Cherokee Genealogy Tutorial

           Cherokee Gen Tutorial

Tutorial by Paul Carter

This tutorial will serve to educate and illuminate, in order to equip you to conduct effective, focused, Cherokee genealogy research. The resources available for Cherokee research directly relate to the Cherokee's history. At the conclusion of this tutorial I provide what I believe to be the most common reasons for failure to find the Cherokee Blood in one's family, but more importantly, ways to prove one's ancestry. Additionally, I will show you how that while you think you may have Cherokee blood, you may actually have Creek Indian blood, and what the difference is between Cherokee ancestry and Cherokee citizenship.

Many people are unaware that Cherokee migration west actually started at the close of the Revolutionary War, when a group of Cherokees aligned with the British during the war petitioned the Spanish Governor in New Orleans for permission to settle on Spanish lands west of the Mississippi River.  The request was granted, and in 1794 this group (actually a group of Cherokee may have emigrated to the base of the Rocky Mountains as early as 1721 - see History, Myths, and Sacred Formulas of the Cherokees for in-depth information on this subject) settled in the St. Francis River Valley in today's southeast Missouri.

The great earthquake of 1811 convinced this Cherokee group that they should not live in this region, so during the winter of 1811 and 1812 they moved to territory between the Arkansas and White Rivers in today's Arkansas.  No official rolls were kept on these emigrating Cherokees, but a later roll as a result of the 1828 treaty (see below) states that in 1800 the Cherokee population west of the Mississippi was likely 1000, with about 1000 more emigrating between 1808-1817.

In a treaty with the Cherokees in 1817, in which they gave up certain tracts of land back east, the government officially granted the Cherokee title to their Arkansas lands.  Several hundred Cherokees from back east officially emigrated up until 1819 to this new territory as a result of the treaty.  Another treaty with the same type terms was concluded in 1819, but emigration west was curtailed after 1820 when the Secretary of War decided that Cherokees who had enrolled themselves for removal but had not removed, or those who had not enrolled, must emigrate at their own expense.  In 1828 another treaty was concluded between the government and Cherokees, which ceded their Arkansas lands for lands in today's Oklahoma. (Keep in mind, this was prior to the disputed 1835 treaty which forced removal and resulted in the tragic Trail of Tears).  

By 1835, it is estimated that 1/3 of the nation's Cherokee population lived west of the Mississippi. These settlers became known as the "Old Settler Cherokees."  The official migration rolls resulting from these treaties have been transcribed and published by noted historian, author, and tribal authority Jack D. Baker in his work Cherokee Emigration Rolls 1817-1835.  These rolls provide the only known list of these particular Cherokees prior to the 1851 Old Settler Census.

In 1835, the controversial Treaty of New Echota was signed, and from 1836 to 1838 those Cherokees who supported the treaty (known as the "Treaty Party") emigrated west to Oklahoma Territory.  In 1838 and 1839 the U.S. government forcibly removed the remaining members over the Trail of Tears, except for a few thousand full-blooded Cherokee who either hid out in the hills of Tennessee and North Carolina, or were allowed to remain due to the Tsali (Charley) incident (see History, Myths, and Sacred Formulas of the Cherokee, pg. 131.)  These Cherokee were eventually granted a reservation in Western North Carolina (Qualla Boundary Reservation).  In 1835 a census was prepared of the Cherokee living in the east and those on this list are considered Eastern Cherokee, although obviously most of these eventually moved west.  Additionally, remaining back east were some mixed-blood families, most one-quarter blood or less, who assimilated into the white families of Georgia, Tennessee, North and South Carolina.  Some of these families moved back into the Cherokee Nation, Indian Territory, after the Civil War due to southern economic problems, but many did not.  Those who did not likely beget many people today who claim Cherokee descent, but whose ancestors weren't on any rolls.  

