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.


Amy said...

I'm a Chickasaw citizen, too. Any chance there's some Colberts in your husband's line?

amyrebba said...


Yes there are Colbert's in his line. I've not had time to verify this part of his family yet though. But supposedly Julia Ann McLish, who married William Chisholm (2nd wife), the son of Jesse Chisholm. Her mother was Ginny Colbert, her father was James Holmes Colbert born 1768 in the Chickasaw Nation (at that time would have been Mississippi area) and died in 1846 in Doaksville, Choctaw Nation, IT. It was his mother who was said to be a half blood Chickasaw. Now remember I've not done any research on the Colbert's, However the person who shared this with me did provide some source information, but i've not verified it. James' father was James Logan Colbert. He was Scottish. There was conflicting evidence as to has place of birth which was either in the Carolinas or in Scotland. If this seems to fit your family please let me know. I'd be glad to share what I have. Good Luck, Amy

Amy said...

James Holmes Colbert was my 5th great grandfather. Down from there, it goes to James I Colbert (4th great grandfather), then Christopher Columbus Colbert (3rd great grandfather). I haven't researched the line much that far back yet, so I don't have much to share past Christopher Colbert. It's just good to know someone with the same research interests. :)

kwmccaa said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
kwmccaa said...

Hi Amy,

I've been researching my Colbert tree, but I'm fairly new at it. I have records back to my great-great-great grandfather James M Colbert, but have trouble documenting the next generation. Information leads me to James Holmes Colbert & Susan James as his parents, but there were so many James' that I'm having trouble. Any suggestions?

My tree:
gr-gr-gr grandparents: James M Colbert & Mary E Atkinson

gr-gr-grandparents: Sarah E Colbert & Robert LaSalle Ford

GR-grandparents: Ida Mae Ford & William L Griffin

Grandparents: Ida Mae Griffin & James E Wells Sr

Parents: James E Wells Jr & Laetta N White

ME: Karen L Wells McCaa

Amy Coffin, MLIS said...

I don't know. I've used the ChickasawHistory.com site for reference and see James Holmes Colbert there, but haven't gone that far back in my own Colbert line. My direct ancestor, Christopher Columbus Colbert would be a half-brother to this James Holmes. However, I'm stuck right at this connection. I'm learning about this Chickasaw research as I go.

amyrebba said...

Hi Amy,

"I've been researching my Colbert tree, but I'm fairly new at it. I have records back to my great-great-great grandfather James M Colbert, but have trouble documenting the next generation. Information leads me to James Holmes Colbert & Susan James as his parents, but there were so many James' that I'm having trouble. Any suggestions?"

Oh boy. I'm sorry I haven't responded lately. I'm just so darn busy. I don't have any suggestions off the top of my head. I would have to seriously look into this family. All of the Colbert information was shared with me by a Chisholm cousin. To start I would need to know a bit more about James before I could really give suggestions as to where to look next. I'm next deep into three projects and a couple more coming in, as well as heading back in to 10 hour work days at work. Which is why I've had no time to keep up with my blog. Certainly keep in touch. I have two other ancestors that I've been getting a lot of interest on and I'd certainly be more than happy to pull up and work on the Colbert line as well, I just need to clear my plate some. You can always reach me by email as well, just click on my profile.

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kathy knox said...

My name is Kathy. My Grandkids were put into foster care recently. Ages 7yrs, 6yrs. and 2yrs.,due to their mother, my daughter failing 1 ua in a year. Her attorney has told her to find out if any of the three kids are part indian. I need HELP, PLEASE. He says this would help these kids. We are heartbroken and so are the children. We get one hour a week at St. Francis for visits. St. Francis told the mother it will be a year or longer before they are back in the home. How is this better for children than leaving them in the home and monitoring the family more extensively. I know some of you are thinking this is what the mother deserves and maybe so, but the kids don't deserve it. They don't have any idea why they can't go back home with their mommy. Their the ones getting punished. kathyknox57@gmail.com