Cherokee, Choctaw, Chickasaw, Creek & Seminole genealogy records – part 2
Welcome to Part 2 of a 2 part post on the genealogy records of the 5 Civilized Tribes (Cherokee, Choctaw, Creek, Chickasaw, Seminole) in Indian Territory / Oklahoma that are now accessible online. Return to Part 1.
Emmet Starr’s book
As mentioned earlier, Emmet Starr’s book, History of the Cherokees and Their Legends and Folk Lore, is a tremendous resource for Cherokee genealogy. However, it will require an investment of some time (maybe 15 minutes) to read and understand his notation system before you can fully exploit it.
In the book, Emmet Starr creates his own notation system for referencing different generations of the same family, twins, divorces, birth order of the children, those without offspring, and all the other things that sometimes happen in families. Most of these notations are placed in front of the first person’s name. Starr explains his notation system and provides examples on pages 303-305. I printed off those pages and leave them laying by my computer.
The primary genealogy content of Starr’s book is on pages 305-461. His book was published in Oklahoma City in about 1921 (some publication variations exist). It was originally published without an index making it very challenging to quickly find less prominent individuals. Some modern re-printings of Emmet Starr’s book include an index of about 100 pages.
More information about Starr’s book
One of the best known names among those researching Cherokee genealogy beyond the Dawes materials is Emmet Starr.
Born in 1870 he was a medical doctor, Cherokee historian, and a Cherokee genealogist. He published a few books, best known among genealogists is History of the Cherokee Indians and Their Legends and Folklore. About 1980 when I started researching Cherokee genealogy this book was pretty rare. It was only available in a few libraries considerably distant from me. As a highly desirable, rare book it was very expensive. I recall looking what seems like just a few years ago and it was still several hundred dollars a copy on eBay.
A couple years ago I discovered Starr’s book available as a Kindle book by Amazon for just a few dollars. While it was wonderful to have my own copy, I quickly discovered the Kindle version had serious problems. The complicated notation system used by Starr results in a series of numbers and symbols in front of many names in the genealogy section of the book. Somebody scanned the book, then used Optical Character Recognition (OCR) software to convert the book to text that could be used online in a Kindle book. Starr’s complex notation system did not go through scanning and OCR well, resulting in useless gibberish rending the book of little value to me.
Now Emmet Starr’s book on the history of the Cherokees is available on Google Books for free. Google somehow avoided the pitfalls of the Kindle version.
The Google version does not have an index BUT is word searchable, which is even better. You can search for your ancestors last name or first name if it is rare or for a parent or brother and sister with an odd name if your ancestor has a common name. Once you find your way into the system you can then use Starr’s notation system to find your relative. With some luck and Starr’s notation system, you may be able to find their ancestors and some of their descendants as well.
Paper copies of Starr’s book are currently available for purchase on Amazon at reasonable prices. If you elect to purchase one you need to make sure (1) Starr’s notation system is clearly readable in that version, and (2) you get a version with the paper index.
Personally, I just use the free one on Google Books. However if you are going to be traveling or involving the older generation in your research, a paper copy may prove useful.
Notes About the Dawes census cards
The National Archives has a brief discussion of the Dawes Roll.
The Dawes census cards resemble family groups sheets and many contain a great deal of information including notes made later about changes, corrections, children born later, deaths, marriages, name changes, etc.
The National Archives provides a paragraph that will help you better understand the census cards, sometimes called enrollment cards:
Note: Enrollment cards are arranged into three tiers. 1). Tribe: Cherokee, Choctaw, Mississippi Choctaw, Chickasaw, Creek and Seminole. There is a small section of Delaware adopted by the Cherokee at the end of the Cherokee Section. 2). Within each tribe, cards are arranged by the following categories: Citizens by Blood, Citizens by Marriage, New Born Citizens by Blood, Minor Citizens by Blood, Freedmen, New Born Freedmen, and Minor Freedmen. 3). Within each of these enrollment categories there are three kinds of cards: “Straight” cards for persons whose applications were approved; “D” cards for persons whose applications were doubtful; and “R” cards for persons whose applications were rejected. Persons listed on the “D” cards were subsequently transferred to the approved cards or to the “R” cards depending on the Commission’s decision.