In 1846, due to inter-tribe bloodshed, politics, and tension, as well as government manipulation and exploitation of various branches of the tribe, the government concluded a treaty with the Cherokee which provided settlements to three branches of the Cherokee:

1. Eastern Cherokees living in the west, resulting in the 1851 Drennen Roll.

2. Old Settlers, including those living outside the Cherokee Nation, resulting in the 1851 Old Settler Roll (or census).

3. Eastern Cherokee's still living in the east, resulting in the 1852 Chapman Roll, which was a listing of Cherokee actually receiving payment based on the 1851 Siler Census).   

While these are important genealogical resources, they only form the basis for latter, more complete genealogy works, because latter works incorporated the above works in one form or another.  This latter work resulted from a 1905 U.S. Court of claims decision in favor of the Eastern Cherokees, who had brought suit against the U.S government for various treaty violations.  Congress appropriated one million dollars for compensation to individual Cherokees (resulting in about $133.19 per person), and Guion Miller was assigned as the Special Commissioner to head this claims board.  To receive an allotment, applicants who were alive on May 28 1906 had to prove they were a member of the Cherokee Nation, or descended from such members, at the time of the treaties.  Applicants had to submit applications, supported by affidavits, containing detailed genealogical information on family members such as parents, grandparents, great-grandparents, uncles, aunts, cousins, dates and place of birth and death for family members, etc.  Many applications also contain letters, stories, etc.  Moreover, to be eligible for payment, persons had to show they were descended from a person who was an Eastern Cherokee in 1835, usually by proving descent from a person on the Drennen Roll or Chapman Roll, and proving they were not of Old Settlers, or associated with another tribe. (Interestingly, a number applicants were rejected because they were Creek - which should be of interest to genealogists who find ancestors on the "Applicants not Eligible" portion included in the Miller Roll "Plus").

45, 857 heads of household applications were received, representing claims for approximately 90,000 people.  While many applications were rejected, the final roll, known as the Miller Roll, was approved by the court in 1910. The government paid claims to 27,264 persons residing west of the Mississippi, and 3,436 east of the Mississippi.  The rolls represents a wealth of genealogical information. The applications themselves are contained on 348 rolls of National Archives microfilm, while the actual Miller Report is reproduced on 12 rolls of film.  The book Guion Miller Roll "Plus" indexes this information by name, and includes full name, Miller number, Dawes number, census card number, relation, age in 1906, blood degree, and address.

A second very valuable source of Cherokee genealogical information comes from the Dawes Commission (see our CD which contains the Dawes Roll and applications for all Five Civilized tribes). Oklahoma Territory was the last refuge for Native Americans against the encroaching white man.  It was inevitable that they would be forced to give up their lands prior to Oklahoma statehood.  Private land ownership was unknown to Native Americans. However, with Oklahoma statehood approaching, disbanding of the tribal governments and allotment of tribal lands became a necessity. The Dawes Act of 1887 broke up tribal holdings, and in 1893 Congress created the Dawes Commission, headed by Senator Henry Dawes.  He was the first chairman to head the commission, charged with splitting up the reservations and allotting land (160 acres) to individual members of the Five Civilized Tribes (Cherokee, Choctaw, Creek, Chickasaw, and Seminole). The government obtained the surplus.  Indians were allowed to sell their land after 25 years.  By 1934, Indians had lost nearly 90 million acres, many of it through fraudulent sales and devious White practices. The commission work was from approximately 1893 to 1914. Included in the Cherokee roll were Freedman (former slaves) and Delaware (adopted into the Cherokee nation). The Dawes Commission records provide another great source of genealogical information.  As a side note, the tribulations associated with breaking up the tribal lands and the Dawes Commission can be read about in Angie Debo's And Still the Waters Run.  The book Dawes Roll "Plus" indexes this information by name, and includes full name, Dawes number, Miller number, family census card number, age, sex, blood, and address.  One advantage of this book is that one can look forward in time from 1898 to 1906 (the Miller Roll information) and see such things as a 1906 surname change brought about by marriage, divorce, or adoption. The Dawes Roll serves as the basis for current Cherokee Nation membership.

