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Deep Dive: The Story of an American Family

Elizabeth Warren was born and raised in Oklahoma to a working class family. Her father Don sold carpeting at Montgomery Ward and ended up as a maintenance man. Her mom Polly stayed home and took care of Elizabeth and her three big brothers.

Betsy, as she is known by her family, and her brothers grew up hearing the stories of her family growing up in Eastern Oklahoma. Her grandfather was a carpenter, doing repairs and building homes and the occasional one-room schoolhouse in Indian Territory. Her grandmother lived in Oklahoma before it became a state in the late 1800s, married young, and had ten children.

Elizabeth’s mother grew up in the small town of Wetumka and would sit for hours playing the piano and singing. When her mother was 15, she met Elizabeth’s father – and he fell completely in love with her.

But her father’s parents were bitterly opposed to their marriage because her mother’s family was known to be part Native American and back then, that was a big dividing line. For over a century, a major goal of federal policy was to assimilate Native people into society, without appreciation for their culture, traditions, or practices. Discrimination against Native people was common at the time. In 1932, when Elizabeth’s mother was 19 and her father was 20, they eloped.

Elizabeth’s family was never enrolled in a tribe, and only tribes determine tribal citizenship. She never used her family tree to get a break or get ahead. She never used it to advance her career. But her parents were real people.

Elizabeth’s family survived the Dust Bowl and the Great Depression. Her parents saved up to buy a little two-bedroom tract house in Norman. Later, all three of the boys left home to serve in the military and her parents moved to Oklahoma City so that Elizabeth could attend middle school and high school in the best school district around.

When Elizabeth was 12, her father had a heart attack. He was out of work for a long time, and the medical bills piled up. They lost the family station wagon, and they were an inch away from losing their home when her mother got a minimum wage job answering the phones at Sears. That minimum wage job saved their home, and it saved their family.

After giving up her debate scholarship at George Washington University to get married at 19, she ended up graduating from the University of Houston, a commuter college that cost $50 a semester. She is the daughter of a maintenance man who became a teacher, a professor, and a United States Senator because America invested in kids like her.

Elizabeth’s parents died soon after one another, after 63 years of marriage. But the love they shared, the struggles they endured, the family they built, and story they lived will always be a part of her.

DNA analysis concludes "strong evidence" that Elizabeth’s DNA “contains Native American ancestry.”

In 2018, Elizabeth Warren submitted a DNA sample for analysis by Dr. Carlos Bustamante, a Professor of Biomedical Data Science, Genetics, and Biology at Stanford University who is “an internationally recognized leader in the application of data science and genomics technology” and was selected as a 2010 MacArthur “Genius” Fellow.

Dr. Bustamante issued a report summarizing his analysis.

  • The report concludes that there is “strong evidence” that Elizabeth’s DNA sample “contains Native American ancestry.” Specifically, Dr. Bustamante concludes with 99% confidence that Elizabeth’s DNA sample contains five genetic segments, spanning 12,300,000 DNA bases, which are “Native American in origin.”
  • The report also details the results of “several additional analyses to confirm the presence of Native American ancestry and to estimate the position” of an “unadmixed Native American Ancestor” (i.e., an ancestor with “100% ancestry assigned to a single population”) in Elizabeth’s family tree. It concludes that such an ancestor can be found “likely in the range of 6-10 generations ago.”
  • In addition, Elizabeth’s DNA was compared to two non-Native reference sets from the 1000 Genomes Project – 99 Americans of predominantly European ancestry from Utah and 86 British individuals of European ancestry from Great Britan. The report concludes that the Native American segments observed in Elizabeth’s sample are 12.4 times higher than the average value for the British reference population. They are 10.5 times higher than the average value for the Utah reference population, which includes a few individuals who have “a small amount of Native American ancestry.”
  • Dr. Bustamante further notes that Native American groups within the United States have chosen not to participate in recent population genetics studies. Because available samples do not provide complete coverage of all Native American groups, some segments with Native American ancestry may be missed. Nonetheless, an “ancestry specific analysis” concludes Warren’s Native American ancestry “falls between” Canadian and Mexican indigenous populations, “as would be expected for Native American ancestry deriving from the lower 48 states of the United States.”

While these results shed additional light on Elizabeth Warren’s family history, she has stated that she is not enrolled in a tribe and respects the distinction between ancestry and tribal citizenship, which is determined by tribes – and only tribes.

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