This site is a joint production of Jim Hicks, computer geek, and Jerry Clark, history geek. It is dedicated to the study of Cherokee history and genealogy, and is based on the essential research of Dr. Emmet Starr. In addition, we have added information obtained from scholarly books, articles, and research papers, and have used documents from Tribal, State, Federal, and other archival or manuscript collections. We have also examined colonial records relating to Indian affairs. We have tried to gain access to all available information about the Tsa-la-gi, probably the most written-about of all Native Americans. The historical record of the not always happy interaction between this tribe and Europeans and Americans is extensive and rich.
Some of the information in these pages consists of informed speculation, but is consistent with the available evidence. We welcome submission of new facts or documents; anything written here is subject to addition, modification, or correction.
The Cherokees were a numerous and warlike people, inhabiting southern Appalachia, constituting parts of the present States of Alabama, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Tennessee. Nearly 300 years ago, British subjects (mainly of Scot ancestry) penetrated the mountain country to trade with the Indians. Many of these traders established trading posts in Cherokee towns, and by accepting a Native wife or consort, were adopted into the tribe. These men became known as “Indian Countrymen,” and became the progenitors of many of the families listed in Dr. Starr’s books and unpublished notes. Some were Loyalists or Tories living among the Cherokees during the American Revolution. Later, as a result of coercion, most of the tribe was removed to Arkansas and Indian Territory (now Oklahoma).
Cherokee genealogy is tricky, due to the uneasy intermixture of the very different Cherokee and European family customs. Cherokee society was matrilineal, with descent traced through the mother. There were seven clans, and a Cherokee was forbidden to marry anyone of the same clan. A Cherokee belonged to his or her mother’s clan, and uncle-nephew connections were more important than father-son relations. Knowledge of a Cherokee’s clan identity is extremely important factor in determining family connections. Polygamy was not uncommon, and marriages (and divorces) were casual by European standards.
Cherokee Chiefs and headmen were chosen by consensus in tribal councils, and did not fit the European scheme of royalty and nobility. There were “Peace Chiefs” (diplomats) and “War Chiefs” (generals); town chiefs (mayors) and regional chiefs (governors); chiefs called “Small-Pox Conjuror” (not always successful), “Slave Catchers” (i.e. they captured prisoners of war), “Mankiller” (killed enemies); and even apprentice chiefs (known as “Colonah” meaning “Raven”).
Cherokee “Princesses” did not exist. However, a wise Indian countryman chose as his Cherokee bride the sister, niece, or daughter of an important chief or headman in order to take advantage of his wife’s high social standing. Thus, while not royalty, these Cherokee spouses were perhaps “heiresses” or “debutants.”
The Cherokees adopted European style surnames, often in strange ways. Cherokee names were translated (Bear Paw, Going Snake, etc) or the sounds of the Cherokee language rendered into English letters, frequently resulting in wildly differing spellings. Most male names had meaning (Enola = Black Fox), but most female names could not be translated (Annawake, Qualiyuka, Sokinney, etc) or were equivalents of English names (Quatie = Betty, Sookie = Susie).
“Full Blood” is a somewhat relative term among Cherokees, since many persons of mixed-ancestry maintained traditional values, spoke only the Cherokee language, and were called “full-bloods.” For example, Sequoyah (aka George Gist) was only ¼ Cherokee, but was considered a full blood. Another example was Redbird Smith, the founder of the Nighthawk or Keetoowah Society.
The Cherokees adopted into the tribe, members of other Indian nations (including Osage, Delawares, and Shawnees). Besides intermarriage with European or American merchants, missionaries, or army personnel, former Negro slaves of the Cherokees became Freedmen citizens of the tribe after the Civil War. Thus one can be Indian, white, or black (or any combination of the above) and be a Cherokee, without actually having much Cherokee blood.
The solving of conundrums of Cherokee connections is a never-ending pleasure, but because of gaps in the historical record and the loss of family information, some puzzles shall never be cleared up. This web site is a modest, but earnest attempt to furnish information to all serious researchers of the heritage of this great Native Nation.
Today, the Cherokees are the second most numerous American Indian people (only the Navajo tribe is larger). Many Americans believe themselves to have Cherokee ancestry, but tribal membership is solely the responsibility of the three recognized tribal governments (Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma; United Keetoowah Band, and the Eastern Band of North Carolina). It has been said that there are three types of Cherokees: “Cherokees,” “Wannabees,” and “Outtalucks.”
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