There are times when even good and reasonable conservatives like William Jacobson are just plain wrong about something. This is one of those cases. Unfortunately, Jacobson, and the usual suspects are making utter fools of themselves when it comes to the dirty details of Elizabeth Warren and her alleged Cherokee genealogy. This is just plain dumb. We’re dealing with the culturally and historically ignorant here. We’re dealing with men and women who are so pathetically and absurdly biased that they are jumping into a subject, and are making fools of themselves – and everyone who is agreeing with them.
The real problem here is that Warren’s claim is based on oral family history that predates all of this latest stupidity – and it is stupidity. When dealing with the claim of Cherokee heritage, as a historian, I give almost as much credibility to an oral claim as a written one. The reason is historical and cultural. The problem with the far, Randian right is they don’t know much about history and don’t give a damn if they learn any. They are interested in only their point of view, which, in this case, is just plain strangely foolishly stupid.
This is absolutely and utterly absurd. As someone who was once a DAR registrar, I know what goes into actual documentation of a line and what is considered “hear-say”. The reason the Cherokee lineage would be “hear-say” was because of the bigotry against anyone having even a drop of Native American blood, until quite recently. Until 1968 and the Indian Civil Rights Act, the vast majority of people who were not full-blooded or even a half Native American would never even admit to it. The bigotry was too great. It was hidden. To even think that one would find admission of being Cherokee on a marriage license is just plain ignorant of American culture. It would not be there. The only way one would be able to document ancestry, many times was strictly hear-say.
As to family historians and family history newsletters, as a historian, I give them far more credibility than I would someone who writes for Breitbart and is abjectly ignorant on the subject. I’ve spent the past 20 years doing genealogy. In my family we have a Sarah Smith (Grandma Sally) of the very same generation who is alleged to have some Cherokee in her. I can’t find it, and can basically document the entire family too far back for there to be any.
The average family historian is far more meticulous in their researcher than the average biased political reporter out to discredit the NEHGS. Sorry, but they are some of the most annoying and obnoxious researchers – anywhere. The NEHGS is also extremely well respected. When publishing genealogy and using records, you must carefully list the information as to the type of documentation (Primary, Secondary, etc.). Something told to you, via the family is hear-say. You can’t use hear-say to prove the validity of a lineage, but it’s a good place to start looking.
When it comes to Cherokee lineage, odds are you are not going to find anything. For many Cherokee, who did have records, those records were quickly and purposefully destroyed in order to keep from being hauled along the Trail of Tears. You will also find that many Cherokee quickly joined very small, newly formed churches. “Christians” couldn’t possibly be Indians (it was reasoned). If they were church members,they were not hauled out to Oklahoma. This is one reason, in rural South Carolina, you find so many small churches. Many were built over Cherokee sacred sites, in order to preserve them.
I just think this is a losing battle, historically speaking. If you know anything about the culture of the time, you would understand that there was probably absolutely no record at all of Warren’s Sarah Smith being Cherokee. It was done to protect the family, to keep them “White”. That way they could go to school, vote, and be allowed to own property.
I have a friend in South Carolina who, only about 15 years ago, began to tell about his Cherokee lineage and heritage. His father was a local cop, 1/4 Cherokee. If he had been known to have Cherokee blood in him, he could not have been allowed to be a deputy. He would not have been allowed to vote. He would have had his property taken from him.
The only way you would ever know if Warren had any Cherokee in her is the same way many others do – by family oral history – and nothing more. To laugh this off, and make fun of her is culturally ignorant. Go after her for being a liberal. Frankly, I think the whole idea of using her “native” genealogy is a joke. She’s as much Cherokee as I am. That alone is a crock. The actual genealogical process is not at fault here. The idiots who are grasping at minority straws are.
Maybe you can find the problem here, with the Breitbart version of the story.
We are dealing with usual Breitbart idiocy of people writing about things they don’t understand. Anyone who deals with genealogy and historical records understands the following. Unfortunately, the far right, as usual, has jumped in without a bit of wisdom, and made fools of themselves. The worst of it, as usual, they are so incompetent when it comes to a subject, that they don’t even know how foolishly stupid they actually are.
This is normal for historical and genealogical research. When I run across something like this, I will simply toss it into a footnote, listing the problems. I’ve spent the past decade trying to figure out how to use some absolutely earth-shattering information I have about Wyatt Earp’s marriage to Mattie Blaylock. Unfortunately, because of the time frame when Stuart Lake wrote the letter in question, the information is a “for what it’s worth” kind of thing. We all run across it. To make such a idiotic mountain out of this molehill is well – ignorant.
As in the case of my “Sarah Smith”, I was able to disprove the Cherokee claim by doing additional genealogy. I can basically document her ancestors so far back into England that there is no way Grandma Sally had any Cherokee blood in her. The only way for Warren’s claim to be completely discredited is to take her genealogy back into Europe in the 1600s. If they can’t do that, then she has more of a claim to having some Cherokee blood in her than the idiots on the right who say she doesn’t do to the accuracy of their wisdom.