West Virginia, Missing Ancestors

Missing Ancestors? Check the Feeder States!

Here’s a familiar genealogical conundrum: A researcher has traced his/her ancestors from present-day California back to the Dust Bowl-era in Nebraska, into Missouri just as it was achieving statehood, and finally to Indiana in the 1830s. At that point, the trail has grown cold even though legend has it that the family patriarch was a Pennsylvania patriot during the Revolution. So, how does the genealogist pick up the scent of the missing ancestor at this point?

One way to find missing ancestors is by studying the various migration routes our relatives traveled to their new homes. For instance, before 1800, between Boston, Massachusetts, and Charleston, South Carolina, our forebears followed one of a score or more of tested land and/or river routes. Our hypothetical Pennsylvanian, for example, might have traversed the Southern Road, from Philadelphia to Baltimore, where he could pick up the National Road. This would have taken him into western Maryland, briefly back into Pennsylvania, and then into western Virginia (today West Virginia), before the road leveled off in Ohio and Indiana. By the 1830s, of course, canals and railroads were beginning to compete with roads and turnpikes as the principal means of westward transportation. Continue reading…


Virginia’s Northern Neck Genealogy

Robert K. Headley’s remarkable collection refers to no fewer than 30,000 persons with Virginia’s Northern Neck connections during the first quarter of the 19th-century. Since Mr. Headley here concerned himself with the records associated with someone’s death, the overwhelming number of testators, family members, and others mentioned in the name index at the back of the volume will have ties to the 18th century. As indicated in the book’s subtitle—and consistent with the author’s penchant for leaving no stone unturned–Headley took his transcriptions from more or less direct records of inheritance (wills, inventories, and division of estates) but also court order books, guardianship records, and chancery suits. Since the contents of these rich sources have almost entirely eluded publication until now, they both open a trove of buried Northern Neck family connections and spare researchers countless of hours that would have been required to comb through the unindexed records on their own.

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Tah-Chee, a Cherokee chief / A. Newsam., Eastern Cherokee

Descendants of Eastern Cherokees

Between May 1905 and April 1907, the U.S. Supreme Court authorized the Secretary of the Interior to identify the descendants of Eastern Cherokees entitled to participate in the distribution of more than $1 million authorized by Congress. The purpose of the authorization was to settle outstanding claims made under treaties between the U.S. government and the Cherokees in 1835-36 and 1845.

On May 28, 1909, Mr. Guion Miller, representing the Interior Department, submitted his findings with respect to 45,847 separate applications for compensation (encompassing about 90,000 individual claimants). Miller qualified about 30,000 persons inhabiting 19 states to share in the fund. Ninety percent of these individuals were living west of the Mississippi River, but all of them were considered to be Eastern Cherokee by blood, that is, descendants of the Cherokee Nation that had been evicted from Alabama, Georgia, North Carolina, and Tennessee in 1835. (The Interior agent submitted a supplemental report in January 1910 that resulted in another 610 eligibles.)

The Guion Miller Commission prepared abstracts for all of its application findings, and those abstracts (National Archive Record Groups 75 and 123) represent the basis for this series of books by Mr. Jeff Bowen. The author begins with a helpful introduction describing the origins of the Guion Miller rolls and the methodology used in abstracting them. The bulk of Eastern Cherokee by Blood, 1906-1910. Volume I – Applications 1-3000 from the U.S. Court of Claims, 1906-1910. Cherokee-Related Records of Special Commissioner Guion Miller, by Jeff Bowen, comprises abstracts of the first 3,000 of the 45,847 examined by Mr. Miller. The abstracts, in every case, provide the application number, the applicant’s (head of household’s) name and city of residence, the number of other persons in the applicant’s family, references to family members found in other applications, and the disposition of the application. The researcher will find references to about 8,000 Cherokee descendants in this volume, each of whom is identified in the name index at the back.

By any measure, the series Eastern Cherokee by Blood, 1906-1910 is one of the most important additions to the literature of Native American genealogy in recent years.

Image Credit: Tah-Chee, a Cherokee chief / A. Newsam. By Biddle, Edward C., 1808-1893, publisher, via Library of Congress Common Images.

Dennis Wolfe, a full-blooded Cherokee indian in Cherokee, North Carolina

Why Do So Many Americans Think They Have Cherokee Blood?

When I lived in the Southern US, I didn’t pay much attention to someone claiming Cherokee ancestry. Generally, I brushed off friends’ claims of being some minuscule fraction Cherokee, as when pressed on the source of this information it was always a mix of word-of-mouth, distant relation or family lure with a healthy measure of questionable math.

However, now that I’ve read the following piece, Why Do So Many Americans Think They Have Cherokee Blood? written by Gregory D. Smithers, associate professor of history at Virginia Commonwealth University and author of The Cherokee Diaspora, I am giving these claims some additional thought. I hadn’t thought about the political ramifications, or the air of antebellum legitimacy associated with these claims. I am reposting the Slate article in its entirety as Mr. Smithers provides an interesting and concise explanation of why so many people – of both white and African-American descent – believe they have Cherokee blood.

If you are one of the many who have heard family stories of an “Indian Princess” or a Great-Great-Grandmother who was Cherokee, it may be worth not only reading this article, but doing some further original source material research into your bloodlines.

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Colonial Virginia

Virginia Genealogists Need “SWEM”

The two-volume Virginia Historical Index (a.k.a. “Swem’s Index” or “Swem”), originally published in 1934, encompasses the contents of the following seven serial publications: “The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography” (VMHB), Vols. 1-38; the “William and Mary College Quarterly” (a.k.a. the “William and Mary College Quarterly Historical Magazine” W&MCQ), Series I, Vols. 1-27 and Series II, Vols. 1-10; “Tyler’s Quarterly Historical and Genealogical Magazine” (TQ), Vols. 1-10; the “Virginia Historical Register and Literary Advertiser,” Vols. 1-6; the “Lower Norfolk County Virginia Antiquary,” Vols. 1-5; “Hening’s Statutes at Large,” Vols. 1-13; and the “Calendar of Virginia State Papers,” Vols. 1-11.

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