Researching Cherokee Ancestry
Researching your Cherokee ancestry can be fun and rewarding. This article will show you resources and information that can help you in applying for a Certified Degree of Indian Blood.
Researching your Cherokee ancestory is a most fascinating journey. At one time the Cherokees were a very strong nation. Inhabiting the southwestern states, they were believed by some to be the most progressive of all the five civilized tribes. Over the years many Cherokees intermarried with white settlers and traders. Scottish and Irish names such as Vann, Smith, Sanders and Ross are still prevalent in Cherokee descendants today.
In 1828, Andrew Jackson was elected president and gold was discovered at Dahlonega Georgia. These two events would prove castatrophic to the Cherokees' way of life. With the discovery of gold the Cherokees' land became more sought after by white settlers and Andrew Jackson signed the "Indian Removal Act." The Cherokees were forced to march westward to Indian Territory, which is now modern day Oklahoma.
Several times throughout Cherokee History the government would take a "roll" or accounting of the Native American tribes. The Dawes Rolls is just one of many rolls that were taken. It is, however, the only roll used to certify Cherokee Tribal Membership.
To be eligible for Tribal Membership with the Cherokee Nation, you must apply and be able to present a Certificate of Degree of Indian Blood (commonly referred to as a CDIB card), issued by the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Only enrolled members of the Cherokee Nation named on the Final Rolls and/or their descendents are furnished Certificates of Degree of Indian Blood and/or Tribal Membership.
In order to receive a CDIB card, you must apply for one and provide documentation which connects you to an ancestor, who is listed on the FINAL ROLLS OF CITIZENS AND FREEDMEN OF THE FIVE CIVILIZED TRIBES, Cherokee Nation, (known as the Dawes Commission of Final Rolls). These rolls were compiled by the commissions chairman, Henry L. Dawes, between the years of 1899-1906. To receive the application by snail mail, you can contact the Registration at Cherokee Nation, Tribal Resgistrar, PO Box 948, Tahlequah, OK 74465.
Sadly, many people of Cherokee ancestry are unable to be certified or qualify for tribal membership in the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma because their ancestors were not enrolled during the final enrollment. One of the requirements for being placed on the roll was having a permanent resident within the Cherokee Nation (now the 14 northeastern counties of Oklahoma). If the ancestors had seperated from the Tribe and settled in states such as Arkansas, Kansas, Missouri, and Texas, they lost their citizenship within the Cherokee Nation. They must have also applied for the roll between 1899-1906 and must have appeared on previous tribal rolls of 1880 or 1896.
Once you know the requirements for obtaining tribal membership you can begin your search. As stated previously an ancestor must be listed on the Dawes Rolls in order prove membership in the tribe. This means you must read the rolls and see if your ancestor's name is listed there. Copies of the Dawes Rolls may be found from several sources. Author Bob Blankenship compiled copies of the Rolls in his book, "Cherokee Roots, Volume 2, Western Cherokee Rolls." His book can be found at most book stores and is a valuable research tool. Some Libriaries also have the Dawes books available or can at least inform you where you may find them in your city.
Let's say you have found your maternal grandfather's name in the Roll books, now what? In order to receive your tribal membership card you will need to obtain documents to prove he is your grandfather. Remember the burden of proof is on you. You will need his birth certificate validating the fact that he is your mother's father. You will also need your mother's birth certificate which lists him as her father, then finally you will need to submit your own birth certificate which shows your mother's name.
Once you have found your grandparent's name on the Rolls and have documentation proving he is your grandfather you are ready to submit your application. It can take up to four to eight weeks to be processed. Upon issuance of a CDIB, the tribal membership application will be placed on file for processing. If, however, your descendancy from an enrollee not be established, the processing may take longer. The Bureau of Indian Affairs will send you a letter explaining why you were not accepted into the tribe.
Researching your Cherokee ancestry can be fun and rewarding. The success of your search depends upon having realistic expectations so as to avoid disappointment. If your goal to prove your ancestry is to gain monetary benefits from the tribe you may be disappointed. Most tribal benefits are "need-based" which means you must meet income based guidelines to qualify and the income guidelines are set quite low. If, however, your goal is to learn more about Cherokee history and culture and how it relates to your family you will find the experience much more rewarding.