Let’s say that you want to join a Cherokee Indian tribe because you were told that grandma was 100% Cherokee. Using information from your family tree on an ancestry site you search the Dawes rolls (final Cherokee rolls), but she’s not listed by her maiden name, nick name, or married name. You visit genealogy blogs, and social media groups for answers but instead find that you’re attacked as a “wannabe” and a fraud. You resolve to just “know in your heart you are Cherokee”.
The trouble with that is that you’ve not only lost the connection your true heritage and family history, but the benefits you and all your family deserve. In fact, you’ve also lost them for your descendants forever and that’s a lot of descendants!
But wait! There are secrets that can make a difference to you and your family and we’re going to tell you about them here.
Before we get to your grandmother, let’s talk about who and what is a Cherokee. Do you know that there were white people that the tribe loved so much that they made them tribal members? The tribe included intermarried whites, freed slaves, and members of other tribes like the Shawnee and Delaware. When we say “Cherokee Nation” that’s exactly what it is, a sovereign nation. It’s members are citizens of that nation and Cherokee is their nationality. As citizens they are “100% Cherokee” in the same way that you may be 100% American and citizen of the United States, even though racially you may have a mixture of ancestors. The Cherokee Nation doesn’t require a blood quantum for citizenship anymore than the United States does. However, some citizens are “full blood” Cherokee Indians (yes Indian). They are referred to as full bloods rather than “100% Cherokee”. The Bureau of Indian Affairs lists 4/4 on their Certificate of Degree of Indian Blood (CDIB) card. Blood quantum is erroneous, created and assigned by a government with an interest in having the lowest possible blood quantum listed for tribal members.
Just before Oklahoma became a state, the federal government set out to dissolve the power of the tribal government by dividing the lands among all tribal members. The Dawes commission set out to determined who was a real Cherokee and should receive a land allotment. If approved, you were “enrolled” with the tribe. This became known as the Dawes roll, or Final Rolls.
Now, let’s get back to your grandmother. Although there are many possibilities of why you’re Cherokee ancestor wouldn’t be listed, here is one real example.
Jennie was known by her great grandchildren to have been a Cherokee. Their extensive research located an abundance of information including her gravesite and historical documents. Famed Cherokee historian and genealogist Emmett Starr had appeared before the Dawes commission in 1902 to make application for her himself. Yet every reference that listed her name carried an “R” for rejected. In frustration the family asked us for help.
A search of our own records disclosed that the ancestor was clearly a Cherokee-by-blood through her mother and her father Daniel listed as a Cherokee-by-intermarriage. So why was Jennie rejected and omitted from this roll? We learned that Jennie’s father had been taken to Indian territory (Oklahoma) from his home in Mobile Alabama by “Wm McMaston and Ward Coachman”. There he was sent to an Indian boarding school called the Asbury Manual Labor school. Our research revealed that Ward Coachman was at one time a tribal chief of the Creek Nation. It appeared that Jennie’s father Daniel might actually be a Muscogee (Creek) who had married a Cherokee woman.
We found that at one time Daniel applied for an allotment of Creek land but was denied. There he learned that his name was on the Cherokee rolls along with his wife, but as an intermarried-white. In frustration he wrote to the Dawes commission that “the Cherokee authorities have put my name on the roll as a white man. I don’t remember telling anyone that I was a white man”. To be safe, Daniel’s daughter Jennie applied for enrollment with both the Cherokee Nation as well as the Creek Nation. When she went before the Dawes commission for questioning she didn’t realize that her and her siblings had already been added to the Creek rolls and allotted land. For that reason she was denied enrollment by the Cherokee Nation.
Her descendants are eligible for enrollment and benefits with the Creek Nation. They also have confirmation that their great grandmother was a true Cherokee.
It’s a good example of why it’s important not to give up the quest for your rightful heritage. Many people who had parents and grandparents from multiple tribes were forced to claim only one during the Dawes rolls. Letters sent out from the Dawes commission to those who may have been eligible were returned undeliverable. Some African Americans were added to the main roll while others were placed on the Freedmen rolls.
The white missionary Evan Jones was so loved by the Cherokee Nation that he and all his family living with him were adopted by the tribe. One of these was the orphan son of his daughter Pauline. Though this orphaned child eventually had eight children, none ever applied for enrollment with the tribe through the Dawes commission. Yet even today all the many descendants would be eligible for tribal citizenship if they registered. The son’s name was Richard Byrd.
We encourage you to believe in and investigate family stories. The Cherokee are the best documented tribe in history, yet even with today’s internet resources the truth is often obscured. We provide free research assistance and we launch a new site to preserve the stories, memories, and family history of our members on September 1, 2016. You’re invited to join us.