The third very valuable source of Cherokee genealogy comes from a Cherokee physician named Dr. Emmet Starr, who in 1892 began reconstructing Cherokee genealogies. Dr. Starr obtained information from personal knowledge, interviews, correspondence, and official records. David Hampton of Broken Arrow OK, a Native American genealogical authority, states:

"He (Dr. Starr) reviewed some Cherokee records, especially the 1851 Drennen and Old Settler Rolls, and the 1883 Cherokee census. He also got some information from the Dawes Commission records; he had access to the census cards, but probably did not make extensive use of them.  He did not review any Guion Miller Commission records, usually known as Eastern Cherokee applications, but he did get some information from the published roll.  This was unfortunate.  That commission would have done itself a great service to have hired Dr. Starr as their chief investigator.  He could have likely saved them much time and effort in their preparation of the finished roll and greatly assisted himself."  A great advantage of this work is that it does list the names in genealogical format so one can see relations.  The disadvantage is that it does not contain ages or addresses, nor does it contain as many names as the other sources listed here.

A fourth very valuable source is Cherokee Jack D. Baker's transcription of the Cherokee Emigration Rolls from 1817-1835. These rolls allow one to connect their Old Settler Cherokee roots back east. These transcriptions provide a valuable link to connect the Eastern and Western Cherokee tribes.

Fifth, but by no means least, is the Cherokee Roots books Volumes I and II.  The advantage of these volumes is the vast amount of information included (see below). If one is just beginning research, not knowing what way your research will evolve, I recommend Cherokee Roots. One can come back to these volumes over and over.  These volumes contain the rolls below:

1.  Old Settler Roll - 1851.  A listing of Cherokee, still living in 1851, who were already residing in Oklahoma when the main body of the Cherokee arrived in the winter of 1839 - as a result of the 1835 Treaty of New Echota.  Approximately one third of the Cherokee people at that time were Old Settlers and two thirds were new arrivals.VOL II

2.  Drennen Roll -1852.  The first census of the new arrivals of 1839.  The New Echota Treaty group - "Trail of Tears." VOL II

3.  1898-1914 Dawes Roll (index). VOL II

4.  1909 Guion Miller West Roll (index). VOL II

5.  Reservation Rolls - 1817. A listing of those desiring a 640 acre tract of land in the east, in lieu of removing to Arkansas.  Upon the death of the reservee, or the abandonment of the property, title was reverted to the state. VOL I

6.  Henderson Roll - 1835.  A census of over 16,000 Cherokee residing in North Carolina, Tennessee, Georgia, and Alabama to be removed to Oklahoma under terms of the New Echota Treaty. VOL I

7.  Mullay Roll - 1848.  A census of 1,517 Cherokee remaining in North Carolina after the removal of 1838.  John C. Mullay took the census pursuant to an act of Congress in 1848.    VOL I

8.  Swetland Roll - 1869.  A listing of Eastern Cherokee, and their descendants, who were listed as remaining in North Carolina by Mullay in 1848. VOL I

9.  Hester Roll - 1883.  Essentially, the 1883 Eastern Cherokee census.  This roll lists ancestors, Chapman Roll number, age, English name, and Indian name. VOL I

8.  Churchill Roll - 1908.  A census like roll to certify members of the Eastern band of Cherokee.  Also contains a great degree of information including degree of blood.  Rejects are also included. VOL I

10.  Baker Roll - 1924.  This was supposed to be the final roll of the Eastern band of Cherokees.  The land was to be allotted and all were to become regular U.S. citizens. Unlike their western brothers in Oklahoma, they avoided the termination procedures.  The Baker Roll "Revised" serves as the current membership roll of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians of North Carolina. VOL I

11.  1851 Siler Roll, 1852 Chapman Roll, and 1909 Guion Miller East Roll. VOL I

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Most Common Problems Associated with Finding Cherokee Ancestry

First, under current Cherokee Nation East, and Cherokee Nation West, constitutional law, one has to prove descent from the Baker Roll to claim membership in the Eastern Nation, and descent from the Dawes Roll, in the category "By Blood," for the Western Nation. These rules may not always be the case, and the last Cherokee Nation West constitutional convention debated whether to rescind this provision, given the vast amount of people who can claim Cherokee blood descent but their ancestors failed to appear on the Dawes roll.  Until some change is affected, one cannot be a member of these two federally recognized tribes unless their ancestors are on these rolls.  

