President Barack Obama and Massachusetts Democratic Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren have more in common than just their liberal political ideology, Harvard Law pedigree, and Democratic Party affiliation. Both claim Cherokee ancestry, and neither can prove it.
Ms. Warren's claims are current and well known, but President Obama's claims were made back in 1995, when his memoir, Dreams from My Father, was published. On pages 12 and 13 of the 2004 paperback edition, the President unequivocally asserts his Cherokee ancestry:
If asked, Toot [Obama’s maternal grandmother, Madelyne Payne Dunham] would turn her head in profile to show off her beaked nose, which, along with a pair of jet-black eyes, was offered as proof of Cherokee blood.
But an old, sepia toned photograph on the bookshelf spoke most eloquently of their [grandparents Stanley and Madelyne Dunham’s] roots. It showed Toot’s grandparents, of Scottish and English stock, standing in front of a ramshackle homestead, unsmiling and dressed in coarse wool, their eyes squinting at the sun baked flinty life that stretched before them…in their eyes one could see truths that I would have to learn later as facts…that while one of my great-great grandfathers, Christopher Columbus Clark, had been a decorated Union soldier, his wife’s mother was rumored to have been a second cousin of Jefferson Davis…that although another distant ancestor had indeed been a full-blooded Cherokee, such lineage was a source of shame to Toot’s mother [Leona McCurry Payne] who blanched whenever someone mentioned the subject and hoped to carry the secret to her grave.
Unlike Ms. Warren, no one has ever alleged that President Obama may have secured employment due to his claim of Native American ancestry. Like Ms. Warren, however, the President puts forth his claim with emphatic certitude, although until now no one has sought to ask him to provide evidence to prove it.
Madelyn Payne Dunham's heritage consists mostly of English ancestors, and smaller amounts of Scottish, Welsh, Irish, and German ancestors, who settled in the American colonies during the 17th and 18th centuries. Her most recent native European ancestor was her great-great grandfather, Robert Perry, who was born in Anglesey, Wales in 1786 and whose father, Henry Perry, first settled Radnor, Ohio in 1803. Robert Perry's wife, Sarah Hoskins, was also born in Wales and immigrated to Delaware County, Ohio as a young child. Wild Bill Hickok is Madelyn's sixth cousin, four times removed. According to oral tradition, her mother had some Cherokee ancestors, although researchers have found no concrete evidence of this to date.