Q. I was adopted when I was 5 and had a wonderful blessing on Dec. 15, 2001, when my half sister called me from Massachusetts. My siblings (three brothers and two sisters) had been looking for me for many years. I have found out that I am a fourth-generation Cherokee on both my birth mother’s and father’s sides. How do I begin to trace my ancestors?
A: Congratulations on connecting with your birth siblings. To trace any Indian blood, you need to clearly establish your connection generation by generation to the Cherokee ancestry. This would include interviewing family members, checking state and federal census records, probate records, birth, marriage, and death records, tombstones, obituaries, and other records that will pertain to the time period and geographic location of the ancestors. Do some online checks to see if you can find others researching the same families.
You need to place your Indian ancestors into an area where Cherokee Indians lived or find them interacting with others of Cherokee ancestry. Not all people with Indian ancestry identified themselves as Indians, and this may add some difficulty to proving your Cherokee heritage. You should read state and local histories for the places where they lived.
There are many Indian-specific records including censuses, allotment and annuity records. Many of these are available via the Family History Library in Salt Lake City. There are some lists and indexes specific to Cherokee families, including the Dawes, Guion Miller and other rolls. Some are published in book format, others on CDs, online or on microfilm.
If you are new to genealogy, you might take classes on the subject and read some of the guidebooks on doing research. Also, pick up a copy of the October 2001 Family Tree Magazine, which offers a guide to tracing Native American roots.