Q. I know Native American tribes in the South were moved to Oklahoma. Could I still have Native American ancestors even if they weren’t moved?
A. There’s plenty of American history that we didn’t get taught in school! While many Native Americans were forced to march westward, not all left their lands in the east. Mixed-blood families today are common throughout the eastern United States, though many have forgotten their heritage, as it was never talked about except perhaps as a legend. Remember, only recently has being of Native American descent been accepted and even sought after. In the Midwest, the Scotch-Irish and the French make up the largest intermarriage group among Native American tribes. In the mid-South the Scotch-Irish, English, Scots and Welsh intermarried to such a degree that almost all traces of Native American ancestry have been lost as families “passed for white.” Families that could not “pass” would either intermarry among each other or often became merged into African-American families.
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If you’re looking at the US censuses and you find your ancestor listed as “free color,” “black,” “mulatto” or even as “Indian,” there’s no telling what exactly that meant to the census taker. It may be the first clue to Native American ancestors or it may be simply an ancestor with a dark complexion.
Another clue might be if your ancestors can be traced back to a county where specific surnames are known to be mixed-blood or “free color” prior to the Civil War. This is especially true in North and South Carolina, where these families are still recognized by residence and surname. Such families may reorganize their tribe and openly keep their heritage alive—a claim they’ve substantiated through genealogy research for state and federal acknowledgment of their tribe. Some of these tribes have websites; others are just beginning the genealogy process.
Here’s just one example. In Harnett and Sampson counties of North Carolina, the Coharie families have reorganized with tribal headquarters in the town of Clinton. The old core families that make up the tribe are Ammons, Bledsole, Brewingtion, Burnette, Carter, Emanuel, Faircloth, Goodman, Hardin, Immanuel, Jacobs, Jones, Manuel, Maynor, Robinson, Simmons, Strickland, West and Williams. Although there are fewer than 2,000 people enrolled in the tribe, uncountable others can trace their ancestry to these core families. This is American history at its best.