Native American Research Resources and Basic Methodologies for the Five Civilized Tribes

By Carolyn L. Barkley

One of the most persistent myths in family history research is the statement, “I descend from an Indian princess.” Needless to say, the chances of that statement being accurate are very slim. It is possible, however, to document the life of an Native American ancestor, particularly among what are termed the Five Civilized Tribes: the Cherokees, Chickasaws, Choctaws, Creeks and Seminoles.

Stories passed down through generations of your family may have hinted at Native American connections. Your mission, should you chose to accept it, will be to document the truth behind those stories.

Reading explanatory material about a specific subject area of genealogical research is always a good way to begin any research. Rachal Mills Lennon’s Tracing Ancestors Among the Five Civilized Tribes (Genealogical Publishing Co., 2007) is an important resource. This title is designed to assist you in eliminating speculation and in determining the truth about Native American ancestry in your family. Ms. Lennon focuses on one of the more difficult periods for research – the century or so prior to the removal of the southeastern nations to the Indian (Oklahoma) Territory and the subsequent more routinely created and maintained records documenting the Native American population. As you read Tracing Ancestors Among the Five Civilized Tribes you will gain an understanding of a methodology that will allow you to move from the colonial period (American, English, French and Spanish governmental jurisdictions) to the mid-to-late nineteenth century when many of the tribal rolls were enumerated. Another title, one which will enhance your understanding of the various Native American tribes, is John R. Swanton’s The Indian Tribes of North America (Genealogical Publishing Co., 2007). This comprehensive  title provides a digest of Indian groups (nations, confederations, tribes, subtribes, clans and bands) and their historical locations throughout the North American continent.

Indian Rolls

Some of the most important documentary sources are various Indian rolls compiled during the time of the Indian removals. Several caveats, however, apply. In order to identify and consult the correct roll, you will need to know or discover your ancestor’s name (remembering that many Native Americans had only one name); where your ancestor was living (remembering that most tribes were nomadic and ranged freely across various counties and states, often seasonally, while others were removed from their native lands by the government); and to what tribe he or she might have belonged (remembering that while there are in excess of five hundred tribes today, there were many more in the past).

Indian removals were authorized by a series of Congressional acts. Although the majority of these removals would begin in 1831, the Cherokee Treaty of 1817 required Cherokee families living east of the Mississippi to remove to Arkansas. Article 8 of the Treaty, however, stated that heads of these households could apply for a 640-acre tract of land in lieu of removal and, if the application was approved, would become United States citizens. While the land could be inherited by a spouse or child, if the family removed to another location at a later date, the land would revert to the federal government. In order to facilitate the proper allocation of these lands, Cherokees who applied for land were enumerated in a reservation census conducted in June 1818. Note that in this time period, the word “reservation” referred simply to the land that had been granted (or reserved) to an individual. Access Genealogy has posted the applicant index for the 1817 reservation roll from the records of the Bureau of Indian Affairs. The list of applicants only includes 550 names and it is important to recognize that not all of these applicants actually received land. Future postings on this site will include additional related documents such as the names of those who were actual recipients of these lands. Right now the only information in this online index is the name of the individual. Examples of names range from Charles Buffington, to Eight Killer, to Yoon Ne Gis Kah.

There are many later rolls including, among others, the Armstrong Roll (1830) of Choctaw Indians enumerated as a result of the Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek; the Emigration Roll (1817-1835) of the Cherokees who removed to Arkansas in 1817, and who then moved on to Oklahoma in 1839; the Henderson Roll (1835) of Cherokee Indians, originally living in Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee and North Carolina, who removed to Oklahoma; the Mullay Roll (1848), listing 1,517 Cherokees who remained in North Carolina after the 1838 removal; and the Cooper Roll (1855) which enumerated Choctaws living east of the Mississippi, and in the states of Mississippi, Louisiana and Alabama.

Perhaps the most important rolls are found in the Dawes and Guion Miller Rolls. The Dawes Rolls, sometimes called the “Final Rolls,” list individuals accepted as eligible for membership in the Cherokee, Creek, Chocktaw, Chickasaw, or Seminole tribes.  The Dawes Rolls are published in print form as The Final Rolls of Citizens and Freedmen of the Five Civilized Tribes in Indian Territory [and] Index to the Final Rolls (Genealogical Publishing Co., 2007). The Dawes Commission was appointed by President Grover Cleveland in 189e, to negotiate with the Five Civilized Tribes in order to abolish their tribal governments and to provide an allotment of land to their members. In doing so, the Commission created membership rolls that have become one of the most important sources for Native American genealogical research. Applications for enrollment were received from approximately 250,000 individuals who were required to include proof of blood and tribal affiliation. Such proof may include birth and death records and marriage licenses. The Final Rolls, however, include the names of the 101,000 individuals, one-quarter of whom were full-blooded, whose applications were approved. A rich amount of information is provided including a category of citizenship [by blood, by marriage, new born by blood, minor by blood, freedmen (former black slaves admitted to tribal citizenship), new born freedmen and minor freedmen]. In addition, most entries include name, age, sex, degree of Indian blood and the number of a census or enrollment, card. Census cards were arranged by tribe and then by category and census card number, and usually include parents’ names and places of residence and the names of related enrollees (husband, wife and/or children), and references to earlier tribal rolls. The index provides the individual’s name and roll number. The roll number is the key to accessing information in the roll volume.