Blood quantum refers to the percentage of tribal blood that flows within your veins. It is expressed as a fraction. Typically as full, 1/2, 1/4, 1/8th, 1/16th, 1/32nd, 1/64th, 1/128th, etc.
Some tribes require a certain blood quantum to be a citizen of that tribe.
Currently, the Five Civilized Tribes (Cherokee, Choctaw, Chickasaw, Muskogee / Creek, Seminole) have no blood quantum limits. You can be one zillionth and still qualify for tribal membership IF you can meet the remaining criteria.
You may be discouraged when you find your grandmother you thought was a full blood is only shown as 1/8th on the Dawes Roll. The discrepancy may be due to:
- Families tend to embellish their ancestors and overstate their degree of Indian blood
- Many of those living among the 5 Civilized Tribes in Oklahoma were seen as full bloods from their level of integration within the tribe, but were actually of fractional descent primarily from mixing with whites.
- Some understate their fraction of blood during the Dawes Roll to minimize discrimination.
- An error may have been made in recording the fraction
Some other Indian Censuses and Federal Census include Blood Quantum fractions. If you find a higher fraction listed for your ancestor there, it may make interesting conversation but there is no changing the original Dawes Rolls.
A Special Tip for Seminoles
As Oklahoma was preparing for statehood in 1907, a special census was taken. Census takers were to identify indians as “In” in the color or race column. Those records only survive today for one county, Seminole County Oklahoma.
You can search it using the Oklahoma, Territorial Census, 1890 and 1907 on Ancestry by entering “Seminole County, Oklahoma, USA” in the “Lived in” box of the search form.
These records could be very helpful to those with Seminole ancestors to better understand family groups near the time of the Dawes Roll.
African Americans / Blacks / Negroes / Colored / Freedmen and the 5 Civilized Tribes
I mean no disrespect to anybody, but our brothers and sisters descending from slaves may be labeled by any of the terms above in the records based on the era. I most commonly see “Neg” used to represent Negro or “B” used to represent Black in the era of the Dawes roll.
Several tribes owned slaves. After the Civil war many were openly accepted as members of the tribes. They were known as Freedmen. See the Wallace Roll and the Oklahoma Slave Census in the links provided at the top of part 1.
In modern times the Cherokees now accept tribal applications from direct descendants of Freedmen on the Dawes Roll.
The status of Freedmen by the tribes in modern times has been controversial. If you are seeking tribal registration by that path, you need to check with the tribe to understand the current status of Freedmen in their tribe.
I have seen several Native American families mislabeled as Negroes or Blacks in the census records and in preliminary Dawes Census cards.
Do Not be Devastated if Your Ancestors Are Not on the Dawes Rolls
Very strict rules and requirements were in place to be listed on the Dawes Rolls. They had to have been living in Indian Territory for a period of time and only leaving briefly or for school. They had to prove their ties to people on previous rolls with documents including marriage certificates and the testimony of witnesses. Physicians and midwife’s had to provide affidavits stating they were present when children were born.
Not being on the Dawes Roll absolutely does not mean your family may not have been integrated into the Cherokee, Choctaw, Chickasaw, Creek, or Seminole tribe. Many were living elsewhere at the time of the Dawes Roll, some were in Arkansas or still in the East, others had been out of Indian Territory a while, some could not prove their ties to ancestors on previous rolls. Sometimes ancestors had not been listed on previous rolls for one reason or another, or they purposefully avoided being list on the Dawes Rolls for a number of reasons including discrimination.
Even if your family member is not accepted into the Dawes Final Roll, take the opportunity to learn about your Native American or Indian Territory family and harvest the wealth of records currently available about their lives here in Indian Territory.
Due to the great detail of these records it is likely you may identify records of family members you were not aware of and relationships between your family and the families of your modern day neighbors in the past.
I continue to be shocked by how many individuals have approached me over the years with some explanation for why their ancestors should have been but were not listed on the Dawes Rolls. Then they ask me who to contact so the Dawes Roll records can be changed / updated to include their family. The Dawes Rolls were closed generations ago. They are set in stone. There is no changing them. In those instances, enjoy these records and use them to learn about your family. As a mixed blessing, the Dawes Roll applications of those who were rejected often have more extensive records and interviews than those who were accepted.
