Tracing Rumors of Cherokee Ancestry

Dear Readers,

Recently, I started trying to track down rumors of my Cherokee roots.  For most of my life, I'd heard from my Grandma Bess that we were part Cherokee*.  The idea of belonging, even distantly, to such an ancient people group was just so cool.  Labor-intensive research into all-but-forgotten branches of the family tree has yielded tantalizing clues, but nothing has been substantiated so far.   Hopefully more data will turn up in the future!  

It can be extremely difficult to track down one's Native American heritage sometimes, since back in the day that heritage wasn't something Native people necessarily wanted to advertise if they were trying to assimilate into "modern" culture.   In fact, one resource I found claimed that in Texas in the mid-1800s (and I'd imagine in other places, as well), those of Native American descent would tell their friends and neighbors that they were "Black Dutch," which was a (somewhat disparaging, I'd imagine) term at the time for darker-skinned Europeans.  Those of Native descent would also often change their names to something more European-sounding, like Mary Smith, which, as you can imagine, makes tracking down their real roots a total nightmare.  I mean, it's hard enough finding ancestors when you know their names, much less when they were basically living under a pseudonym.  

Anyway, fascinating research all the same, even if I'm not Cherokee at all.  We can learn so much from the wonderful work being done to re-discover and preserve Native American culture, which I will continue to write about on this page either way.

Yours Truly,

Sarah

* UPDATE, MARCH 2017:

I'm thrilled to report that after a couple months of intense family genealogy research (and eyestrain), I was able to find evidence that my Great-Great-Great-Great-Grandmother was either part- or full-blooded Cherokee!  I haven't tracked down a photo of her yet, but luckily I was able to find a nice picture online of her daughter, which then lead me to better proof of my family's Cherokee ancestry:

Eleanor Patron "Penny" (1807-1880), courtesy www.findagrave.com. 

Eleanor Patron "Penny" (1807-1880), courtesy www.findagrave.com. 

So I started researching her branch of the family, since mine (her brother, John Anderson) wasn't turning up anything helpful.  I stumbled on this, entirely by accident:

This was Penny's nephew John, both of whom were descended from the same ancestor as my branch of the family.  (Photo courtesy www.findagrave.com) His tombstone, partially eroded by time, reads: "Cherokee Indian Scout for the South In The Civil War."  John and several of his brothers all served in the Arkansas cavalry . 

This was Penny's nephew John, both of whom were descended from the same ancestor as my branch of the family.  (Photo courtesy www.findagrave.com) His tombstone, partially eroded by time, reads: "Cherokee Indian Scout for the South In The Civil War."  John and several of his brothers all served in the Arkansas cavalry . 

I was so incredibly pleased to find this information, on a tombstone no less!  Records of Cherokee lineage often were not kept well at the time, for the reasons I explained in the piece above, so this may be the most solid proof of my Cherokee ancestry that I ever have.  I'm pursuing other avenues as well, and will update this if more turns up.  

The most my mother's family had to go on prior to my research was the family rumors of Cherokee ancestry, as well as this undated family photo of my Great-Grandfather (standing, far right) with his five brothers:

Photo courtesy of my family archives

Photo courtesy of my family archives

If you're looking for it, you can spot a hint of Native American ancestry in the features of these hard-working Texas farmers. Their father would have been of Cherokee, Irish, and Scottish descent, while their mother was descended from the German and the Dutch (which made their children quintessentially American.  Where else in the world would you find that blend in your DNA?).   

My family also had several Native Americans who married into the family over the years, although I'm unsure of their exact tribal heritage.  Here's one such lovely woman:

Photo of Mary Ellen (1843-1926), courtesy ancestry.com, uploaded to the internet from an old book about Texas history that was published c. 1900. She was the second wife of my Great-Great Uncle Robert (1829-1912) of Beeville, TX. It's all so fascinating! Many of these people simply did not want to be identified as Cherokee, and evidently did their very best to cover up their Native American roots in order to avoid problems with the government and their neighbors.  I imagine what they really wanted was the same thing we all want: the ability to lead a peaceful, happy life in the way they felt was best.   S.E.

Photo of Mary Ellen (1843-1926), courtesy ancestry.com, uploaded to the internet from an old book about Texas history that was published c. 1900. She was the second wife of my Great-Great Uncle Robert (1829-1912) of Beeville, TX.

It's all so fascinating! Many of these people simply did not want to be identified as Cherokee, and evidently did their very best to cover up their Native American roots in order to avoid problems with the government and their neighbors.  I imagine what they really wanted was the same thing we all want: the ability to lead a peaceful, happy life in the way they felt was best.  

S.E.