I searched for anyone with the surname “Duncan” in Ancestry.com’s Dawes Commission Index 1898-1914 database. I located Charlie David Duncan, a three-year old male, minor by blood (listed as 1/8 degree), residing in Pryor Creek, which according to a quick Google search, is in Oklahoma. His roll number is 1432. I then searched for Charlie in Ancestry.com’s U.S. Native American Enrollment Cards for the Five Civilized Tribes, 1898-1914 database. Charlie’s entry provided the number for his census card: 1424. I then searched the Final (Dawes) Rolls database on Access Genealogy. There, his card number was given as M1424. Following the M1424 link, I was informed that Footnote.com is digitizing these records and that if no image appeared to the right of the page, they had not digitized this specific file (called a packet), but to check back regularly. I double-checked its availability on Footnote.com, but it was not available, although over 50,000 packets have been made available to date. I could not pursue Charlie Duncan further at home, but now have all the information necessary to do so at National Archives II in College Park, Maryland.

The Guion Miller Roll is a list of the Eastern Cherokees who, in 1905, applied for compensation following a 1902 lawsuit in which they had sued the federal government for funds due to them under treaties of 1835, 1836, and 1845. In response, the Interior Department enumerated Cherokees in 1907 and 1908. Each individual was asked to provide his or her English and Indian name, place of birth, name of spouse and children, place of birth and date of death of parents and grandparents, names and ages of brothers and sisters, and names of uncles and aunts. You may search this roll on microfilm at the National Archives (M685), or online at Access Genealogy and Footnote.com. An example of the interesting information that can be located in the Guion Miller Roll is the following miscellaneous testimony before a Special Commission recorded at Cedartown, Georgia on 7 July 1908: “ No. 35916. Bet Carroll, being first duly sworn and examined, deposes and says, “My name is Bet[tie] Carroll; I was born in Union Co., Ga. 1852; I claim my Indian blood through my mother; I claim no Indian blood through my father; I was a slave; my mother was a slave; my mother got her Indian blood from her mother; my grandmother through whom I claim was also a slave; and her name was Duncan; I have been told that I was a quarter Cherokee Indian; I never saw my grandmother through whom I claim; both I and my ancestors through whom I claim were held in bondage by white people.”

Other important titles to consult include Jeff Bowen’s multi-volume sets, Chickasaw by Blood. Enrollment Cards, 1898-1914 and Eastern Cherokee by Blood, 1906-1910, both published by Clearfield..

Indian Census Records

An act of Congress dated 4 July 1884 (23 Stat. 98) required that Indian agents, or the superintendents of reservations, submit annual census rolls. For some years, only additions and deletions were published and for the most part, the rolls list only those individuals who maintained a formal affiliation with a tribe that remained under federal supervision. Ancestry.com includes a database entitled U. S. Indian Census Schedules, 1885-1940, that includes name, gender, age, birth date, relationship to the head of the family, marital status, tribe name, and agency or reservation name. For example, William Bearshield, a 33-year old Oglala Sioux was enumerated on 30 June 1913. He was living on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota with his wife Francis, aged 32. I was unable to locate William in federal population schedules for 1900, 1910 or 1920. In many cases, the 1900 federal census can be helpful in identifying Native Americans. If they lived in predominantly Indian areas, there were special Indian schedules that identified an individual’s tribe and that of his parents. If they lived among the general population, only color/race (Indian) was indicated. For example, Thomas Barkley, aged 32, was enumerated on the Klamath Indian Reservation in Oregon in 1900. He was a farmer and lived with his sons Archie and Foster, his daughter Rocksey [sic], and his sister Hattie. The Barkley surname appears numerous times within the Klamath tribe.

An additional significant title to consult is Jeff Bowen’s multi-volume Eastern Cherokee Census, Cherokee, North Carolina, 1915-1922, published by Clearfield.

Other research resources include:

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