How These Records Were Accessed in the Past
I have been researching Cherokee genealogy off and on since about 1980. In those days I went to Oklahoma City for a few days at a time and stayed in a hotel on Lincoln north of the State Capital. It was one of those “don’t go outside after dark” hotels. I went to the State Historical Society and consumed their books on all sorts of genealogy topics and materials. In the basement at the Indian Archives Division, I was able to handle the actual 3 X 5 notecards used by Emmet Starr in his research. They were in a large set of drawers reminiscent of library card catalogs of that day. I was able to handle the actual Cherokee Court documents of the probate of one of my ancestors, take them over to a copier and try to make copies of documents that were much longer than a normal page. I struggled making the copies and a lady working there was able to make them on an old wet chemical copier that accepted 8.5 inch by 17 inch paper. Those copies faded from view about the same time I got home with them. But I still appreciated her willingness to help. While there that day, I copied portions of that several page probate document by hand. That same document is now available online in seconds.
I was allowed to personally handle the 113 volume set, Indian Pioneer History of which only three sets existed. The volumes were large, heavy, and high off the floor. It was a bit challenging to get them down.
We used a three step process to try to get to the Dawes Roll Census Cards you can now reach instantly online. Back then you had to look up the name in a book to get a record number for the Dawes Roll census card, then you went to a paper index to find out what microfilm number that census card was on, then you loaded that roll of microfilm and began looking for that card. Once you found it you were overjoyed, but unable to turn it into a Dawes Roll application. Back then you had to send money to the National Archives to have them physically copy the application and mail it back to you months later.
Those new to genealogy research in the Cherokee, Choctaw, Chickasaw, Muscogee / Creek, and Seminole tribes likely have little appreciation for what a blessing it is to be able to just hit a few keys and see a Dawes Roll application. While newcomers may be awed by the record itself, those of us from back then also stand in awe of the modern process that delivers these records so quickly.
While DNA testing may be interesting and a helpful genealogical tool, it does not currently tie you to a specific tribe and is NOT RECOGNIZED by the 5 Civilized Tribes as documenting ancestry for enrollment purposes.
Even if DNA testing did tie you to a tribe, the Dawes Roll had VERY specific requirements for enrollment. Many associated with the tribes were not enrolled because they did not meet those requirements (many of which had nothing to do with genealogy) and others chose not to for other purposes. Thus even if you were to “test” Cherokee, Choctaw, Chickasaw, Creek, or Seminole, that test could not determine if your ancestor was listed on the Dawe’s Roll or not.
In addition, at the time of the Dawes Roll, many tribal members were some fraction of Indian blood. That fraction has since been further diluted among many of their descendants today. Thus many with ancestors on the Dawes Roll do not test as Native American in today’s DNA testing services.
Ancestry DNA testing has the ability to place you in “circles” of descendants of specific individuals. The testing recognizes you and some other individuals share DNA and that you and those same individuals list this common ancestor in your family tree. It may also place you or others in that circle that share DNA with some but not all people in that circle. When that ancestor is a known tribal member, the results are interesting and can be used with others in the circle that elect to communicate with one another to learn more about your common Native American ancestor. However, it does not stand as evidence in enrollment applications of ANY Native American tribe I am aware of.
Our People and Where They Rest and Findagrave
Our People and Where the Rest listed in the links at the top of the part 1 provides cemetery transcriptions for over 1,000 cemeteries in Northeast Oklahoma (Indian Territory). An online version of these books can be accessed at LDS Family History Centers.
Findagrave the well known cemetery website often consulted by genealogists, underwent major revisions in late 2017. If you have not revisited it since those changes, we encourage you to familiarize yourself with the new site.
Some of the 5 Civilized Tribes have well known tribal cemeteries. Those can be word searched using last names to see if you have ancestors buried there. For example, two well known historic Cherokee cemeteries are the the Citizens / Cherokee National Cemetery in Fort Gibson, Oklahoma and the Ross Cemetery in Tahlequah, Oklahoma.
- You can limit your FamilySearch record searches to Findagrave by going to the page for one of your family members in FamilySearch, clicking the “FamilySearch logo” under “Search Records” in the right sidebar. Once a list of records is presented, click on “Collections” at the top of the page, find “Findagrave” in the list of record types in the “Birth, Marriage, & Death” category, click on “Findagrave”. That will limit the records displayed to those from Findagrave. If Findagrave was not displayed as a record type or you did not find the correct entry for the person you are looking for, see Tip #2 below.
