“I’m part Cherokee.” I have heard people say this all my life, and I used to say it myself until a
showed otherwise. The question of who is part Cherokee (or another tribe) comes up publicly at times, such as when
recently claimed Cherokee ancestry. The question also surfaces for many family historians. If you are researching Cherokee ancestry you think you may have, it is important to know why you are doing so. While the research process is similar regardless of purpose, it is much more stringent if you wish to claim tribal citizenship than if you are simply curious. I will be focusing on Cherokee ancestry, but the general issues are similar across tribes.
By the way, after writing this blog, I found the wonderful book
Cherokee Proud: A Guide for Tracing and Honoring your Cherokee Ancestors
, by Tony Mack McClure. It offers considerably more detail than this blog entry, so it this entry whets your interest, I recommend the book.
Historically, it was up to tribes to determine the rules for citizenship. And historically, as the
explains, Cherokee were multiple bands rather than one tribe. They began to unify when trading with Europeans, who at one point halted trade because they were tired of dealing with many different tribal heads and wanted one “emperor.” Even after that unification, relationships with whites pushed different bands to move in different directions. My point is that, while you might assume Cherokee ancestry means one thing, in a historic context, it does not, and it is helpful to know something of that context.