Starting Cherokee ancestry research

11/14/2017 08:45 AM
Main Cherokee Phoenix
Gene Norris, Cherokee Heritage Center senior genealogist, researches a client’s Cherokee ancestry at the CHC in Park Hill, Oklahoma. CHANDLER KIDD/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
PARK HILL, Okla. – The Cherokee Heritage Center allows a person to peek into his or her Cherokee heritage and ancestry through its Cherokee Family Research Center.

Specialized resources are available for research in the genealogy department, including Dawes Rolls and other roll records, census records and historic documents related to Cherokee people.

To begin this research, there is a $30 first-hour fee and $30 is charged for every additional hour. If you are a Cherokee National Historical Society member seeking ancestry information, the fee is $20 per hour.

Gene Norris, senior genealogist, said he explores census records, cemetery records and birth records to obtain information about a person’s ancestry.

“Most folks applying have found somebody on the Dawes Roll that they think is their direct ancestor, and they want to apply for citizenship with the (Cherokee) Nation. The Registration department is very busy and has outsourced us as a research department,” Norris said.

The genealogical process does not happen in one day. The process for each case depends on how well the applicant fills out the application form for the research process, Norris said.

“We tell people when they come here it doesn’t matter what your ancestor was in a sense of their genetic make up. What matters is where did they live at during their lifetime, specifically at the time of Dawes (late 1800s, early 1900s),” he said.

Genealogical research begins with the person wishing to obtain his or her history. Certain documents such as birth certificates, death certificates and marriage certificates that go down the ancestral line as far as possible are helpful. The process can last up to eight weeks, Norris said.

Ashley Vann, genealogical researcher, said Cherokee people should study the Dawes Commission period to further understand the genealogical documents they receive, she said. Learning what a person’s Cherokee ancestors went through is an important part of the process she said.

“If people understood the historical background, then it is easier to understand why the records are the way that they are,” Vann said.

For more information on how to begin a genealogy process using CHC resources, visit or call Norris or Vann at 918-456-6007.

Start Your Cherokee Ancestry Search

1. Always begin with yourself. Have your birth certificate. Get your parents’ birth certificates and your grandparents’. Continue down your ancestral lines until you can go no further. Marriage certificates and death certificates also help. Obtain them if you can. You need a paper trail to prove relation to any ancestors.

2. Talk to relatives. Your oldest relatives usually have the most information about your family. Check for a family Bible with recorded family information. Hand copy the information or shoot photos. Family Bibles may be old and fragile. Record or take notes of conversations with family members or friends.

3. Use a loose-leaf notebook with plastic sheet covers to store your papers, family pedigree charts and “proofs” such as birth certificates.

4. The Cherokee people had several rolls taken of them for governmental purposes beginning in 1817. Not all Cherokees were included on these rolls, particularly if they were not living in the Cherokee Nation when a roll was taken. These are considered supplemental resources to a genealogical search.

5. Basic information regarding your Cherokee ancestor is required to use these rolls. You should know the approximate date of his/her birth and where he/she lived. Cherokee rolls are limited geographically. If a Cherokee move out of the Cherokee Nation it is likely they will not be located on these rolls and certainly not on some rolls. One exception is if your ancestor’s permanent address was still in the Cherokee Nation at the time of the Dawes Rolls and was serving in the military, at school or in prison. It is the Dawes Rolls that Cherokee Nation uses to determine whether or not a person is eligible for citizenship.

6. The Guion Miller Roll is another source for Cherokee family information. It was taken in the early 20th century for money due to Cherokees for land taken in the southeastern United States in the 1830s. The application asked for family members back to before the Trail of Tears. The family did not have to be living in the Cherokee Nation to apply but had to prove their family lived in the Cherokee Nation before the removal.

7. Other rolls included the Drennan Roll of 1851, Siler Roll and Chapman Roll. They were census records.

Research Sources

• Cherokee Family Research Center – Its primary goal is to promote understanding of Cherokee family history and documentation by educating the public and housing all resources specific to Cherokee genealogy. – Index of the Guion Miller applications and Dawes Final Rolls as well as other tribal enumerations. – Trail of Tears Association is a citizens organization of national and international members with state chapters in the nine states the Trail of Tears traverses: Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky, Missouri, North Carolina, Oklahoma and Tennessee. – Compiled Cherokee family histories with sources from the collaboration of James Hicks and Jerry L. Clark, a retired archivist and Cherokee Nation citizen. – Provides access to numerous Census listings, including the 1900 federal Census listing all Indian Territory residents. (subscription site) – A digitization website with images of Native American documents, including the Dawes Final Roll of the Five Tribes and Guion Miller. (subscription site) – Collection of free family history and genealogy look-ups with digitization of some state records (free site that requires username and password for images) – Collection of more than 88 million grave sites with some photos – A research division of the Oklahoma Historical Society that includes marriage records, census listings and 3.5 million Indian records. – U.S. National Archives website for Native American records.


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