Finding Your Roots: Native American Ancestry

Isabelle MacLean Drown
By Isabelle MacLean Drown December 15, 2009 19:38

Isabelle MacLean Drown

Your ancestry is Native American and you want to find your ancestral records. Your parents and grandparents have told you stories, but you wonder where to go from there. Perhaps the following will be of help to you and Myrtle Franks of Sonora.

“I don’t have much information, but I wonder if you can help me,” Myrtle asks. “I thought my mother said her mother was Cherokee, but my brother thinks she said Chickasaw. I know that my grandfather was German and his name was Roth or Ruth and my grandmother’s name was Myrtle Lulu, but I don’t know her maiden name.”

I am not as familiar with Native American research as I would like to be and was mentally thrashing around, trying to figure out what I could do to help Myrtle. As fortune would have it, while at the Family History Center (FHC), Alexis Halstead of Sonora came in with a book borrowed from the Tuolumne County Library. I couldn’t believe my eyes! Its title is “Tracing Ancestors Among the Five Civilized Tribes,” by Rachal Mills Lennon, who traced 19 branches of her family tree through five North American Indian tribes.

I flipped through and found a treasure trove of record sources – the exact record references for which so many of you are searching.  As I clutched the book, wondering how to hijack it from this nice lady, she offered to let me read it for a couple of days. Good decision, Alexis!

Lennon does a masterful job of taking us through research, step by step.  She addresses various situations such as being faced with finding a full-blood Indian and a Caucasian or a full-blood Indian and a Black marrying; or identification by Clan or by Tribe. She explains some of the taboos that might make research more challenging, such as, “…a genealogical significance existed among the Choctaw, for whom it was taboo to speak the name of the dead or for wives to speak the names of their husbands.” In my mind, that would definitely put a damper on oral history.

She explains the differences between various Indian Affairs departments of the U.S. government, such as Agencies, Factories and Superintendencies; Factories and Traders; Removals and Reserves and Post-removal records. But it was the “Final Rolls” on page 64 that caught my attention. Here you will find record sources pertaining to “Citizens by Blood; Citizens by Marriage; New Born Citizens by Blood; Freedmen (African Americans whom the Indians had held in slavery but later freed and admitted to tribal membership); New Born Freedmen; Minor Freedmen; Delaware Indians Adopted by the Cherokee,” etc.

When Indians applied for land and were qualified or disqualified, this information was recorded: “Name, roll number; Age, sex, degree of Indian blood; Relationship to head of the family group; Names of parents; References to enrollment of earlier rolls; Miscellaneous notes regarding a) births, deaths, and marriages; and b) actions and decisions by the commission and the Interior Department.”

While it was a big pain for your Native American ancestors to provide all this information, it is a genealogical treasure for you. Again, thank you to Lennon for her excellent efforts and to Diane Manley, FHC director, who has agreed to buy a copy for public use at the center, 19481 Hillsdale Drive. The book is also available on Amazon.com or by special order from bookstores.

I hope this helps you, Myrtle. Please contact me if you need further help.

Until next time, good luck with your research.

Email Isabelle at roots@seniorfan.com or write to her at FAN, 171 N. Washington St., Suite A, Sonora, CA 95370.

Isabelle MacLean Drown
By Isabelle MacLean Drown December 15, 2009 19:38
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