24 November 2009

How to find Native American Heritage

I recently had a client ask this:

Client’s Question:
I am attempting to find my husband's biological father in order to prove that he was Cherokee Indian. How do I find if he did belong to the tribe and what if any benefits can be afforded to our children because of their ancestry? I believe he is now deceased.

Here was my response to her and I thought maybe it could help others. So I asked her permision and she graciously granted it for me to post to share with all of you.

My Response:
To start you will need to pin point the ancestor the Indian blood comes from. You are aware that G**** was Native American, so your first task then is to find his parents. Obviously it had to have come from one or both. If he was born in 1942 then you may have to go back as far as each of his grandparents to answer this question. Once you have traced back to his grandparents then you need to narrow down which one the Natvie blood comes from. You may be able to answer this by finding them in the 1900 Federal Census (more on this later).

The key is to find the ancestor that is on the Dawes Rolls and has a roll number. With out that no descendant would be eligable for Indian rights. So keep in mind this may even need to include a search for his great grandparents, if not successful with his grandparents. The Dawes rolls were taken between 1898 - 1914, so it's very likely that you only need to find out who his grandparents were, and if his parents were older when he was born, then they may even be on the rolls.

Next you need to know the tribe, which it appears you do, but if there is some question as to the accuracy of that then look for them in the 1900 Census. I would still do this as you don't know which ancestor is Native American. This will help narrow down who you need to look for in the Dawes rolls. In the 1900 Federal Census they recroded the tribe of Native Americans (though not all claimed their Native Heritage, so this does not mean they were not, if they did not claim a tribe in the census).

Then search the Dawes roll under the tribe for the ancestor. You can search the index here. This will take some time. Be patient. First find the tribe (in your case Cherokee), if the ancestor is by blood, then Cherokee by blood. Then the index is in somewhat alphabetical order by first letter of surname. I did take a quick look at pg 300 (narrowed it down alphabetically) for G**** and there were none listed, but don't panic. That may mean his Native Blood came from his maternal side or a grandmother, or you need to keep looking through the "G's." Like I said I just took a quick look. But what this tells me is that this can not be easily answer by just searching the rolls. You will need to research his ancestry.

As far as your other question. It really depends on the tribe. My husband is in the process of apply for his rights through the Chickasaw Nation. When we are done (just waiting for a birth certificate we had to reorder) he will be eligable for medical help, free hunting and fishing licenses, and if he were interested help with college. So yes there are benifits to finding this out, but each tribe is different. I would have to look into the Cherokee tribe to find what eligabilites they would have. But first and foremost the ancestor on the Dawes rolls must be found and their number found. With out that ancestor and the number from the rolls it won't matter how much Indian your children have they are not eligable. Which even in my husbands family we know. His mother is part Native American, but she is not eligable because her Cherokee ancestor ran away from the authorities and went to TX. They refused to be put on the reservation or be a part of the rolls. They went to great lengths to hide their heritage, and as a result, none of their descendants are eligable for rights. So be prepared for disapointment as well. I've dealt with both, just in our own family.

After you narrow down to the ancestor and find their roll number the last thing you will need is proof. To do this you will need birth (of those living) and death certificates (of desceased ancestors) between your children and the ancestor on the rolls in order to submit for approval to the tribe and their rights. Also get familiar with the tribe, their laws and guidelines for applying.

Note: I do this kind of research, and can certainly help you if you are looking for someone to do this work for you, but it is possible to do it yourself as well. Just be patient and sometimes you will need to think outside the box. Feel free to ask for help when you get stuck.

Good Luck,
Amy Crooks

* Names removed to protect identity.