Where to start your Cherokee genealogy research

The Cherokee Indians have had continuing dealings with the U.S. Government since the 1700’s through treaties, legislation, and the courts. There are probably more federal records concerning the Cherokees than any other tribe. Here are some starting points for starting  your Chereokee genealogy research.

During the 1830’s and 1840’s, the period covered by the Indian Removal Act, many Cherokee Indians were forced to remove to what is now Oklahoma. A small number of Cherokees remained in the southeast and gathered in the North Carolina area where they purchased land and continued to live on the Quala Boundary. Many went into the Appalachian Mountains to escape the removal.

Cherokee Ancestry falls into three main groups:

1) Persons listed on the final roll of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma that were closed in 1907 and their descendants.
2) Persons enrolled as members of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians of North Carolina and their descendants, Baker Roll.
3) Other persons of Cherokee Indian ancestry.

The first groups were those Cherokees who went West and formally organized as the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma. After about a half-century of self-government, a law enacted by Congress in 1906 directed that a final roll be made and each enrollee be given an allotment of land or be paid cash. After that date no names could be added to the final rolls. The 1906 enrollment records are kept by the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

The second group, or Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians of North Carolina, are formally organized and have their own requirements for member ship.

Information about the Indian ancestry of persons in the third group of Cherokees is the most difficult to locate. Some of these Indians did not sign up when necessary. The information for this group is best found by using the same methods as used in compiling ancestries of non-Indians. The claims that were filed in 1906 and were rejected provide the same good source of information that is helpful in tracing Indian ancestry.

The three volume set of genealogies by Shirley Hoskins entitled “Cherokee Blood”  also has a lot of information. Cherokee Blood Volume I, Cherokee Blood Volume II and Cherokee Blood Volume III contains Cherokee genealogy based on records of The U.S. Court of Claims.

Cherokees on US Census Rolls

The different Census Rolls are given control numbers by the National Archives so they may be ordered, such as M-1234. The rolls are usually named for the person taking the census. Each roll pertains to a particular year so it is important to select the year that applies to the individual whom you are looking to find.

The Guion Miller Roll

I usually like to start with the Guion Miller Roll. The claims had to be on file by August 31, 1907. In 1909 Miller stated that 45,847 separate applications had been filed representing a total of about 90,000 individuals; 3436 resided east, and 27,384 were residing West of the Mississippi.

The Eastern Cherokee Claims, also known as the Miller Roll is an excellent source of information. Microfilm M-65 lists the persons name and whether their claim was accepted or rejected, and where they were living at the time they filed the application. Roll 1 is the index. These are the rolls that I am using to extract the information for the Cherokee Blood Books. There are 340 rolls of this microfilm.

These rolls list their ancestors, as far back as four to six generations, or before 1835. They were taken in 1906 when Cherokees lived all over the United States. They were trying to prove they or their ancestors lived in the Cherokee Nation East in 1835.

At that time the Cherokee Nation was Comprised of all or part of the following counties of these states:

Georgia: Bartow, Catoosa, Chatooga, Cherokee, Clinton, Cobb, Dade, Dawson, Fannin, Floyd, Forsyth, Gilmer, Gordon, Harrison, Lumpkin, Milton, Murray, Paulding, Pickens, Polk, Town, Walker, and Whitfield County.

Alabama: Blount, Calhoun, Cherokee, Cleburne, Dekalb, Etowah, Jackson, and Marshall County.

Tennessee: Blount, Bradley, Hamilton, James, Marion, Meigs, Monroe, and Polk County. North Carolina: Cherokee, Swain, Clay, Graham, Macon, and Swain County.

The 1924 Baker Roll (East)

The Baker Roll has names, addresses, age, and relationship to the head of household. There were some who were added to the roll by the Indian Office in 1931.

The 1896 Census (West)

The census takers were cautious to be sure before enrolling anyone as a citizen. Oftentimes they had to swear someone in, and question their information, if doubtful. They were to mark Citizen, Shawnee, Delaware, of Freedmen. If in doubt they could contact the 1880 Census with regard to age and name. The census roll gives the name, age, sex, how far they live from the precinct, the degree of blood, and remarks. If they were white they were requested to give which state they were born in.

The 1896 Payment Roll (West)

This roll is a record of payment to those whose names appeared on the 1851 Old Settlers list. These were people who went west before the Treaty of 1835. It lists their name, place of residence, age, and the amount of money they received. If the person was deceased, it names the heirs of the individual that received the money.

Cherokee Census of 1880 (West)

This census consists of six schedules for each of the nine Cherokee Districts: Canadian, Cooweescoowee, Delaware, Flint, Going Snake, Illinoise, Saline, Sequoyah, and Tahlequah. Schedule 3 for the Cooweescoowee is incomplete. Information listed on the schedules include the names of persons, their age, sex, nativity, marital status, and occupation. Family relationships are given in the remarks column. The 1880 Census was used as a basis for payment of $16.55 for breadstuff.

The 1884 Hester Roll(East)

This roll begun in 1882, by Joseph G. Hester, is a census of the Eastern Cherokee. It was completed and submitted to the Secretary of the Interior in 1884. There are 2,956 people listed on this roll. The Hester Roll gives the persons, place of residence, city or county, state, previous ancestors who may have been on the roll, their Hester Roll number, and their Chapman, Siler, Swetland, and Mullay Roll number if they have one. The Hester Roll is indexed.

