they had Cherokee heritage, right? And she believed it, and she does probably have some, though not enough to qualify for affirmative action on that count. The whole thing is just a sideshow.

    I am curious about whether we have any Jewish heritage, so maybe I’ll check Ancestry someday. But pretty much I only care about the people I actually knew. The rest of them are just a part of history that is more or less interesting based on its interestingness, not on my personal connection to them.

    Those Finding Your Roots shows are fun. though, and especially fascinating on African American history.

  6. The DNA kits are definitely not shams, though the way people interpret them is often naive. The reliability of information decreases based on the use to which the data is being put (identifying 8th generation ancestors, location of origin, . . . ). And, beyond identifying immediate relatives, needs to be supported by other evidence.

    23 & me has a strong group of scientists behind it, but didn’t start (and, I think hopes to be more than) an ancestry site.

  7. Ah, famous relatives. My several times great uncle was Richard Price, the founder of actuarial science and all-around polymath. Another (in)famous ancestor is Elizabeth (Feake) (Winthrop) Hallett, the protagonist of Anya Seton’s novel, “The Winthrop Woman.”

    1. Famous people I am related to:
      Walt Whitman (cousin, of course); I have 2 different Whitman direct ancestors from the Huntington, NY area (home of the Walt Whitman Mall!)
      Oliver Platt and Ben Affleck through Richard Platt (settler of Milford, CT)
      Barber Conable, head of the World Bank at some point. He was my GGF’s third cousin.

    1. Elizabeth Warren doesn’t seem very politically astute. I can’t see how a discussion of her Indian roots and her past claims relating thereto can possibly help her. She would have been best advised to obtain a DNA test and release it quietly, so as to defuse the accusations of total fabrication, and then to move on to other topics. As it stands, she isn’t winning any Indian votes, she isn’t winning any votes from people who favor affirmative action and/or identity politics, and she isn’t focusing discussion on issues that might help her.

  8. One last thing before I go be a slumlord* for a bit:

    Membership to lineage societies is not based on DNA. Legal documents establish parentage and lineage more so than DNA. I know someone who got a Thing based on their ancestry and who later found out that DNA told a different story. (Vague because it’s a valuable Thing to them.)

    *I’m actually a very nice landlord.

  9. I’m still trying to figure out how to explain just why I find this whole thing so, so disgusting. And I think it comes down to this. Using a DNA test implies some really awful things about how Elizabeth Warren thinks about race and ethnicity. Ethnicity is not genetics and it is not quantifiable, but she seems (and many of her supporters as well) to be treating it as if it were. All the way to making ‘one drop’ arguments. This is uncomfortably close to the eugenic type arguments espoused by racists.

    1. While I accept the critiques along those lines being made of Warren’s original decision to check ‘Native American’ on an internal form in (I believe) the seventies, and her failure to squarely apologize for it since then, I really don’t think it does imply the awful things you think it does about her current thinking (that is, if you look at her current statements, she is extremely clear that she does not now think that DNA creates Native American identity.)

      What DNA does do in her case is provide reasonable (not totally conclusive, but reasonable) evidence that the family stories she told in her autobiography and that were the basis of her long-ago and terribly misguided claim of Native American identity were true — that it is quite likely that she had a Native American ancestor, and therefore it’s fairly likely that the family story of her grandmother being objected to as non-white by her grandfather’s family were true (that is, there’s no reason to doubt them more than anyone else’s stories about their family history). Trump and his ilk have been calling her a liar over those stories, and it makes perfect sense to me that she would want some kind of objective evidence (not conclusive, but some evidence) that she’s not a liar.

      She hasn’t handled this well, but I don’t think there’s any good reason to think that she’s harboring darkly awful misconceptions about Native Americans when her public statements of belief contradict those misconceptions.

