CHEROKEE HISTORY AND ITS RELATION TO GENEALOGY RESEARCH

In 1794 a certain branch of the Cherokee left the main body of the tribe and moved into southeastern Missouri. These were the first "Old Settlers." That body continued to receive members after they moved into central Arkansas and later into what is now Oklahoma in 1828. In 1835 a census was prepared of the Cherokee still living in the east; those who remained as of December 29, 1835, the date of the signing of the controversial Treaty of New Echota, are considered Eastern Cherokee, even though most of those eventually moved west. The treaty ceded the remaining portion of Cherokee eastern lands for monetary compensation and required that the remainder of the tribe move to join the Old Settlers in Indian Territory, now northeastern Oklahoma.

From 1836 until 1838, those who supported the signing of the treaty, the "Treaty Party," began to voluntarily move to the Indian Territory and assimilate with the government established there by the Old Settlers. In 1838 and 1839, the United States Army forcibly moved the remaining members of the tribe over the "Trail of Tears."

A large number of full-blood Cherokee, mostly living in North Carolina, escaped the forced removal and remained; they were eventually given a reservation in Cherokee County, North Carolina and remain there today which is the reason there is a separate Eastern Band of Cherokee.

In addition to the Old Settlers, the Treaty Party, the Eastern Cherokee living in the west, and the North Carolina Cherokee, some mixed-blood families, generally of one-quarter blood or less, remained in Tennessee and Georgia and assimilated their families with the white populations of those states. Those persons were enumerated (along with the members of the Eastern Band) in the 1851 Chapman and Siler Rolls, the 1867 Swetland Roll and the 1884 Hester Roll. Especially after the Civil War, many of those families moved into the Cherokee Nation, Indian Territory, probably because of economic difficulties in the former Confederacy.

The political difference among the Cherokee created tension and blood shed between 1839 and 1846. The government of the United States had different relations with the various political branches of the tribe. In 1846 a treaty provided various settlements to each of the three branches in Indian Territory and claims were made and money paid out to each Cherokee in the west. The 1851 Drennen Roll (Eastern Cherokees living in the west), the 1851 Old Settler Roll (Old Settlers, including those living outside the Cherokee Nation) and the Chapman Roll (Eastern Cherokee still living in the East) are important genealogical records made as a result of the 1846 Treaty. Further suits were settled over the next several decades resulting in major payments to Old Settlers in 1896 and to Eastern Cherokee in 1909. These provide us with a wealth of genealogical information. The Eastern Cherokee Applications, produced from 1906 to 1908, give the Cherokee one of the most complete genealogical histories of any people living at that time.

Citizenship in the Cherokee Nation was not allowed to those of Cherokee blood living outside the Cherokee Nation. From the 1870s to the 1890s Cherokee citizenship courts were petitioned for "readmittance" by those persons who moved back with the tribe, and who claimed Cherokee blood. In the 1890s, as it became more clear that allotments would eventually be provided to individual citizens of the Nation, there was a great push by many persons to reacquire Cherokee citizenship, and the Dawes Commission attempted to provide its own determination of Cherokee status, which was unsuccessful.

Private ownership of land was unknown to the Indian. However as the Five Civilized Tribes in Oklahoma became more assimilated with the white American culture, allotment of the tribal lands to individuals became necessary before statehood could be enacted. That was the purpose of the Commission to the Five Civilized Tribes, more popularly known as the Dawes Commission, after the first Chairman, Henry Laurens Dawes. Understandably the full-blood Indians resented this allotment and many refused to participate, but were eventually forced to enroll and receive an allotment of land. The many problems associated with this allotment can be read about in And Still the Waters Run by Angie Debo. The records created by the Dawes Commission and the various citizenship courts are very detailed and provide us with another source of tremendous genealogical value.

After the tribal governments were disbanded in 1906, various other records have been produced which assist in genealogical research. Cherokees whose land was under restriction by the Bureau of Indian Affairs had many records created from the 1920s through the 1940s; these are available at the Federal Records Center in Fort Worth. Per stirpes payments to the original enrollees or their heirs were made in 1962 after a settlement regarding the Cherokee Outlet. In addition there are many records currently being created by the Department of the Interior and the Cherokee Nation by those persons receiving Certificates of Degree of Indian Blood and current tribal registration. These records are generally not currently available for wide-spread genealogical research.

 

OVERVIEW OF CHEROKEE RECORDS AVAILABLE

The following records produced by the Cherokee Nation and the United States government are important sources for research into Cherokee genealogy, but are not considered to be complete.

