Vann’s genealogical passion leads to Cherokee Heritage Center job
Ashley Vann, Cherokee Family Research Center associate genealogist, stands outside the center at the Cherokee Heritage Center in Park Hill, Oklahoma. She said her passion for genealogy led her to the CHC in 2016. LINDSEY BARK/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
Ashley Vann, Cherokee Family Research Center associate genealogist, left, talks to people visiting the center about what genealogy services are offered. The research center is located within the Cherokee Heritage Center in Park Hill, Oklahoma. LINDSEY BARK/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
PARK HILL, Okla. – Cherokee Nation citizen Ashley Vann has been curious about her family history since she was 10 years old.
Twenty years later, the passion for learning her lineage led her to become an associate genealogist at the Cherokee Heritage Center’s Cherokee Family Research Center.
Her years of genealogical research experience stems from spending time with family elders and gaining as much information as she could about her family history.
“I spent many summers with both my paternal and maternal grandmothers. Both are matriarchs of the family,” Vann said. “There were very well into keeping the family together, knowing who we were connected to.”
In 2012, Vann graduated from Northeastern State University in Tahlequah with a bachelor’s degree in general studies and minors in history, Cherokee and social science. Her initial career choice was to become a secondary education teacher of history. But after interning at a high school, she decided against teaching. She then worked several CN jobs until she was hired by the Cherokee Family Research Center in 2016.
Vann beat 74 other applicants for the associate genealogist position.
After being hired, she learned her mother also worked at the CHC in the 1980s as a villager.
“She said you’re going back to the place where I first started…but it’s all coming full circle,” Vann said.
As a genealogist, Vann is able to help visitors and clients trace their ancestries to the Dawes Rolls and beyond, to find out where they came from and who they are as Cherokee people.
“My favorite thing (about) being a Cherokee genealogist is, one, I’m helping somebody else preserve their family line. Second, helping them to understand historically what happened to their ancestors,” she said.
Vann said every family has a special story in its lineage. In her family history, she learned of a family division because of religious beliefs, which played a role in how her family came to live in the Rocky Mountain community in Adair County, where she was raised.
Vann said she wants to help put clients “in their ancestors’ shoes” to help them better understand the decisions their ancestors made and why they made them. “Whatever decision that ancestor made is following them from generation to generation.”
Vann was recently published in the Goingsnake Messenger, a periodical published by the Goingsnake District Heritage Association in Westville. She submitted her family stories because of the association’s interest in Cherokee genealogy.
“I took the role (as genealogist). My dad is the family historian, but what I did was take his family stories and backed them up with a paper trail. So now I have digitalized those family stories,” she said. “From my generation on they’ll know how we got to Rocky Mountain.”
Vann said she hopes to see the genealogy field expand for Cherokees in the form of a new facility, a bigger library and more meetings and conferences between tribes.
“My dream, hopefully in the next 20 years, is to see a separate facility for a genealogy center for Cherokees,” she said.