So, first, one has to understand there is a difference between citizenship and blood content. Nancy Ward's descendants, who are clearly, indisputably, Cherokee, are not all Cherokee CITIZENS.  There was a group of her descendants who remained in East Tennessee, a group who went to California, some (the Hildebrands) who went to Indiana.  Others are scattered in Missouri and Arkansas, just as the Old Settlers descendants are. They are blood Cherokee. But they are not citizens of either of the federally recognized Cherokee Nations due to the Dawes Commission and Baker Roll requirements.  As my friend Jack Baker pointed out to me to illustrate the point, the German immigrants who came to this country were clearly German blood, but they gave up their German citizenship when they came to this country.  So, they were still German, but not German citizens.  So, they did not enjoy the rights of German citizenship, just as descendants of some Cherokee cannot enjoy the rights of Cherokee citizenship.

Still, one can still be proud of their rich and noble Cherokee heritage by using our genealogical resources to find Cherokee ancestors.  This is why the South Carolina Indian Affairs volumes are so important, because researching them may yield names of ancestors involved with the Cherokee. I provide some additional tips below.

Some of the more common reasons proving Cherokee ancestry is difficult:

A.  As noted at the beginning of this tutorial, many Cherokee assimilated with and intermarried into white families in the region (and vice-versa)as far back as the early 1700's.  People were not very genealogically minded at the time, and few, if any, records were kept of this assimilation.

B.  Many white families were shameful of Cherokee Blood through intermarriage in the family, and disavowed all knowledge of it. It was hidden for years (and is still hidden). If you see of, or hear, that a particular ancestor was "Portuguese," or "Black Dutch," these could mean Indian.   White Oklahomans generally did not feel this stigma of intermarriage - the stigma was in the southern U.S. Cherokee region in the 19th century and prior. I am told new research is coming out showing their was a law on Missouri books at one point making marriage between Whites and Indians illegal.

C.  Many Cherokee children were placed in white homes and lost their identity, or white schools and forgot about their identity.  Some kids were so small at the time of removal, they probably were unaware they were Cherokee. 

D.  It was not popular in that day to be Native American, to "get ahead" many disavowed Native American blood.

E.  Small groups of Cherokee were known to escape along the "Trail of Tears."  Obviously to avoid capture, they "became white."

This is why the Miller Roll "Plus" is so important.  It lists thousands of applicants who were rejected by the Miller Commission, in some cases unjustly.  One can go to this list, and then obtain the application, and find out on what  basis their ancestors argued for claiming Cherokee Blood. This is very helpful not only in researching Cherokee ancestry, but for general genealogical research. Also, this list may help you prove Creek Indian ancestry, because many of the rejected applicants were rejected because they were Creek!  Because many people who think they are of Cherokee ancestry are actually of Creek ancestry, the Campbell's Abstract index, which we offer, is very important to access.

Ultimately, the Native American CD is the best one-source available not just for Cherokee genealogy research, but for all the Five Civilized Tribes.  This is because not only does it contain the Dawes Roll for all Five Civilized Tribes, but reference books and other sources from Indian territory that are no longer in print, and even if found, cannot be accessed from any one location.  This CD is highly recommended.

Finally, after you have exhausted the resources I mention above, which should be the primary resources you use for Cherokee genealogy research, there are some secondary resources.

