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A Guide To Discovering Your Cherokee Ancestors

There are several approaches to locating Cherokee ancestry on the Internet, and while this is another attempt to aid genealogists, it is primarily focused on precolonial/colonial era intermarriages between Cherokees and British/French. Most sites offer information on Cherokees of the 19th and 20th centuries. While this is important, the majority of us descend from intermarriages that occurred in the 18th century. Thus, most of these kinships came from British or French traders intermarrying with Cherokees.

Through 1776, South Carolina controlled the Cherokee trade, and most of our mixed ancestors were connected to this region. Virginia also supplied a few traders to the Cherokees, and Georgia and North Carolina still fewer. Thus, to locate your ancestors, whether from Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, or Virginia, most records of note are related to the South Carolina Indian trade. To begin your search, you should do a surname-check in: William L. McDowell, Jr. ed. The Colonial Records of South Carolina: Documents relating to Indian Affairs. 2 Vols. Columbia: South Carolina Department of Archives and History, 1992. This set, including one other volume, can be purchased from: South Carolina Dept. of Archives & Hist. P.O. Box 11669, 1430 Senate St., Columbia, S.C. 29211, Phone: 803-734-8590.

If you intend to do a thorough study of your ancestors, this 3 volume set should be purchased. It is the most thorough record of British/Cherokee trade available.

Ten Steps To Guide Your Cherokee Ancestry Search

1. Always be aware that spellings of names are not always the same in historical records.
a. English/French surnames vary according to region. EX: Bryant, Briant, Brian, de Bruyant.

b. All Cherokee names are phonetic spellings of either French or British pronunciation. EX: Chota (the Cherokee capitol), French=Sautee, English=Chota, Cherokee= It-sati (Eet-saw-tee). Personal names also vary according to dialect or region.

c. The Cherokees had three dialects, and names vary accordingly. EX: YellowBird (a common name), Lower dialect=Cheesquatarone, Upper dialect=Cheesquatalone.
2. Do not assume the origin of your Cherokee blood, nor the degree of blood contained. Family tradition tells us that all our grandmothers were full blood Cherokees, yet by 1900, there were very few full blood Cherokees in existence.
a. The surname you started with may lead you to another surname. More than likely, your search will end with a significant trader.

b. Most of our ancestors intermarried during the 18th century, and on average, we possess about 1/128 to 1/256 Cherokee blood.

c. Do not assume anything, but be prepared to find conflicting information.
3. Search the regions around the Cherokee nation, and be aware of the fluctuating borders of both the Cherokees and the frontier.
a. There were four settlement groups in the Cherokee Nation.
1. OVERHILLS- East Tennessee on the Little Tennessee River.

2. VALLEY- Lower East Tennessee, southwestern North Carolina, and north Georgia.

3. LOWER- western South Carolina, and northeastern Georgia.

4. MIDDLE- western North Carolina.
b. All regions around these areas are possible locations to find your ancestor. They were mobile, and moved from place to place within/without the Cherokee Nation.

c. Check all colonial, state and local histories, frontier histories, Indian trade records.
1. Colonial Records to search:
a. Allan D. Candler, ed. THE COLONIAL RECORDS OF THE STATE OF GEORGIA, Atlanta: Charles P. Boyd Printer, 1914.

b.Walter Clark, ed. THE STATE RECORDS OF NORTH CAROLINA, New York: AMS Press, 1968.

c. Kenneth G. Davies, ed. DOCUMENTS OF THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION, 1770-1783, Dublin: Irish University Press, 1976.

d. Wilmer L. Hall, ed. EXECUTIVE JOURNALS OF THE COUNCIL OF COLONIAL VIRGINIA, Richmond: Commonwealth of Virginia, 1945.

e. William P. Palmer, ed. VIRGINIA STATE PAPERS AND OTHER MANUSCRIPTS, 1652- 1781, New York: Kraus Reprint Co. 1968.

f. William L. Saunders, ed. THE COLONIAL RECORDS OF NORTH CAROLINA, New York: AMS Press, 1968.
2. Western North Carolina, EX: John Preston Arthur, A HISTORY OF WATAUGA COUNTY, NORTH CAROLINA, Johnson City: The Overmountain Press, 1992.

3. Southwestern Virginia, EX: Lewis Preston Summers, History of Washington County, Virginia, Johnson City: The Overmountain Press, 1989.

4. North Georgia, EX: Don L. Shadburn, UNHALLOWED INTRUSION: A HISTORY OF CHEROKEE FAMILIES IN FORSYTH COUNTY, GA. Cumming, GA.: Don Shadburn, P.O. Box 762, Cumming Ga. 30130.

5. East Tennessee. There are several examples of this region, which also give information on the frontiers and early Tennessee.

John Haywood, THE CIVIL AND POLITICAL HISTORY OF TENNESSEE, Knoxville: The Tenase Company, 1969.

J.G.M. Ramsey, THE ANNALS OF TENNESSEE, Knoxville: East Tenn. Hist. Soc. 1967.

Samuel Cole Williams, EARLY TRAVELS IN THE TENNESSEE COUNTRY, Johnson City: The Watauga Press, 1928.