      1. I mostly agree, except that I would add that genealogists generally find–and I believe that for once Wendy will agree with me–that family stories are not terribly accurate. Sometimes they contain a kernel of truth, but typically so distorted that the story itself is not useful. (I read one recently where the family thought that an ancestor had been a sea captain, sailing between England and Boston; in fact, he was a barge captain in Boston, Lincs.) In this case, the reasons for the objection to the marriage are now probably unrecoverable.

      2. If it doesn’t reflect her thinking then she has absolutely picked the single most tone-deaf way to address this. Maayyybbeee, just maaayyybbee, if she had ever actually talked to, you know, Native Americans, like the ones that reached out to her, she wouldn’t have done something quite so stupid.

        You are much more inclined to give her a pass for some reason. I don’t care if her intention was not to be racist. Her focus on DNA tests to show Native American heritage (and really, not heritage, potential ancestry – heritage implies culture) is racist and colonialist. Given her continuing refusal to meet with Native American groups, I don’t see why I should give her the benefit of the doubt.

      3. She hasn’t refused to meet with Native American groups generally — she, e.g., gave a speech at the National Congress of American Indians on February 14th this yearhttps://www.bostonglobe.com/news/politics/2018/02/14/read-text-elizabeth-warren-speech-native-americans/ovAjQq28SbyqiDXnOp1rNK/story.html . I believe there are individual Native Americans who have expressed a desire to meet with her who she hasn’t met with, but that’s a very different thing. Did you have a specific refusal you were concerned about?

  10. There’s this:
    https://newsmaven.io/indiancountrytoday/archive/cherokee-women-try-to-meet-with-elizabeth-warren-campaign-offends-them-4ADmHzb3iEiYH8EWFx92kQ/

    and this

    http://archive.is/Q27CP

    And yes, I read the Boston Globe article. It doesn’t make her look good. Why are you so set on defending her? She’s a rich white woman who has chosen to behave in a gross, racist, demeaning way toward Native Americans while claiming to have Native American identity. Not just ancestry. She has claimed identity. None of that bothers you?

  11. That’s not an accurate description of her statements on the subject, e.g.: “I won’t sit quietly for @realDonaldTrump’s racism, so I took a test. But DNA & family history has nothing to do with tribal affiliation or citizenship, which is determined only – only – by Tribal Nations. I respect the distinction, & don’t list myself as Native in the Senate.” https://twitter.com/elizabethforma/status/1051958376052211713?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw%7Ctwcamp%5Etweetembed%7Ctwterm%5E1051958376052211713&ref_url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.nytimes.com%2F2018%2F10%2F17%2Fus%2Fpolitics%2Felizabeth-warren-dna-test.html

    As I said above, she shouldn’t have checked a box identifying herself as Native American on the basis of family history several decades ago, even though that family history seems likely to be accurate, and I think she should apologize for that in a manner that I don’t think she has. But her current public statements, now and for quite a while in the past, are clear that she does not claim Native American identity.

    1. I agree with you, eliz., and I’d also like to point out that during this period (1970s-1980s), our understanding of ethnicity and ethnic identity was really evolving rapidly. People were trying to be empathetic and inclusive of a variety of ethnicities in the face of decades of racism and white supremacy and one-drop rules. Claiming a part of one’s identity that for decades would have been hidden was seen as a positive example of trying to acknowledge the historical reality of racial mixing (ugh, that word sounds ick, but I don’t have another one right now).

      And we continue to evolve. Last night I gave a presentation on the tool GEDMatch at a local genealogy group I belong to. One of the members is someone I adore, but he is also a diehard Trump supporter in all the ways you might assume. We were comparing GEDMatch ethnicity estimates to Ancestry ethnicity estimates, and for him, 1% Nigerian popped up. Now he will never be able to claim some sort of genetic purity, and this will probably diminish attempts to establish such a society ever again. There will be increasingly fewer people who will be able to claim some sort of “pure white” identity. The more we learn about genetic genealogy, the better it is for society, I think.

      Also, I must shout out to Jennifer Mendelsohn and #resistancegenealogy, which is a whole ‘nother thing but also valuable. http://resistancegenealogy.com/

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