Local residents learn about Native American research

By Curt Yeomans


Riverdale resident, Harold Anderson, is trying to find out if his great-great-great-great-grandfather, a Cherokee Indian, was forcibly removed from north Georgia and relocated to Oklahoma by the federal government, during the "Trail of Tears" in the 1830's.

"For the last 2-3 years, I've been doing some research on him," Anderson said. "I've been able to go back five-grandfathers. The mystery was this person, and whether or not he was relocated to another part of the country."

Cumming resident, Vella Silcox, has been trying for three years to find out if her great-great grandmother was a full-blooded, or half-blooded Native American, as well as to which tribe she belonged.

"I'm not interested in [tribal] money," Silcox said. "It's just family interest ... I have to find out who her parents are, to find out what they are."

Genealogist Paul Graham taught 35 local residents, including Anderson and Silcox, how to begin their research of Native American ancestors during a seminar at the National Archives at Atlanta on Friday. Graham, a student at Georgia State University, researched the topic earlier this year as an intern at the archives.

"When I interviewed for the internship here [Archives public programs specialist,] Mary Evelyn Tomlin said this was a program they needed here, because it hadn't been done before," Graham said. "It's for people who can't make the connection. They have one missing piece, and it's very hard to find it."

The National Archives and Records Administration has several documents chronicling Native Americans, particularly at its facility in Fort Worth, Texas, which handles documents from the Native American reservations in Oklahoma. Many of those documents are currently being digitized, so other National Archives facilities around the country will also have access to those records, Graham said.

Among some of the tidbits of information Graham told participants in the seminar were:

· The Cherokee, Choctaw, Chickasaw, Creek and Seminole tribes were the five main tribes that were based in the Southeast.

· Removal Censuses; Removal Muster Rolls; reservation records; annual censuses taken between 1885-1940; payment rolls; annuity rolls; military records; base rolls, and records of Native American agencies established in the early 19th Century are the nine primary sources of information people can look at to research Native Americans.

· Native Americans were not granted U.S. citizenship until 1934.

· To take family stories about Native American ancestry with "a grain of salt," because they are like playing a game of telephone where "each generation remembers and embellishes stories differently, and over a couple of centuries, grandparents want to make the story a little more exciting for their grandkids."

· Native Americans also owned African-American slaves before the Civil War, and after the war, those former slaves, or "Freedmen" as they were then called, were granted tribal rights.

· Cherokee records go back to the 1810's, farther than the other four main tribes, because "they were the first to develop a written language, and that increases the amount of material that is available."

Anderson said he was pleased with the information he learned from Graham during the seminar, and he now knows what documents he needs to look for as he continues his research.

"I knew there were records, but I didn't know the direction to go to find what I was looking for," Anderson said. "There's more direction, more clarity, now."