________. WILLIAM TATHAM: WATAUGAN, Johnson City: The Watauga Press, 1947.

________. DAWN OF TENNESSEE VALLEY AND TENNESSEE HISTORY, Johnson City: The Watauga Press, 1937.

________. HISTORY OF THE LOST STATE OF FRANKLIN, Johnson City: The Overmountain Press, 1993.

________. TENNESSEE DURING THE AMERICAN REVOLUTIONARY WAR, Knoxville: Univ. of Tenn. Press, 1974.

6. Do not restrict your search, but record anything you find on your surname. Your ancestor may be using an Indian name and an English/French name.
4. The Cherokee clans were based on a matrilineal system (traced thru the mother's line).
a. In the 1750s, this system altered due to intermarriage with European Americans.

b. While Cherokees kept traditional matrilineal oral records, mixed Cherokees often used both patrilineal and matrilineal notations.

c. Many Cherokee traders also had two families: a Cherokee family, and another located in South Carolina or Virginia.
5. Do not quit because your ancestor disappears off the records, for there were no written records within the Cherokee Nation.
a. You must rely on European-American records to locate your ancestor.

b. Do not always accept everything at face value, and be totally objective.

c. When your ancestor (surnames) can not be found on traditional records, this is usually a good sign: they can be found within the Cherokee Nation.

d. Remember that most Upper Creek traders had Cherokee wives.
6. Ask your older relatives, and those connected to the suspected line, where they think your Cherokee ancestry came from.
a. Anything they tell you may help, even it it appears as simple trivia.
b. Remember that you were the chosen one to carry this lineage forward, and it is your duty.
c. Make genealogical connections and queries to get help from others. Get your relatives with the same surname to assist.

7. Understand Cherokee traditions, and attempt to recognize traits that exist in your current family.
a. Your ancestors want to be remembered, so let them assist you in your work.

b. Be aware of your dreams and visions that might guide you. This may sound ridiculous, but believe me, it is a proven fact. EX: Note animals, they may lead you to your clan.

c. Let your heart lead you, and forget traditional genealogical methods. Cherokee genealogy, as well as all Native genealogy, is not traditional.
8. Search all abstracts, journals, and memoirs available on Cherokee families.
a. An exhausted search is usually pay dirt.

b. Read the JOURNAL OF CHEROKEE STUDIES, 16 volumes.
1. This series can be purchased through CHEROKEE PUBLICATIONS, Cherokee, North Carolina.

2. It contains many genealogical abstracts and articles about prominent Cherokees.

3. As most traders chose to marry prominent Cherokees, be aware that you may be kin to any of the prominent chieftains.

4. Be Aware that one Cherokee may possess many titles or names. EX: Ostenaco can be found as Mankiller, Ootacite, Tacite, or Outacite. All four of these terms are the same word.
9. Every text that you search includes a bibliography. Make sure to search the bibliographies for sources that might help you. I suggest searching every available text.

10. There are several publishers that sell texts about the Cherokees. Attempt to purchase texts that may help you in your search.
a. CHEROKEE PUBLICATIONS, Cherokee, North Carolina.



d. OVERMOUNTAIN PRESS, Johnson City, Tennessee.


f. Many others offer genealogical publications, yet these are examples to start with.

g. Purchase: Thomas G. Mooney, EXPLORING YOUR CHEROKEE ANCESTRY: A BASIC GENEALOGICAL RESEARCH GUIDE, Tahlequah, OK.: Cherokee National Historical Society, 1992.
-AMERICAN STATE PAPERS, Washington, D.C.: Gales and Seaton, 1832.

-Bob Blankenship, CHEROKEE ROOTS, MEMBERS OF THE EASTERN BAND OF CHEROKEE INDIANS, Cherokee, N.C.: Bob Blankenship, 1978.

-________. CHEROKEE ROOTS: WESTERN CHEROKEE ROLLS, Cherokee, N.C.: Bob Blankenship, 1992. -James Manford Carselowey, CHEROKEE OLD TIMERS, Tulsa: Oklahoma Yesterday Publications, 1980.

-________. CHEROKEE PIONEERS, Tulsa: Oklahoma Yesterday Publications, 1980.

-Jerry Wright Jordan, CHEROKEE BY BLOOD: RECORDS OF THE EASTERN CHEROKEE ANCESTRY IN THE U.S. COURT OF CLAIMS, 1906-1910, Bowie, MD.: Heritage Books, Inc. 1987.


-David Ramsey, THE HISTORY OF SOUTH CAROLINA, Charleston: David Longworth, 1809.
-Emett Starr, OLD CHEROKEE FAMILIES: NOTES OF DR. EMMET STARR , Oklahoma City: Baker Publishing, 1988.

-Emmet Starr, STARR'S HISTORY OF THE CHEROKEE INDIANS, Fayetteville: Indian Heritage Assoc. 1967.

Yanusdi is the Cherokee term for Little Bear. This name was given to me by my grandmothers, who were from the ANITSAGUHI, or Bear Clan, and ANIGILOHI or Long Hair Clan. My Cherokee descent comes from Lucy Bryant, of Chenanee Ridge, Georgia (Roll of 1817, Reservation #91). She married Zachariah Bryant, who was believed to be a relative of John and Thomas Bryant, Cherokee traders. He lived near Tomassee (Lower Towns) on Bryant's Mountain, Pendleton District, South Carolina. Their son, John Bryant, later moved through Lauderdale County, Alabama to Gibson County, Tennessee before the Trail of Tears.

I also have Catawba, Chickasaw, Delaware, French and German ancestry.   I once carried a card proving my heritage, yet I now follow the path of DRAGGING CANOE: that is, I refuse federal or state acknowledgment.   I do not need a card to prove who I am.  My path was designed by the Creator, and I intend to fight for the rights of our people, the people of Turtle Island.  We have been here for over 100,000 years without federal cards.  Why should we need a piece of paper to prove what is already in our hearts?