- When trying to use Findagrave from FamilySearch, we find it much more effective if you leave the state of birth blank when using Findagrave to search for possible records of a specific person. If the state field is automatically filled by FamilySearch, delete it. Leave United States in as the country. This tip has helped us find hundreds of Findagrave entries. If you still cannot find the grave, see Tip #3 below.
- Open a browser window and go directly to Findagrave.com. See if you can use Findagrave directly to find the grave. This will often reveal the exact spelling of the name used by Findagrave and the death year. Then go back to FamilySearch to the “Refine Your Search” page for the specific individual and change the name at it is listed there plus change the death year to match that of findagrave and enter the state of the cemetery. PLUS leave the birth state blank. This will often allow you to access the Findagrave entry via FamilySearch from which you can then link that document/entry to your ancestor.
If you do find one of your targets on Findagrave, DO NOT forget to use their tool that allows you to search for others in the same cemetery with the same surname, then for others with the same surname in the same town, then for others with the same surname in the same country. Those searches can often turn up additional relatives of your target.
We notice Findagrave entries for females often include both their maiden name and their married name. Remember that when you are searching for their graves. Sometimes they even list multiple married names. Our experience has shown many women in Indian Territory were married more than once.
Most LDS members actively doing genealogy should be familiar with the term Descendancy View. It refers to the a tool in FamilySearch in which one can go back to an ancestor born before 1830 and display all their descendants.
While many using this post will be trying to tie their direct line to one of the Five Civilized Tribes (Cherokee, Choctaw, Chickasaw, Creek, Seminole), the opportunity also exists for them to use the Descendancy View tool on their ancestors, especially on ancestors of ancestors listed on the Dawes Rolls or others living in indian Territory in that era, then use the links at the top of Part 1 of this post on those individuals to find their Native American records as well.
Note – even those that did not make it to Indian Territory or died a generation or two before the Dawes Roll are still often mentioned in the Dawes Census cards as a parent or grandparent of an individual. Similarly they are mentioned in the Dawes applications. Those here in Indian Territory but not on the rolls are likely mentioned in some of the several censuses taken in Indian Territory.
As with your direct line, because of the thoroughness and completeness of these records you may identify additional individuals you were not previously aware of. Add them to the Family tree in FamilySearch and tie these records to them. You will likely now be able to find additional records for them and perhaps even more individuals as well.
While tribal applications reveal a lot about your Native American ancestors there is still much more to learn. Indian Territory and especially the lands associated with each individual tribe is a small area. The leaders and major events of that tribe were played out right in front of your ancestors, likely with some of them as participants. Learning more of the history of the tribe and the exact area your ancestors were will likely provide personal stories about your family. Learning about the families that lived next to yours can help as well. Local museums are a great place to start. A county history containing family stories has been published for most Oklahoma counties. Some county histories are in the book section of Heritage Quest (a database available at some libraries).
If your Native American ancestors are buried in a rural cemetery, clean up their gravesites and spend part of Memorial Day there. You will often run into relatives and others with stories of their past. Plus walk around and view nearby graves. Often their families are related. Be sure to bring a camera. If the surface of the stones are seriously damaged and not easily read, do not attempt to clean them without spending some time studying how to properly clean tombstones using D/2 as explained by the Washington County (Arkansas) Cemetery Preservation Group.
Many difficult to read tombstones can be read early in the morning, in the evening, or when the sun (or a flashlight) is at a near perpendicular angle to the writing (shines across it from the side).
There are many resources for genealogist researching the 5 Civilized Tribes (Cherokee, Choctaw, Chickasaw, Creek, Seminole), however the ones at the top of Part 1 of this post are easily accessible to members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints / LDS / Mormons and will get you up and going relatively quickly. Plus they will connect you with actual documents from that period relevant to your family.
We begin a set of links here with some additional resources you may find helpful:
- American Indian Online Genealogy Records a list of FamilySearch Native American databases
- Oklahoma Online Genealogy FamilySearch
- 1896 Cherokee Roll Applications Index Oklahoma Historical Society. The index is online, the application are on microfilm.
