While Native American genealogy research is often challenging, there are several useful resources to help you find out more about Cherokee Indian genealogy. You can use this information to help establish tribal membership or simply to fill in a few of the blanks in your family tree.
About the Cherokee
With more than 300,000 current members, the Cherokee are the largest Native American tribe recognized by the federal government. The Cherokee people lived in the southeastern portion of the United States in what is now Georgia, Tennessee, and the Carolinas. Their oral history told of emigrating there from the Great Lakes region.
In the 1830s and 1840s, the Indian Removal Act dictated that many Cherokees be forcibly moved west to Indian Territory. The Cherokee called this journey the "Trail of Tears." Some members of the tribe resisted the move, purchasing land and staying in North Carolina. Others stopped off along the way, moved to the Appalachian Mountains or other locations, and were assimilated into white culture at the time.
Reasons to Research Cherokee Ancestry
There are many reasons to research your Indian ancestry. Some researchers are interested in establishing membership in a tribe, which requires that you prove your Cherokee ancestry with appropriate documentation. Others have learned from family members that there is a Cherokee relative somewhere in their ancestry, and they want to do the research necessary to determine whether this legend is true. Some genealogists simply want to learn more about the identity of their Cherokee ancestors.
Learning About Cherokee Indian Genealogy
Researching your Cherokee ancestors can be tricky, but there are several resources that can help. You'll be able to do much of your research online, and the majority of Native American genealogy sites are totally free. If you don't find what you need from one resource, you may be able to find helpful information someplace else. Keep looking!
U.S. Department of the Interior
An excellent Native American genealogy source is the U.S. Department of the Interior. Information on the U.S. Department of the Interior website includes the following:
- Tips for conducting Native American genealogy research
- Description of the tribal enrollment process
- Information about benefits open to individuals enrolled in a tribe
- Specific methods to research Cherokee genealogy
The National Archives
The National Archives has a website that allows genealogists to search the Dawes Rolls. Between 1898 and 1914, the Dawes Commission conducted a large-scale effort to register all Native Americans for allotments of land from the United States Government. Over 100,000 people were registered on the Dawes Rolls, most before 1907. If your Cherokee ancestors were living during this period of time, there's a good chance you'll find them on the Dawes Rolls.
In addition to message boards devoted to Native American ancestry, Rootsweb has a searchable Native American database. You can search for your Cherokee ancestors by surname, first name, record type, and tribe.
Cherokee Heritage Center
The Cherokee Heritage Center offers both searchable online databases and paid-per-hour staff research. Online records include the Dawes Rolls and other Cherokee rolls, as well as birth, marriage, and death records.
Researching your Cherokee relatives can be a difficult process, but the end result is often worth all the work. You can determine the truth of family legends, learn more about the lives of your ancestors, or perhaps even establish membership in a tribe. Before you get started, keep some of the following tips in mind:
- Do not look for information at the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA). Typically, the BIA does not keep records for individuals, so it is not a good resource for genealogical information.
- If you are unable to find your ancestor on the Dawes Rolls, do not stop looking. While they are a helpful resource, the Dawes Rolls provide only a snapshot of tribal membership.
- Don't get discouraged! Researching Cherokee Indian genealogy can be challenging, but if you search hard enough, you're likely to find your Cherokee ancestor.