Finding a Cherokee Ancestor

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Click here for more general information on the Cherokee.

Click here for information on Cherokee genealogy before 1800.

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Finding a Cherokee Ancestor

Until the time of the Revolutionary War, the Cherokee lived exclusively along the streams and rivers flowing south and southwest from the lower Appalachian/Great Smoky Mountains. Although the Cherokee claimed territory which included both Kentucky and the southwest tip of Virginia, their towns were all located in the area where North Carolina, Tennessee, Georgia, and South Carolina come together. Wars and white encroachment pushed the Cherokee farther south and west, abandoning many towns in Tennessee and moving into Georgia and Alabama. By 1835 54% of the eastern Cherokee population lived in northwest Georgia, about 22% in North Carolina, 15% in Tennessee, and 8% in Alabama. About 1/4 of the Cherokee had already moved west first into Arkansas and Texas, and then finally to Indian Territory. From Removal until the 20th century, the approximately 1500 Cherokee (and their descendants) who remained in the East at Removal continued to live in their original locations.

The first step to finding a Cherokee ancestor is to carefully document your family back to about 1900. Were they living in North Carolina or Oklahoma where most Cherokee lived? Were they in southeastern Tennessee or north Georgia where the Cherokee lived until Removal? Most Cherokee and Cherokee descendants will be found in these areas. There was (and still is) a small, well-documented Cherokee/Muskogee/Chickasaw community in Rusk County, Texas, and a few Cherokee went to California at the time of the Gold Rush and never returned (they and their relatives are found on some rolls).

Most Cherokee people will not be found on U.S. Census records before 1900. Finding an ancestor in a U.S. census, tax, or land record before 1850 almost certainly means they were not Cherokee. Cherokee people will be found on the twenty-plus rolls and Cherokee censuses created between 1818 and 1929. Most rolls were created to distribute cash payments or land so, contrary to popular myth, people were generally eager to sign up. Those who were missed objected, appealed, and sometimes went to court. leaving plenty of documents behind. Determining whether a name found on a roll is the same person as your ancestor usually requires reading applications and supporting documents and making comparisons with earlier Cherokee records.

Anyone born between 1850 - 1906 who is believed to be Cherokee or a Cherokee descendant should be found on at least one of the following rolls:

The 1924 Baker Roll, the Final Roll of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians of North Carolina, was created between 1924 and 1929. Similar to the 1896 Dawes roll, the process was managed by non-Cherokee people. Individuals listed on the "Final" roll as "Contested" were accepted by the enrolling commission, but were refused tribal affiliation. Applicants had to meet a number of requirements to be enrolled, including a residence requirement. Most of the people who applied were Cherokee or Cherokee descendants, but not all were eligible to enroll. Many were rejected by the commissioners because they no longer lived in the Qualla area, most of those with a blood quantum less than 1/8 were denied tribal affiliation. Applications include genealogical information. This roll is digitized at FamilySearch, beginning at image 92 Baker ; in order to determine whether a name on the Baker Roll is your ancestor you must also look at the original application and supporting documents, digitized at ($)

The 1907 Guion Miller/Eastern Cherokee Roll, is a list of applicants for a share of a four million dollar settlement for Cherokee people affected by Removal which was approved by Congress in 1906. Although some 90,000 people were named in the applications, only about 30,000 were actually Cherokee so it’s very common to find a rejected application. Some rejected applicants genuinely believed they had a Cherokee ancestor, but many applied under the direction of unscrupulous attorneys who often filled out the applications or provided false supporting affidavits for their clients. You must look at the actual application to see if the person was approved or rejected. All enrolled Cherokee and Cherokee descendants were eligible, except for the “Old Settlers” and their descendants. There was no residency requirement, but applicants had to prove they or their ancestors were listed on the 1851 Drennan Roll, the 1852 Chapman Roll, and/or the 1835 Cherokee census. Searchable index of applicants at archives. Applications and supporting documents are digitized at FamilySearch (need application number to locate on film) at applications and are also digitized at Fold3 ($). All contain extensive genealogical information.

The 1907 Cherokee Dawes Rolls are lists of people eligible for a land allotment in the Cherokee Nation in Indian Territory. If your ancestor was not living in Indian Territory in the 1890’s he or she cannot be on the Dawes. Whites outnumbered Indians in Indian Territory by 7 to 1 in 1900, so simply living in Indian Territory is not a good indicator. Applicants had to be Cherokee, Adopted Shawnee or Delaware living with the Cherokee in I.T., Cherokee Freedmen (freed slaves and their descendants), or an eligible non-Cherokee spouse. Indexes to the Final Rolls list names, ages, and other members of a family to help eliminate "same-name" individuals from your search.

