CFRC debunks genealogy misconceptions
The 1924 Baker Roll, the Guion Miller Roll and Dawes Roll are prominently displayed on tables in the Cherokee Family Research Center at the Cherokee Heritage Center in Park Hill, Oklahoma. The rolls are used to determine tribal citizenship eligibility for the Cherokee Nation, the United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians and the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. Individuals searching their genealogies can access the rolls within the CFRC genealogy library after paying admission to the CHC museum. BRITTNEY BENNETT/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
The Cherokee Family Research Center at the Cherokee Heritage Center in Park Hill, Oklahoma, houses historical documents pertaining to the forced removal of Cherokees from their homelands to Indian Territory via the Indian Removal Act of 1830. BRITTNEY BENNETT/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
PARK HILL, Okla. – Cherokee Family Research Center genealogists Gene Norris and Ashley Vann are trying to set the record straight when it comes to the differences between genealogy, tribal citizenship requirements and DNA testing.
“We basically take care of the clients that come in that are interested in learning about their family tree or finding more information about an ancestor that they believe to be Cherokee,” said Norris. “Somebody in the family has told them they were Cherokee in one generation or another back and they’re trying to find out more information to add to that.”
CFRC is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization operated by the Cherokee National Historical Society. Located within the Cherokee Heritage Center, individuals can use the CFRC genealogy library and research materials to conduct research once admission is paid to enter the CHC museum.
Individuals can also hire Norris or Vann to conduct their search for a fee of $30 per hour or $20 per hour for Cherokee National Historical Society members.
“The three main sources of information that we have are on the tables with the Dawes Roll, the Guion Miller Roll and the Baker Roll,” Vann said. “Our records pertain from 1817 until 1906. Primarily it comes down by location and finding out if that ancestor stayed with the tribe or even came here to be part of the tribe and that’s really the defining point of the research process.”
The Cherokee Nation and the United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians use the Dawes Roll and Guion Miller Roll to determine citizenship, while the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians uses the Baker Roll. The three tribes are the only federally recognized Cherokee tribes.
Norris said it is a common misconception that the CFRC can issue tribal citizenship cards for the three tribes, which it is not able to do.
This situation arises most often with individuals seeking membership with the CN, according to Norris.
“We are not a government office,” he said. “Registration, that is a government office of the Cherokee Nation tribal government, which we are not a government office here. We do not issue cards. We do not take you through the registration process.”
Vann said she understands the confusion that can arise between the two entities, but stresses that the two have different priorities.
“The Registration Department of Cherokee Nation does not do research, nor do they have the manpower or the resources to do so because they are so overwhelmed right now processing (CN) citizenship and Certified Degree of Indian Blood card applications. That’s their priority is getting those out to those who are eligible for citizenship or the CDIB card,” said Vann.
Tribal citizenship can only be granted by one of the three tribes.
The Cherokee Nation, comprised of more than 355,000 citizens, requires that citizenship applicants be able to provide proof of direct lineage to an original Cherokee enrollee listed on the Dawes Rolls or be a descendant of an enrollee listed on either the Delaware Cherokees of Article II section of the Delaware Agreement or on the Shawnee Cherokees of Article III section of the Shawnee Agreement.
In an Aug. 30, 2017, ruling, U.S. District Judge Thomas F. Hogan also opened up CN citizenship to Cherokee Freedmen descendants. U.S. District Judge Thomas F. Hogan ruled that, “the Cherokee Nation can continue to define itself as it sees fit but most do so equally and evenhandedly with respect to native Cherokees and the descendants of Cherokee Freedmen.”
This overturns a March 2007 CN special election in which the Tribal Council was allowed to amend the CN Constitution to limit citizenship to only those with Indian blood.
The United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians also uses the Dawes Rolls to determine lineage, but also has a minimum blood quantum requirement of 1/4 for all 14,034 of its citizens.
The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians located in Cherokee, North Carolina, requires that each of its 15,568 citizens have a direct lineal ancestor on the 1924 Baker Roll of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. Additionally, members must also meet a 1/16-blood quantum requirement. Norris and Vann also stress that DNA testing will not establish tribal affiliation and cannot be used as a form of verification for any of the tribes.
“DNA testing unfortunately will not say that somebody is Cherokee,” Norris said. “It’s not fine tuned enough for it to do that.”
The popular, subscription-based genealogy research company Ancestry.com Inc. offers DNA testing for those interested, but with a disclaimer stating: “The AncestryDNA test may predict if you are at least partly Native American, which includes some tribes that are indigenous to North America, including the U.S., Canada and Mexico. The results do not currently provide a specific tribal affiliation.” It further warns users that the results “cannot be used as a substitute for legal documentation.”
Vann said CFRC tries to debunk groups that claim to test for Cherokee ancestry and would only personally recommend DNA testing in cases involving adoption. She added it’s difficult to perform genealogy services when adoption is involved.
“Unfortunately you don’t have anybody to talk to, so you have very few records to go off of. In that case, I do suggest DNA testing,” Vann said. “It might find other family members from that family who are still living that you may be able to contact to get more information. So that’s the only time I suggest DNA testing, because they need that missing link.”
For more information on the CFRC, visit www.cherokeeheritage.org.