Saturday, May 18, 2013


          I will be adding to this blog entry as I think of things. This is for starters.
I have done a lot of personal genealogy, and think I might be able to help others with theirs. The following is a process I go through to aid me in my research. Remember there are NO SHORTCUTS! It is long and tedious. Don’t accept other people’s data that you yourself have not verified. Remembe you MUST BE ABLE to map a person to a location during a specific timerfame. Remember there were many, many men named “John Brown” or William Smith! But there aren’t many Vardeman Collinses. Certain branches will be easier to swing on than others. Follow the path of least resistance if you can.
I.                  The Beginning
A.   To start with, ask the elders of your family about your family. Either write down what they tell you, or have them write it down. They will give you several leads to pursue.
B.   Obtain a copy of your own birth certificate, and the birth certificates of your parents, grandparents, and great grandparents. Go as far back in time as you can. Note when and where your ancestors were born.
C.   Also obtain copies of marriage and death certificates. This will also give more information, such as place of birth. Use these things to determine where your family lived.
D.   Find a copy of all the census records for the locations where your family lived, when they were living there. Follow this trail as long as you can. Obtain census records of your parents, your grandparents, your great grandparents, et cetera, as far back as you can go. These things will tell you where your ancestors lived, and when they lived there.
II.               County Records
County Records – the birth, death, and marriage certificates and license, and old census records will tell you what city, county, state or territory your family lived in. Look up the records pertaining to those regions, at the time your family was there. You might discover court records, land records, or your family member casually mentioned with respect to something you hadn’t expected. If your family member participated in some historic event, read up on that event. Go way beyond what you need to do. For instance if an old letter turns up where your great grandpa wrote saying if they needed protection from the law, all the peace officers had to come from Fort Smith in the 1880s, then read up on “The Hanging Judge”, Isaac Parker. Will this have anything to do with your family? It probably won’t, but it might. And it will give you some insight as to why your great grandpa would even think of mentioning that.
          Some churches document church membership very well, others don’t.
          If your ancestors were veterans of one war or another, find out where they served, what unit, when and were did they enlist and when and where were they mustered out of service.
          In all genealogy research, you MUST map a person’s name with dates and locations. These three variables must be known.
III.           American Indian Research
If you are looking for an American Indian ancestor, additional steps must be taken.
A.   Family Stories
Refer to your family stories. Do they say, literally, you have an ancestor from any particular tribe? Read about that tribe, its history, its relationship to other tribes, its wars, the locations and movements of the tribe and the dates it lived at each location. Does any of this match your family? Never forget family stories are NOT proven facts. My experience with them leads me to conclude that they are not accurate, but rather parts of them simply were ‘presumed’ true by our ancestors. The human brain is an amazing think. Where facts don’t exist, we very rationally try to fill in the blanks. When I was a young man, maybe 19 or 20 years old. I remember being asked what tribe my ancestors were. I realized I didn’t have a clue. I replied however, “Comanche.” Quickly my brain analyzed the question, I knew my Dad was born in Southwestern Oklahoma, and I knew the Comanche were from Southwestern Oklahoma. I wasn’t trying to deceive anyone. I made rational guesses, based on the best information I had at the time. I honestly thought there was a good chance that was true. I now know I was way off base. Some parts of family stories might be true and other parts might not. Our ancestors were NOT trying to be deceptive, they were just trying to fill in the gaps with the best information they had at the time.
B.   Rolls and Treaties;
The government keeps ‘rolls’ of all people defined as members of Indian Nations. Each Federally Recognized Tribe has its own ‘rolls’. If your family stories say your ancestors were from some tribe, go over the various rolls for that tribe.
C.   Mapping a Name to a Date and a Location.
Map the movements of your family, your family history, to the movements of the tribe in question. Did your family live in point ‘A’ during the same time your target tribe also lived at point ‘A’? Keep trying until you find a match. You might find more than one match.
D.   Historical Records
There are books about each tribe, some going back in time centuries. If you can’t find your family still, perhaps your Indian ancestor was centuries ago, back to a tribe that no longer exists. Also don’t neglect histories of individual counties where your family lived. There may be clues that are little known. There might be some local county historian who will say, “Person ‘X’, who was part Indian, . . ..”
And maybe that is ALL you will find. Learn your history, and learn it well. Some tribes are well documented back in time, such as the Cherokee. Others are barely known, such as the Catawba, despite records of them going back to colonial America. Be sure you try t find the ‘primary sources’ of the information found in old county histories. These were often written by amateur historians who didn’t cite their sources. Do the best you can to discover the original source of that is said. If you can find the original source, get a copy of it, and discover exactly what it was.

I once wrote the following about discovering Cherokee heritage. I, like many others once yjpught my Indian heritage ws Cherokee, and as far a I know, it still might be Cherokee, at least part of it might. Although it is written for Cherokee, heritage, it can be used for any tribe, or for any people, race nad nationality, as well..

Researching Cherokee Ancestry

There are several steps towards discovering Cherokee ancestry.

