My last two blog posts (Part 1, Part 2)have delved into the presence of Native ancestry in Southern lineages and the theory that the community of Barrow’s Ferry/Oak Grove in what is now Okaloosa County, Florida and Yellow River Baptist Church in the same community was settled or founded by persons of mixed blood who were trying to escape the forced migration of Creek, Cherokee, Seminole and Choctaw Indians during the 1830s. This post will hopefully help you to find research sources that may help to establish some documentation on your Native ancestry.
The best place to start is with the family stories that you may have heard. While I have cautioned that family stories should be verified before they are taken as fact, they can have clues and nuggets of truth even when not wholly accurate. I would suggest writing them out, putting down as much detail as you can remember. Then if you have parents, grandparents, or aunts and uncles you can interview on the subject of native ancestry, do so. Develop some open-ended questions that may provide an opportunity for them to provide clues such as who might be the Native ancestor, where did they live, when did you hear that there was a Native person in your ancestry, what stories did you hear, and let them talk.
The easiest way to document these interviews is by recording them, transcribing them after the fact. After you transcribe them, extract any clues or pertinent information into a format you can refer to as you do research. If there were any rituals, celebrations or behaviors that were not a part of the larger culture, document those as well. They may help you to identify tribal affiliation for your ancestor. And speaking of Tribal affiliation, just because you were told your ancestor was a Cherokee doesn’t mean you shouldn’t keep an open mind. Sometimes that was an assumption attached to the story over time. If you exhaust research in Cherokee records, research other tribes that were in the South during the time of the ancestor you believe was a Native person.
Before trying to document Native ancestry, you should exhaust efforts to document the ancestor you believe is Native in the traditional records used by genealogists; birth & death records, marriage records, census, etc. You need to try and locate them in time and space. That will have a large impact on what records you may be able to locate that confirms their Native ancestry. If the ancestor is a woman, you may need to think outside of the box. Do whole family research to identify any of her male siblings. Look for probate records for possible fathers and for possible brothers and then research them in the usual genealogical records. Land records can also be helpful. When researching in census records look at the whole community and see how the census taker recorded information. Race is probably one of the most often fluctuating pieces of information from census to census. Notice whether everyone was listed as “W” or with repeated ditto marks or was there some effort to identify races and document them. Of course, it could still be wrong but every clue is vital at this stage.
You should create a time line to accompany the narrative, laying out your ancestor’s life with dates and sources attached. This will help you put your ancestor in time and place. Do some research on national and local history for the time period they lived, including any information on native peoples in the community they lived and place them on the time line. Now do some in-depth research on the Native peoples in the area where your ancestor lived. Check State legislative records for mentions of interactions with tribes in the area. Do the same with the National legislative records. Check for any treaties with tribes in your area of research and see what was promised members of the tribe and if there is any mention of those who were living with the tribes but not Native as defined by the government. Online and often free access to these kinds of records is increasingly available with a bit of searching on your part. Now you are ready to scour the limited records of Native peoples that were compiled by the government as the forced and volunteer migrations occurred in the early 19th century.
I would recommend that unless you have some definitive evidence that your ancestor was a member of some of the lesser known, or much earlier tribes in the southeast that you start with an assumption that they were either Cherokee or Muskogee Creek, depending on where they were located and when. Unfortunately, I have not found a lot of good genealogical material to assist with researching the Muskogee Creek, though I understand the Poarch Creek have some materials that may assist you. The best book I have found to understand researching Cherokee ancestry, both in the southeast and in Oklahoma is the book Cherokee Proud: A Guide for Tracing and Honoring Your Cherokee Ancestors by Tony Mack McClure, PhD. He provides excellent explanations of the various sources, including some that are little known. If you are determined to discover your ancestor, this book is a must-have for Cherokee research and may provide some useful insight into possible resources for other tribal membership. For membership in the smaller tribes in the southeast or in a time period closer to Colonial times, your best bet is researching every possible record source and to do cluster and collateral research in the hopes that some record provides a clue. Many of us will need to take a handful of indirect evidence and draw a working assumption until we can find that elusive piece of data.
While writing this blog, my mother passed away suddenly. She lived with me for the last 15 years so to say my life has been in a state of change for the last two weeks would be a serious understatement. She and I had several conversations about her passing and what she did and didn’t want to occur if she wound up in the hospital and to the best of my ability, I complied but it took more of an emotional impact on me than I thought it would. Being prepared and having a plan doesn’t always translate into being ready. I have done the best I could in getting this blog to a reasonable conclusion. It isn’t all I had planned but it will need to do for now since writing and brain fog just doesn’t go well together. I will be taking December and January off from any new blogs but I am going to create a consolidated blog on all of my Oak Grove [Okaloosa Co, FL] and Yellow River Baptist Church blogs, sometime in December. This break will hopefully allow me to get my life settled back into some sense of normalcy. I wish everyone who reads my blogs a wonderful and blessed holiday season and a sincere hope that 2021 is a bit easier on all of us that 2020 has been.
- Cherokee Proud: A Guide for Tracing and Honoring Your Cherokee Ancestors, by Tony Mack McClure.
- Cherokee Roots, Vol. 1: Eastern Cherokee Rolls, by Bob Blankenship.
- The Northwest Florida Expeditions of Clarence Bloomfield Moore (Classics Southeast Archaeology), by Clarence Bloomfield Moore and Nancy Marie White.
- The Invention of the Creek Nation: 1670-1763 (Indians of the Southeast), by Steven C. Hahn.
- The Native American World Beyond Apalachee: West Florida and the Chattahoochee Valley (Florida Museum of Natural History: Ripley P. Bullen Series), by John H. Hann.
- Southeastern Indians Since the Removal Era, editor Walton L. Williams.
- George Galphin’s Intimate Empire: The Creek Indians, Family, and Colonialism in Early American (Indians and Southern History), by Bryan C. Rindfleisch.