A collection of Public Domain images of the Five Civilized Tribes

Federal Records of the Five Civilized Tribes

The following excerpt is from the book, Tracing Ancestors Among the Five Civilized Tribes, by Rachal Mills Lennon. This body of work has been the best-selling guide to a very difficult area of research for over a decade.

Ms. Lennon, M.A., CG, specializes in resolving difficult Southern research problems and reconstructing obscure lives, especially those of Native American, African American, and yeoman white families.

A Board-certified genealogist since 1985, Lennon holds degrees from the University of Virginia and the University of Alabama in architectural history, historic preservation and history, with emphasis on the Southern frontier. She is the author, editor, and compiler of six books, as well as award-winning problem-solving essays and case studies published in national-level peer-reviewed journals.

Federal Records of the Five Civilized Tribes

Historical Background

The history and culture of the American South are unique, owing chiefly to the intermingling of the races and the diverse ethnic backgrounds of countless families. Modern Southerners proudly boast traditions–real or not–of Native American ancestry. Odds are, these traditions lead directly back to the so-called Five Civilized Tribes. The Chickasaw, Cherokee, Choctaw, Creek, and Seminole Indians dominated a broad swath of territory from North Carolina to Mississippi before their forced removal westward. Long hailed for their adaptability to “white” ways (hence the designation “civilized”), these nations have gained near honorific status among Southeastern genealogists.

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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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