Cherokee Genealogical Research (part 1): Today, the Cherokees are the second most numerous American Indian people (only the Navajo tribe is larger). Many Americans believe themselves to have Cherokee ancestry, but tribal membership is solely the responsibility of the three recognized tribal governments (Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma; United Keetoowah Band, and the Eastern Band of North Carolina). It has been said that there are three types of Cherokees: “Cherokees,” “Wannabees,” and “Outtalucks.” Also, Cherokee “Princesses” did not exist.
As late as the year 1776, the Indian traders from the state of South Carolina were responsible for the majority of commerce between the white settlers and the Cherokee nation. Georgia, North Carolina and Virginia traders also dealt with the Cherokee, but on a much smaller scale. The Cherokees were a numerous and warlike people, inhabiting southern Appalachia, consisting of parts of the present States of Alabama, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Tennessee. Nearly 300 years ago, British subjects (mainly of Scot ancestry) traveled into the mountain country to trade with the Indians. Many of these traders established trading posts in Cherokee towns, and by accepting a Native wife or consort, were adopted into the tribe. These men became known as “Indian Countrymen”.
A must-see reference is for Cherokee research is William L. McDowell’s The Colonial Records of South Carolina: Documents relating to Indian Affairs. It’s a 2- volume set published by the South Carolina Department of Archives and History.
Here are some important things to remember to guide you in researching Cherokee ancestry.
- Spellings of names are not always the same in historical records.
- Cherokee names have phonetic spellings utilizing both French and British pronunciation.
- Personal names will vary according to dialect or region. (The Cherokees had three dialects).
- Exercise caution in attempting to determine the degree of Cherokee blood. By 1900, there were very few full blood Cherokees alive.
- The surname you started with may lead you to another surname. More than likely, your search will lead to an early trader.
- As far as our ancestors who intermarried during the 18th century, on average, descendants today would possess about 1/128 to 1/256 Cherokee blood.
- Search the regions around the Cherokee nation, and be aware of the ever-changing borders of both the Cherokee lands and the frontier.
- There were four settlement groups in the Cherokee Nation. Namely, 1) OVERHILLS found in East Tennessee in the area of the Little Tennessee River; 2) VALLEY in lower East Tennessee, southwestern North Carolina, and north Georgia regions; 3) LOWER which covered the areas of western South Carolina, and northeastern Georgia; and 4) MIDDLE encompassing western North Carolina.
- Keep in mind they were transient and would move from place to place both inside and outside Cherokee boundaries.
- Check all colonial, state and local histories, frontier histories, Indian trade records.
Here’s a list of some early Colonial records worth searching:
- The Colonial Records of the State of Georgia
- The Colonial Records of North Carolina
- The State Records of North Carolina
- Documents of the American Revolution, 1770 - 1783
- Executive Journals of the Council of Colonial Virginia
- Virginia State Papers and Other Manuscripts, 1652 – 1781
(To be continued in the January issue …)
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Fact: Today, the Cherokees are the second most numerous American Indian people (only the Navajo tribe is larger). Many Americans believe themselves to have Cherokee ancestry, but tribal membership is solely the responsibility of the three recognized tribal governments (Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma; United Keetoowah Band, and the Eastern Band of North Carolina). It has been said that there are three types of Cherokees: “Cherokees,” “Wannabees,” and “Outtalucks.” ~ Jim Hicks, Cherokee Lineages
Tip: While many publishers offer works about the Cherokees, purchase those that may help most in research. Here is a short list of some of the companies with helpful resources that are in print.
- Cherokee Publications, Cherokee, North Carolina.
- Oklahoma Yesterday Publications, 8745 East 9th St. Tulsa, OK 74112 Tulsa, Oklahoma
- University of Oklahoma Press, Norman, Oklahoma.
- Overmountain Press, Johnson City, Tennessee.
- University of Tennessee Press, Knoxville, Tennessee.
- An excellent resource is a volume by Thomas G. Mooney entitled Exploring Your Cherokee Ancestry: A Basic Genealogical Research Guide, Tahlequah, OK.: Cherokee National Historical Society, 1992. A reference copy is available in the Huntsville Heritage Room (H 929.1 Moo).
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Winter Quarter (Jan. – Mar. 2008) Computer Genealogy Classes
- Genealogy Online ~ Wednesdays, 2 to 4 PM - Jan. 23rd, Feb. 20th, Mar. 19th
- Online Databases ~ Tuesdays, 5:30 to 6:30 PM
- New England Historic Genealogy Database – Jan. 29th
- Ancestry.com – Feb. 26th
- Heritage Quest – Mar. 25th
All classes are held in the Computer Training Center on 3rd Floor of the Main Library. To register for a class, contact the Training Center at 532.2356 or stop by in person.