The Dawes Commission attempted to reach and enroll every person named on the 1896 Cherokee census. A very small number of Cherokee refused to apply for an allotment. Many of the refusers (or their spouses and children) were enrolled by others over their objections. The refusers can still be found on the 1896 Cherokee Census.

Free indexes can be found on-line at the National Archives at archives, at Access genealogy at access, and at the Oklahoma Historical Society at OHS. You can also search on Ancestry and Fold3. Digitized images of supporting documents can be found at and ($); copies can be ordered from the National Archives. Detailed information on the Dawes rolls can be found on the following Wikitree pages:

The 1896 Old Settler Payroll identified Old Settlers (or their heirs if they had died) who were on the 1851 Old Settler Roll and eligible for a payment. Since the Old Settlers weren’t eligible for the Eastern Cherokee (Guion Miller) payment, this payroll can be a good source for genealogical information. Heirs are identified by their relationship to the Old Settler and may include spouses, siblings, children/grandchildren/great-grandchildren, nieces and nephews. The age and residence of the heirs is also noted. A cross-reference between the Old Settler roll and the 1896 payroll is available in book form [1]

In 1851/52 four rolls, the Drennan Roll, Old Settler Roll, Siler Roll, and Chapman Roll, were created which between them listed virtually every living Cherokee and Cherokee descendant by name.

  1. 1851 Old Settler Roll - every name payroll of Cherokee who came to Indian Territory before 1835. Digitized at FamilySearch Old_Settler
  2. 1851 Drennan Roll of Emigrant Cherokee - every name census of Cherokee who came to Indian Territory between 1835 and 1850. Typed transcript at FamilySearch at Drennan; original documents digitized at$)
  3. 1851 Siler Roll - Eastern Cherokee eligible for a per capita payment per 1850 act of Congress. Every name roll. Transcribed at: Blankenship Bob, transcriber. Cherokee Roots, Vol. 1, Eastern Cherokee Rolls. Self-published. Cherokee, N.C. 1992.
  4. 1852 Chapman Roll - record of those who received payment based on Siler census; Siler missed some families, later identified by Chapman, so the Chapman Roll includes about 300 additional names. Digitized at FamilySearch at Chapman and ($)

Individuals listed on the Chapman Roll living in Tennessee, Georgia, and Alabama are frequently also found on the 1850 United States Census listed as white.

If you cannot find your ancestor on any of the rolls listed above, it is highly unlikely that he or she was Cherokee. Interracial marriage was illegal in all of the sourthern states, so white men who married Cherokee women lived with their wives in the Cherokee Nation. Cherokee who remained in the East after Removal stayed in their homes, they did not migrate to other states. A list of the Cherokee families who were granted citizenship in Georgia between 1838 and 1845 can be found at Georgia. Many of the descendants of the 75 or so families that remained in Georgia, Tennessee, and Alabama after Removal emigrated to Indian Territory after the Civil War and were readmitted to Cherokee citizenship. A list of about 175 emigrants (mostly from North Carolina) 1880-1882 can be found on at NC1880.

Note: The 1896 Cherokee Dawes Roll. The Dawes Commission began its’ work in the Cherokee Nation in 1896, but tens of thousands of non-Cherokee people filed applications. The Cherokee Nation objected and went to court to take over the certification process from non-Cherokee commissioners. All the 1896 applications were rejected and the process was begun a second time, with final eligibility determined by the Cherokee Nation. As with the Eastern Cherokee applications, attorneys often provided "help" in the form of fraudulent affidavits for their clients. Sadly, some Cherokee made money by supporting applicants' false claims. The list of 1896 applicants is digitized at Ancestry. If you find an ancestor on this list odds are high that he or she was not Cherokee. Copies of application packets can be ordered (for a fee) from the Oklahoma Historical Society.

There are almost no genealogical records for Cherokee families before 1800. The records of the Cherokee Agency in Tennessee and the journals of the Moravian missionaries both begin at that time. Although neither is specifically genealogical in nature, both contain references to some individuals in families. The thousands of web sites and Internet trees that claim to document Cherokee families back before the Revolutionary War are at best speculative and most are complete fiction. Click here for more information on Cherokee genealogy before 1800.

Project Sticker

The Native Americans Cherokee Sticker should only be used for profiles of documented members of the Cherokee tribe who do not require Native American Project Protection. The sticker should be entered below the == Biography== line.

Sample usage:

{{Native American Sticker |tribe=Cherokee}}

... was Cherokee.


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