In all states but Oklahoma, the 1900 Federal Census has a separate Indian index at the end of each county which lists all that county's Indian population.  In Oklahoma (still Indian Territory) areas which were outside the jurisdiction of the Five Civilized Nations, the Indian population will be found at the end of the listings.  The Indian population of the Five Civilized Nations is listed after the state of Wyoming (the last state alphabetically). But, keep in mind, the Census Bureau has no standards for what an Indian is, and counts anyone an Indian who declares him or herself an Indian.  Still, the Census can provide some leads.

Also, the Family History Centers at Latter Day Saint's Churches is often over-looked.  Forget about their computer data bases.  They have microfilmed untold numbers of genealogies, family bibles, and other surname information (see their surname microfiche), and thousands of county and state tax, census, deed, and other records (see their geographic microfiche).  Access the approriate microfiche, and order the appropriate microfilm  listed on the fiche- it is very inexpensive to order 'on-loan.' County deed records from Oklahoma and other states can be accessed this way, and is a good source of info, especially if your ancestor, or a relative of an ancestor, was swindled out of land.  I found their microfilm of state tax records (broken out by county) to be the number one source of genealogical information in my research.  These are very meticulous records, as the government wanted to tax early and often.

Remember, just because you cannot find a descendant on the Baker Roll, or Dawes Roll, and therefore, cannot be recognized by the Eastern or Western Cherokee Nation, or one of the other four Civilized Tribes such as the Creek, does not mean you are not Indian! As I stated above, the Cherokee Nation East uses the Baker Roll, and the Cherokee Nation West uses the Dawes Roll.  The other four civilized tribes use the Dawes Roll.  Keep in mind (and this is a topic that could be expounded on in many more pages) that according to the Bureau of Indian Affairs, no single Federal or tribal criterion establishes a persons identity as an Indian.  In fact, there is no universally accepted definition of the word Indian.  Different agencies and different tribes (tribe is an altogether different definition!) have varying criteria.

Remember, to establish your Cherokee or Indian roots, first establish your family's ancestry as best as possible using traditional genealogy methods.  I believe this to be the number one cause for failing to find one's Native American Roots.  In other words, many people try to establish their Native American heritage without knowing much about their ancestor, and without first establishing the traditional genealogical information about their ancestor, which is obtained through tax records, marriage records, census records, etc.  Use the LDS! Next, use the established sources available on this site such as the Native American CD, Miller Roll PLUS, Dawes Roll PLUS, Cherokee Roots Volumes (which has 15 major Cherokee Rolls), Starr's Genealogy of Old Cherokee Families, and the Journal of Indian Affairs (3 Volume Set) (sold out currently) which lists many traders into the Cherokee, Creek, and other Indian tribes.  Many of these married into Indian tribes.  If those yield no results, start searching the 1900 census indexes.


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Secondary Sources

The following references represent secondary, or ancillary, sources which will allow you to delve deeper into Cherokee and other tribal research.  In no way are they a substitute for the above sources, but can be used to supplement the base which you have established.

Guide to Records in the National Archives of the United States Relating to American Indians. ISBN 0-911333-13-4. This guide examines all the record categories, is descriptive with detail and dates, and is a superior guide.

American Indians: A Select Catalogue of National Archives Microfilm Publications. ISBN 0-911333-09-6. Breaks out each microfilm listing. Not as detailed as the first source, but valuable in showing film numbers, title, dates, and a description of the record.

Both of the above books are found at the National Archives and Records Administration web site at Email them at [email protected] or write NARA, 700 Pennsylvania Ave., NW, Washington D.C. 20408-0001

Oklahoma Historical Society, 2100 N. Lincoln Boulevard, Oklahoma City OK 73105-4997 (405) 521-2491. Organized in 1893 with currently over 100 staff members, the staff will assist with questions pertaining to Oklahoma and Oklahoma Native Americans. Also publishes The Chronicles of Oklahoma, the quarterly journal, with wide ranging articles.