- Choctaw Nation Marriage Index 1890-1907. OK Genweb
- Chickasaw Nation Marriage Index 1895-1907. OK Genweb
Within each tribe, some family names are well known. Some of those names have been extensively researched and loose knit groups of family descendants continue to gather and honor their ancestors. Among the Cherokees, such names include Ridge, Ross, Watie, Ward, and Pike. Plus tribes have famous more modern descendants of which much is known such as Will Rodgers (Cherokee).
Research facilities / libraries of interest include:
- The Cherokees have a Cherokee Family Research Center
- The Oklahoma History Center / Oklahoma Historical Society library
- Major libraries in the region have genealogical sections with considerable information on the 5 Civilized Tribes
- Tulsa has genealogical society with their collections at the Hardesty Regional Library in Tulsa
- The National Archives used to have a monopoly on many of these materials and is still the source for some
Among the gems for research types are the Western History Collections at the University of Oklahoma and the John Ross Papers Collection at the Gilcrease Museum in Tulsa Oklahoma. Note these two facilities are real research facilities. You may need to make arrangements before arriving to see certain items at the Western History Collection and you will need to make a reservation to be admitted to the Gilcrease research materials. At Gilcrease you can send your family on a tour of the museum while you research the materials. Note, Gilcrease is beginning to make some of their materials available on line.
Applying to Join / Enroll in One of the 5 Civilized Tribes (Cherokee, Choctaw, Chickasaw, Creek, Seminole)
Each tribe is its own nation, has its own government, and its own set of rules and forms for joining the tribe / becoming a tribal citizen.
However at this time (the end of 2017) it is my understanding they share these common requirements:
- You must be a direct (biological / blood) descendant of someone listed on the Dawes Roll
- You must be able to prove that using state CERTIFIED birth certificates and death certificates
- You must first obtain a Certified Degree of Indian Blood (CDIB) card from the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA). NOTE- some tribes now have a combined application for a combined CDIB/tribal membership card.
If you have been adopted, one of your biological parents must have had direct ancestors on the tribal roll for you to apply for membership.
You can find the current requirements and forms on each tribe’s web site:
Note – some modern day Oklahomans have ancestors from more that one of the 5 Civilized Tribes (Cherokee, Choctaw, Chickasaw, Creek, Seminole) and sometimes from other tribes as well. Some tribes are happy with you maintaining dual citizenship in multiple tribes, others are not. You will need to investigate how those specific tribes respond to dual memberships before applying for membership in more than one tribe.
Note – in addition the the 5 Civilized tribes the Federal government recognized numerous related tribes, bands, or offshoots of these 5 tribes as well.
As mentioned below, please do not contact us for assistance in joining a tribe. Our site focuses on helping you find documents about your ancestors, not on helping you enroll for citizenship in a tribe.
Use of Phrase “5 Civilized Tribes”
I am aware the tribes tend to spell out the digit “5” when speaking of the “Five Civilized Tribes”.
This is the Internet age and the age of speed. In the interest of time, space, expediency, and search engine optimization I frequently used the digit “5” and apologize to any offended by my choice.
Ancestry Training Video on the Dawes Rolls
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The video above is a little dated but still helpful. It was posted in 2012 when you still had to go through the step of finding a census card number to find the census card and before Ancestry had direct access to the Dawes roll applications. The process is simpler now and much more information is provided today via the applications than back when this video was created.
Thanks to Ancestry for providing access to many of these records and for the training video above.
We Welcome Your Comments
We welcome your comments and suggestions on this page, the resources mentioned, and feedback on how the process worked for you.
We welcome suggestions of additional resources our viewers might find helpful.
However, please do not send us comments on your problems of finding a specific ancestor or how to register for membership with a tribe.
This post is to provide assistance to those trying to learn about their ancestors within the Cherokee, Choctaw, Chickasaw, Creek, and Seminole tribes during their time in Indian Territory / Oklahoma (after the removal). We welcome comments about how to make that easier and more enriching.
NOTE – DO NOT send us questions about your personal genealogy or ancestors or questions about registering for membership with a tribe.
This page is NOT an official page of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
The information that you provide is wonderful and direct to the point. Thank you for your thoughtful 2-page post of information.