Step ONE

i.] Gather family stories. Learn the names, place of birth and dates of as many ancestors as you can through relatives. Write down all the family stories.
ii.] Obtain birth certificates of these ancestors to verify what you have heard. Record the information.
iii.] Use this data to check the county and state records of the place of birth of these ancestors. For instance if you have an ancestor born in Washington County, Arkansas in 1884, check probate records, marriage records, land records, and other useful documents on your surnames. Check the 1880 and 1890 census record for Washington County to see if your ancestors are recorded there.
iv.] Continue this process back in time as far as you can. Age and Place of birth is mentioned in census records back to 1850. So if your ancestor “John Doe” is on an Arkansas census in 1850, is listed as 44 years old, and was born in South Carolina, then start checking South Carolina census records for 1800 for the surname of a young family, or 1810, with a child the right age and sex.
v.] Check colonial tax, probate, and marriage records of you can. However if you can trace your ancestors back to colonial records, they might not be Cherokee.
Use this procedure as long as you can, to go back in history as far as you can in time. This is the end of STEP ONE.

Step TWO

Next check Cherokee records. Check Dawes, Guion-Miller, and Baker Rolls first. Does your ancestor appear on any of these rolls? Make sure the names, dates, and location of the person on Dawes, Guion-Miller or Baker rolls match with your ancestor’s information. For instance my great grandma’s sister was named “Sarah Ann Brown”. There is a Sarah A. Brown in Narcissa, Oklahoma on 1909 Guion Miller, age 41. She was accepted as 1/4th Cherokee. But if I look closer I understand if she was 41 in 1909 she was born about 1868. Great grandma’s sister was born 10 years earlier, about 1858. No matter how much I wanted them to match, they didn’t. But maybe we are related. Maybe checking the original record of what Sarah Ann Brown told Dawes or Guion-Miller roll takers would link our family to theirs.
There are many other rolls. Check them all. Some apply to Western Cherokee and other to those that remained in the East. If your ancestors are not mentioned in any roll dating back to the Emigration and Reservation rolls of 1818, then there is a good chance that no proof of any Cherokee ancestry exists.
If you find a match, your search is over. If you do not find an ancestor on any of the rolls, there is more work to do.


Step THREE consists of searching for “evidence” of Cherokee ancestry rather than proof of it.
FIRST, ask yourself the following questions.
i.] Do your ancestors have known Cherokee surnames? If your ancestors don’t have any Cherokee surnames, they are not Cherokee. If your ancestors DO have Cherokee surnames, this means we can not conclude that you are not Cherokee. If you do have Cherokee surnames, then proceed to “ii”.
ii.] Where did your ancestors live? Did your ancestors live in a location where Cherokee were known to live? If your ancestors never lived in a location where Cherokee lived, there is very little chance you have Cherokee ancestry. But if your ancestors DID live in a region known to have once housed Cherokee Communities, then proceed to “iii”.
iii.] When did your ancestors with known Cherokee surnames live in any region where known Cherokee lived? Did Cherokee live there the same time frame as your ancestors? If the answer to this question is no, perhaps it is a coincidence that you have Cherokee surnames living in this region where Cherokee once lived. If you can answer the above question “yes”, then keep searching. And congratulations. You have not proven Cherokee ancestry. But you have proven that your ancestors at least probably knew some Cherokee people, having lived in the same region at the same time.
iv.] Now follow this procedure for every generation of your known family. For example, if one generation in 1780 lived in NW South Carolina, the next generation in 1805 lived in NE Alabama, the next generation in 1830 lived in W Arkansas, and the next generation in 1855 is in Indian Territory (Oklahoma), then you have gathered a great deal of “circumstantial evidence” that your family followed the same migration route as the Cherokee for generation after generation.
Before you can perform the research points “i” through “iv” above, you will need to do both a.] family research and .b] research of the history of the Cherokee in that particular county. There are great internet sources for just about every county in the country. Use them.
Once you have finished this process, it is possible some bit of information you discarded early on as not referring to your family, might be seen in a new light, and you realize there is a link to your family after all. So repeat the process for as many times as necessary.
This is but a basic outline. Fill in the details as they relate to your family.

VERY IMPORTANT NOTE -- Reject That Which is Not Valid andReilable

Reject information that is NOT VALID, no matter how tempting it is. For instance people who think their ancestor was “Cornblossom, daughter of Doublehead” will never find their TRUE ancestor, as they have given up the search thinking they had discovered their true ancestry. And since there is no evidence of there ever being a “Cornblossom”, they will never find their TRUE ancestor.
Correctly process the information you receive. Your information will prove one of 3 things
1.      Proof of Cherokee ancestry.
2.      Proof that there is NO Cherokee ancestry.
3.      PROOF that of the possibility of Cherokee ancestry can not be excluded.


We are writing this for those of us in category 3 – who can not prove we are or are not Cherokee, in the hopes that it will prove beneficial. There might exist “circumstantial evidence”, the cumulative effect of this evidence might provide a “preponderance of evidence” supporting a claim for or against Cherokee ancestry in the family tree. Unfortunately, this is a subjective measure, and is fallible. But where documentation does not exist, such evidence might be all that we can discover.

Vance Hawkins

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