The 1851 Drennen Roll (West)

This roll contains the names of people that went to Oklahoma after 1835. The roll was taken by John Drennen. The people on this roll were sometimes referred to as Immigrant Cherokees. They lived along the boundaries of Oklahoma.

The 1851 Siler Roll (East)

This roll was taken by David W. Siler in accordance with instructions from the Bureau of Indian Affairs. This roll was taken to provide a basis for distributing money due to members of the tribe under the treaty of 1835. The roll is arranged by county and state. It provides information on the roll number, name, age, sex, and race. There were 88 names added to the Siler Roll in 1854 by an Act of Congress. There were 370 families on the Siler Roll.

The 1852 Chapman Roll of Eastern Cherokees

This roll is a receipt roll for a per capita payment made to the Eastern Cherokees listed on the Siler Roll. Alfred Chapman disbursed the money. The numbers correspond exactly to the Siler Roll Through number 883. The roll contains the names of the individuals paid, their age, And their relationship to the head of household. It also lists the total amount paid to The head of household or their authorized representative, the date of payment and the witness to the payment.

The 1848 Mullay Roll (East)

The Mullay Roll was taken in 1848 by Special Agent J. C. Mullay authorized by an act of Congress. He was to list the names of the Cherokee Indians who remained East of the Mississippi River after the majority of the tribes moved west under the unhonored Treaty 1835. The Secretary of the Treasury was authorized to set aside $53.00 for each individual wishing to migrate to Indian Territory. The enrollment number lists the names numerically. The remarks column tells their age and relationship to others on the roll. There are approximately 1532 names on the Mullay Roll. The Mullay Roll is not indexed.

The 1835 Henderson Roll

Daniel Henderson took this census in 1835. It is an accounting to Cherokee Indians and mixed bloods that were living in these states: Tennessee, Georgia, Alabama, and North Carolina. The roll lists many categories. The Most significant are:
Residence by county and state.
Male’s ages listed as either under or over 18.
Female ages listed as either under or over 16.
How many whites were in each household by marriage.

There is a complete alphabetical index for this roll.

1817-1819 Reservations

The Treaty of 1817 gave every head of any Indian family residing on the east side of the Mississippi 640 acres of land that by treaty was surrendered to the United States. If any of the heads of families for whom the reservation should be made, should be removed from there, their rights were to revert to the United States, and it stipulated that a census of those desiring reservations and consequently citizenship was to be taken and filed in the office of the Cherokee agency.

The Dawes Roll of 1906

The Dawes Roll of 1906 is another good source of information. In the following paragraph my grandfather is used as an example.

The Final Roll (T-529)

In 1898 by an Act of Congress a commission was established to negotiate agreements with the Five Civilized Tribes: the Cherokees, Choctaws, Chickasaws, Creeks and Seminoles. This was to provide for the dissolution to the tribal governments and the allotment of land to each tribal member. The Commission received applications for membership from more than 250,000 people of which more than 101,000 were enrolled. The tribal membership rolls were closed in 1907. Congressional Act enrolled an additional 312 persons in 1914.

Census Cards

The card census number refers to a Census Card. The information given for each applicant includes name, roll number, age, sex, degree of Indian blood, and their relationship to the head of the household. There are approved, rejected, and doubtful cards.

Check the index, (Roll 1), for the person your are looking for. As an example, we will use William Coats. William Coats’ number is 28090. After you get the number, continue past the index, and you will come to the information about the person. When the number is found, in this case 28090, it lists William Coats, 42, m, ¼, Card Census 4173.

Copy the card census number and go to the Enrollment Card Census Roll, (M-1186). There are 93 rolls. 1-23 are Cherokees by blood and Cherokee by marriage, rolls 24-38 are Cherokee freedmen, rolls 39-66 are Choctaws, rolls 67-76 are Chickasaws, rolls 77-91 are Creeks, and 92-93 are Seminoles.

You will find that number 4172 is on reel 6. The number 4173 is in the upper right corner of the card. The Card Census is a most valuable source of information. It lists the person, their wife and children, their mother and father, as well as what page number they can be found on in the 1880 and 1896 census rolls. Each relatives Dawes Roll number is given, along with the Tribal Enrollment year, district, and district number.

Other relevant rolls such as the 1986 Census, 1880 Census, 1851 Census, and 1835 Census Rolls are explained in more detail in following sections.

Another good source is the book left to the Cherokee people by Emett Starr, History of the Cherokee Indians. Most libraries have this book. Not enough can be said in appreciation for Dr. Emett Starr (1870-1930) for his devotion, from what he left his people. In my opinion, he deserves as much recognition as Sequoyah.

Without his book it would be almost impossible to go beyond 1835. He gives a good history in the front of his book, and then the genealogy of the old families. The Eastern Cherokee Claims can be used to connect up with the History of the Cherokee Indians. Emett Starr’s notes are in the Oklahoma Historical Room, in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.

Microfilm number M-208 (Cherokee Agency in Tennessee)

These are the earliest records available at the National Archives. This covers the period 1801-1835.

Microfilm number M-234

This includes a lot of letters written to the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

American State Papers

American State Papers are another excellent source of information. I was able to find a letter written about Samuel Martin in these. Indian Affairs volume 1 & 2 contain papers pertaining to Indians. There are also some records in most courthouses in counties where the Cherokee Indians lived, mainly in Tennessee, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, and Alabama.

The Tennessee State Archives

The Tennessee State Archives have many records that Penelope Allen bought from John Ross’s grandson, William Ross. They are available for research.

Moravian Mission Records

Early missionaries established a mission among the Cherokees in 1817, and many records still exist.