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Overheard in GenForum: Proving Cherokee and Choctaw
by Rhonda R. McClure

Each week Rhonda answers a question from the GenForum message boards and gives her expert answer here. We'd love to hear anything you have to add. Go ahead and leave your comments on GenForum with the original message.

September 16, 1999
See Rhonda's Previous Columns

Q: I have been told that my grandfather Simon Peter SPURLOCK and grandmother Alice Samantha MALONE were Indian. She was supposed to be full blooded Cherokee and she was on a reservation. She was supposedly kidnapped and my grandfather supposedly traded 5 blankets and 2 ponies for her. I can find no proof of either one of them being Indian. My grandfather was supposedly 3/4 Cherokee and 1/4 Choctaw. Anyway, that is what I have been told. My family do have the features of Indians and would love to prove that they were. I have lots of information on them, but nothing that states they were Indian. -- Donna

A: Working on the research of a family tradition of Indian ancestry should begin the same way that you begin your research in general. It is important to work from the known to the unknown, using the various records that you would use for any ancestry.

If the family tradition is correct, you will begin to find clues that allude to the Indian heritage, including race in vital records and census records. Cherokee Indians do not have the high cheekbones associated with the more commonly recognized Plains Indians. In fact, they were oval-headed with olive- toned skin. The Europeans admired this tall, athletic people in colonial days.

Cherokees do not have high cheekbones. This tall, athletic people is known for their oval heads and olive-toned skin.

Beginning the Search

When trying to locate a Cherokee or other Indian connection, you will want to try to locate them in the census records, primarily for 1900. The 1900 federal census included a second page for the listing of information on those individuals who were of Indian descent.

This second page included columns for:

  • Other Name (was usually their Indian name)
  • Tribe of the listed Indian
  • Tribe of the father of the listed Indian
  • Tribe of the mother of the listed Indian
  • Any white blood in the listed Indian
  • Whether or not the Indian is living in polygamy
  • Whether or not the Indian is taxed
  • Year of acquiring citizenship
  • Whether or not citizenship was acquired by allotment
  • Whether living in a fixed or movable dwelling

Where to Go?

If you have proved from the census that the family was indeed Cherokee or Choctaw, then you may be able to turn to the Enrollment Cards of the Five Civilized Tribes, 1898-1914 as arranged under the direction of Henry Dawes, a U.S. Senator from Massachusetts. These records can be found on 93 rolls of microfilm and are available at the National Archives and at the Family History Library.

In searching the index, you will be provided with the roll number for the person you are interested in. This index applies only to those who were enrolled. No indexes have been found for the D (Doubtful) and R (Rejected) cards.

The rolls will then lead you to the census cards. The census card number is also the number for the application for enrollment in the Cherokee by Blood series.

What's In the Application?

The application file is likely to include many important documents, including:

  • Marriage License
  • Birth records
  • Death records

For those hoping to gain tribal membership in the Western Cherokee Nation, in Tahlequah, Oklahoma, it is essential that you locate your ancestor in the Dawes Commission rolls. You must then prove a direct descent from that individual. If you do not find your ancestor on the Dawes Roll, you won't be allowed to enroll.

A good book to aid in your research is Myra Vanderpool Gormley's Cherokee Connections printed by Genealogical Publishing Company.

See Rhonda's Previous Columns

Rhonda R. McClure is a professional genealogist specializing in celebrity trees and computerized genealogy. She has been involved in online genealogy for fifteen years. She is the author of the award-winning The Complete Idiot's Guide to Online Genealogy, now in its second edition. She is the author of four how-to guides on Family Tree Maker. In late 2001, she wrote The Genealogist's Computer Companion. She is a contributing editor to Biography Magazine with her "Celebrity Roots" column and a contributing writer to The History Channel Magazine. Her latest book is Finding Your Famous and Infamous Ancestors. She may be contacted at

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