Presumed descendants of Tulsa massacre victims can give DNA

A group prays next to a grave site full of caskets.
A group prays during a June 2021 ceremony as remains from a mass grave are reinterred at Oaklawn Cemetery in Tulsa, Okla.
(Mike Simons / Tulsa World via AP)

People who believe they are descendants of victims of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre can now provide genetic material to help scientists when they begin trying to identify remains of possible victims.

Danny Hellwig, laboratory director with Intermountain Forensics, said Wednesday that researchers are not ready to begin trying to match DNA for identification, but that an outpouring of requests from Tulsa, Okla., residents on how to provide genetic material led them to begin the process of accepting donations.

“That’s what prompted this,” Hellwig said. “We didn’t expect the amount of support and willingness to help.... People have jumped out of the woodwork” to offer their DNA for testing.


Black people who had ancestors in Tulsa in 1921 are sought, Hellwig said.

“What we need is to populate these databases with family lines” of direct descendants, making identifications of the remains possible within days, Hellwig said.

“If we’re only matched with very distant relatives, it can take much longer,” with previous efforts to make such matches taking four years or more, he said.

A black-owned Oklahoma newspaper would not let the state forget the day white mobs murdered hundreds of African Americans in Tulsa.

May 22, 2020

Intermountain Forensics, a nonprofit laboratory in Salt Lake City, is examining 14 sets of remains removed from a Tulsa cemetery a year ago and has said at least two sets of remains contain enough usable DNA for testing.

The remains have not been confirmed as victims of the 1921 massacre, a finding that officials say could be impossible because of the length of time since they died.

People can provide their information from genealogy sites such as or and upload that to, but it is unknown when the process of trying to match the DNA will begin.


Hellwig said donors have the option to prohibit their information from being shared with other agencies, including law enforcement, and can remove their information anytime.

The Black Wall Street Massacre of 1921 in Tulsa, Okla., was the worst incident of racial violence in U.S. history.

June 18, 2020

The massacre occurred when a white mob descended on Greenwood, a predominantly Black neighborhood. More than 1,000 homes were burned, hundreds were looted, and the thriving business district known as Black Wall Street was destroyed.

A search for the graves of massacre victims began in 2020 and resumed last year with nearly three dozen coffins containing remains of possible victims recovered.

Investigators haven’t said when they’ll analyze additional sites to look for mass graves, but potential search areas are planned, according to Tulsa officials.