Cherokee Nation Births and Deaths, 1884-1901. Abstracted from Indian Chieftain and Daily Chieftain Newspapers, by Dixie Bogle, sponsored by NE OK Genealogical Society, Vinita OK. Published 1980 by Cook and McDowell Publications, 719 E. 6th St., Owensboro KY, 42301.

Records of the Cherokee Agency in Tennessee, 1801-1835. 14 rolls of microfilm (microcopy 208) from record group 75, Bureau of Indian Affairs. Marybelle W. Chase has extracted the miscellaneous lists and registers from these rolls into a book (we do not have the title), and state these records have much historical and genealogical value. She could be reached at 5802 E. 22'D Place, Tulsa OK 74114

Cherokee Nation Papers, Inventory and Index. Revised and edited by Kristina L. Southwell. This is, as stated, an inventory and index held by the University of Oklahoma's Western History Collection (Norman OK). The collection consists of 104 linear ft. of official records and publications of the former Cherokee Nation, and the personal pares of four leading families. The dates of the bulk of the material are 1830-1907.

The Delaware and Shawnee Admitted to Cherokee Citizenship and the Related Wyandotte and Moravian Delaware. By Tony Prevost, Heritage Books, 1992. Extensive information containing background, migration patterns, 1816 treaty ancestral signees, missionary school info, natives who were on the 1860 and 1870 federal census, biographical info, Civil War info, register of Delawares who were admitted Cherokee citizenship in 1867, Delawares on the 1900 fedreral census, and much more.

Our People and Where They Rest. Master Index. An index to 1043 Old Cemeteries within the boundary of the old Indian Territory. By Jerri G. Chasteen, 1120 Cottonwood Court, Pryor OK 74361.

Chilocco Indian School Records. An Indian school in Northern Oklahoma from 1880 to 1984. Over 18,700 Indians went to school there, including 4000-5000 Cherokee. After 1910 the largest tribe attendees was Navajo. Oklahoma Archives maintains school list.

WPA Indian and Pioneer History. As a 1930's WPA project, thousands of Oklahomans were interviewed which revealed much historical and genealogical information. Includes extensive Indian slave narratives. 113 Volumes, indexed.

Cherokee Planters in Georgia. By Don Shadburn.

Hallowed Intrusion. By Don Shadburn. Book about prominent mixed-blood families in Georgia. Recently reprinted.

Biographical and Historical Index of American Indians and Persons Involved in Indian Affairs, from U.S. Dept. of Interior records, G.K. Hall and Co., 70 Lincoln Street, Boston, 1966. 8 Volumes.

Genealogy of Old and New Cherokee Indian Families. By George Morrison Bells, Sr.

Guide to Cherokee Indian Records Microfilm Collection of Oklahoma Historical Society, Archives and Manuscript Division. 2100 N. Lincoln Blvd, Oklahoma City, OK 73105

Chronicles of Oklahoma. This is the magazine of the Oklahoma Historical Society. Below are select articles from 1960-1979, Vol's 38-57 relating to the Cherokee and Cherokee Nation, and other Indians:

Cherokee Indian Agents 1830-34, L:437-457

Old Settlers, XLII:82; XLVI 455,458,459; XLVIII 419

Roll of 1851, XLVI:231

Slaves of XL:292 

Delaware Indians in, XLIII:334

In Georgia, Whites living in tribe, L:15-19

Taders among, XLVII:313

Missionaries in, XLVIII:82

Negroes in XLVII:383

Non-citizens in, XLIX

Seminole Indians in, XLII 416

Slaves in, XLII:10,11,124,337; XLVII 322; XLIX 296-299

Choctaw Agents West, XXXXIX 42-53

Choctaw-Chickasaw Indian Agents 1831-1874, L:415-436

Choctaw Freedmen XLVII:143,151; XLIX240,242,243; L:434

Traders with Choctaw, XXXIX 48,49,327

Creek Indian Agents, 1834-1874, LI37-58

Baptist Missionary to XLII:331-333

Traders in Choctaw Country, XLVIII, 474

Seminole Indian Agents 1842-74, LI 59,83.


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