The Washington Post tracked down a surviving first cousin, Martha Sara Jack, and other relatives of Mary Sara who said they were unaware the Smithsonian had taken her brain.
They are now working to have the brain returned.
“It’s kind of like an open wound,” Fred Jack, the husband of Martha Sara Jack, said.
“We want to have peace and we’ll have no peace because we know this exists, until it’s corrected.”
According to the Washington Post, the Smithsonian’s collection includes at least 30,700 human bones and other body parts, including 255 brains.
Only four of the brains are recorded as voluntary donations.
Hrdlicka promoted his belief in white people’s superiority, and wrote of important “differences” between the brains of black people and white Europeans.
How to collect body parts
He promoted the idea of a “racial brain collection” to research the brains of people across the world, especially Indigenous people and black Americans.
In 1904, he created a Smithsonian manual instructing others on how to collect body parts and conceal the marks of an autopsy.
The majority of the brains in the Smithsonian’s collection were removed from the corpses of African Americans and indigenous people.
It is unclear whether Hrdlicka and other doctors took the brains illegally or exploited legal ambiguities over unclaimed bodies.
The remains were taken from graveyards, battlefields, morgues and hospitals in more than 80 countries.
The National Museum of the American Indian, which is also part of the Smithsonian, said it still had 454 remains and had repatriated 617.
The natural history museum has formed a “human remains task force” and hired two researchers to look into the ethical return of body parts.
It also restricted access to its human remains, and plans to relocate the brains from a storage building in Maryland.