1. Eastern Cherokee Applications. These records were produced by the Guion Miller Commission of the Court of Claims from 1906 through 1909. The main body of information is formed from 45,000 applications received from living persons who were trying to prove their eligibility to share in the per capita payment made, which amounted to $133.19 per person. In order to be eligible a person had to show that they were descended from a person who was an eastern Cherokee in 1835 usually by proving descent from a person named on the Drennen roll of 1851 (eastern Cherokees living in Oklahoma) or the Chapman roll of 1851 (eastern Cherokees who remained in the east). In addition, those persons eligible would have to prove that they were not "Old Settlers" and that they had not become associated with any other tribe. The applications ask for a tremendous amount of genealogical information. This includes name, date and place of birth, name and age of spouse, names, birthplace and dates of death for parents, names and date for brothers and sisters, names of grandparents, and names of aunts and uncles. In addition, because many persons felt the payment was to be made per stirpes to heirs of Eastern Cherokee, claims for cousins and other more distant relatives are mentioned.

2. Records of the Dawes Commission. For the Cherokee, these records were produced between 1900 and 1906 and were used to determine citizenship and allotment of land. The rolls were originally closed on 1 September 1902 and were reopened to include minors born until 4 March 1906. There are two main classes of records produced: (1) transcripts of testimony of persons applying and (2) census cards which generally include the same information as is in the transcript, but may have additional information added later.

3. The Drennen, Old Settler and Chapman Rolls of 1851. These rolls were produced as a result of the Treaty of 1846 mentioned above. While the Drennen and Old Settler Rolls do not give any identifying information other than name, they are grouped in family units with the head (usually father or husband) listed first and the wife second and the children following. The Chapman Roll and its accompanying Siler Payroll do give ages and other information. Later payments made to the Old Settlers in 1896 and to the Eastern Cherokees in 1909 are referenced to individuals on the 1851 rolls. These rolls have been produced on microfilm and printed in book form.

4. The Old Settler payroll of 1896. This Payroll was made as a result of a final settlement of Old Settler claims. The payment was made "per stirpes" meaning that each person on the 1851 roll was allowed the same amount of money ($159.10). If the original Old Settler was deceased, his heirs split that amount among themselves. All records, other than the payroll, produced by the Old Settler Commission were destroyed in a fire, so it is possible that there may have been applications similar to those of the Eastern Cherokee in 1906. This roll has been produced on microfilm and printed in book form.

5. The 1880 Cherokee census. This was the first thorough census of all residents of the Cherokee Nation and includes six schedules of enumerated persons, depending on citizenship or non-citizenship status. There are three copies of this census available: (1) the original enumeration, which are housed in the Western History Collection at the University of Oklahoma, Norman (these are now available on microfilm; one district and part of another are missing); (2) a hand-written schedule alphabetized by first letter of surname with a number assigned to each person; this schedule was used by the Dawes commission and those enrollees living in 1880 are referenced to the number on the schedule. In addition the schedule has a notation of what census card each person on the 1880 census is found on, or a notation that the person is dead. This hand-written schedule has been printed in book form recently. (3) A printed schedule based on the hand written schedule, but the numbers assigned each person are not the same.

6. The 1896 Cherokee census. This census was made of all citizens of the Cherokee Nation preparatory to allotment. The Dawes Commission referenced each person enrolled for allotment to this census. This census lists degree of blood and birthplace. This census is reproduced on microfilm

7. The other various Cherokee censuses: 1883, 1886, 1890, 1893, 1894. Some of these census might more accurately be termed "payrolls." The 1890 gives much the same information as the 1880. The others include only citizens of the Cherokee Nation.

8. The Cherokee census of 1835. Produced preparatory to final removal. It has been microfilmed and printed in book form.

9. The Cherokee census of 1867. The only apparent surviving copy of this census is not the original and is marred by copying errors in nearly every district. It has been reproduced on microfilm.

10. Cherokee Nation official documents. Many of the official documents of the Cherokee Nation such as marriage licenses and wills are currently housed in the Oklahoma Historical Societys Indian Archives. These have been reproduced on microfilm, but are not indexed and are sometimes difficult to read.

11. Indian Pioneer Papers. Interviews conducted by the WPA sometimes give family and other historical information not found elsewhere. These are housed in the Indian Archives of the Oklahoma Historical Society and are reproduced on microfilm.

12. Removal Claims to the Board of Commissioners. Claims made for losses in the Cherokee Nation East of both land and personal property.

13. Cherokee Emigration Rolls 1817-1835. These records provide a listing of most "Old Settlers" emigrating during these years. These records have been printed in book form.

14. Cherokee Reservees. Information regarding those persons who claimed a reservation under the Treaties of 1817 and 1819 have been printed in book form.

15. The 1900 United States Census of the Cherokee Nation. This was the first census taken by the United States in Indian Territory.