How to Research Your Black-Indian Ancestors Among the Five Civilized Tribes

Sadly those who are both African and American Indian heritage run into much the same issues as those of us who are of both European and Indian extraction. They may have an oral history that states they are also Cherokee, or Chickasaw or any number of tribes. What many people may not realize is that some of these ancestors are actually documented on the Freedmen rolls of the Five Civilized Tribes which include Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Seminole and Creek.

Beginning a search for these ancestors is much the same as any search. Like anyone else you must go to your oldest relatives and question them about your Native roots. In order to successfully search the Dawes rolls which contain the names and information of over 101,000 people who applied for and were accepted as members of the Five Civilized Tribes during the years 1898-1914, you will need a name and which tribe your ancestor belonged to. Providing you are able to obtain this information, you hopefully will find your ancestor on the rolls. The Dawes Rolls provide a wealth of information for the person researching their Indian roots such as, the person’s sex, census card number, degree of blood and full name. The census card may also provide further information to help you in your search such as references to earlier rolls like the 1880 Cherokee Census. Sometimes the census card also had a jacket which can provide even more information which might be of value to someone researching their Indian genealogy such as correspondence, marriage licenses, and birth/death affidavits. That being said, it is to your benefit to make sure you seek out any of these additional sources where available.

Freedmen which is what those of Black-Indian ancestry who were living in Indian Territories such as Oklahoma were called will have a bit different information listed on their census card, and there are fewer of their census cards online. You will find such information for them as the parent’s owners, the parent’s names and which tribe and band they were a member of. The information on the final Dawes Rolls for Freedmen is also a bit different than what you might find for someone whose ancestor was European and Indian. For Freedmen you’ll find the person’s sex, age, census card number, and name, but no degree of blood.

If you’ve come this far and found your ancestor on the Dawes rolls then your next step might be seeking enrollment with your tribe. This can be difficult for descendants of Freedmen because sadly there are those within the present day Five Civilized Tribes who seek to block descendants of the Freedmen from being enrolled, and or from having the same rights as any other member of the tribe.

Becoming enrolled with the Cherokee tribe recently became easier for Freedmen of Cherokee extraction. On March 1, 2006 a positive ruling in the Lucy Allen case was obtained which allows for the same benefits for enrolled Cherokee Freedmen as for all other Cherokee citizens. This is not so for the other nations within in the Five Civilized Tribes. In the other nations it appears to be on a case by case basis as to whether a Freedmen descendant will be allowed to be enrolled with the same benefits as the rest of the tribe. There are presently other lawsuits being waged by descendants of Freedmen trying to obtain enrollment in the other four nations. Hopefully the others will follow suit and pass laws allowing Freedmen the same enrollment rights and opportunities. However, even if these suits are not found in favor of descendants of Freedmen that should not stop you from researching your Black-Indian roots among the Five Civilized Tribes. Being Indian is more than having a number, it’s about identification, and understanding who you are and where your roots come from. Having an enrollment number can’t give you those things, but finding out more about your tribe, the language, customs and culture can.

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