Friday, July 18, 2014

Dawes Records are only Part of the Story

Two cards reflecting Charles Alexander Creek Freedman
 
When researching families from Indian Territory, especially those whose families are reflected on the Dawes rolls it is important to know that the entire story does not rest with Dawes Records.  The Dawes Records began when the allotment process started in the 1890s that would eventually lead to Oklahoma statehood in 1907. The Dawes records primarily cover the years 1898-1914. In those final years the New Born and Minor children were completed to include those children born after the initial interviews had begun. Nevertheless the Dawes files do reflect a useful record set for those who descend from families tied to the Five Civilized Tribes, Cherokee, Choctaw, Chickasaw, Creek and Seminole nations. With Freedmen files the data is especially treasured, because the information can reflect the parents, and the names of slave holders as well.
 
However---not every file was completed in the same manner, and it is always wise to look at earlier documents. The tenacious researcher will benefit greatly from exploring as many documents as possible. It is hoped that the ultimate goal is to tell the family story. Unfortunately for some people the only goal is citizenship, and many once completed they might terminate their research. And some, if tribal enrollment is not obtained, they too abandon the research although much more data might be found on the family's unique history.  The greater loss is that the family may be missing out on more details of a rich family history. Hopefully these few records might encourage the researcher to keep going.
 
In the case of Creek Freedman Charles Alexander whose card is shown below, one sees a man from the Creek Nation, who lived in Bearden I.T. His card was on Creek Freedman card 1855. He was a member of North Fork town, and his name had also appeared on the Dunn Roll.
 
National Archives Publication M1186 Creek Freedman Card #1855
 
Unfortunately, the reverse side of his enrollment card yields no information about his parents, nor any additional ties to the nation.
 
The reverse side of the card for Charles Alexander revealed no additional information
 
 
Prior to the creation of the Dawes Rolls the Creek Nation had begun their interview process earlier and a set of records that still exists is known as the Old Series Cards. The Old Series Cards preceded the Dawes Cards, an in some cases additional information about the family can be obtained.  Charles Alexander had a card that was part of the Old Series and it reveals a good amount of information about him.
 
Old Series Card of Charles Alexander, Card #12
 
From the Old Series card, it is learned that he is the son of Isaac Alexander of the Chickasaw Nation, and Polly Ann Grayson Alexander. He is the uncle to Priscilla and Sam King, who were residing with him at the time. All were residents of North Fork Town (colored) and the relationships are clearly spelled out.
 
The Old Series Creek Cards need to be addressed more in depth, for in many cases they can unlock doors into more of the family history, and may be the key to revealing more family stories. These cards are arranged by district and card number, and they typically do not correspond to the Dawes cards by numbers. More information about the Olds Series Cards can be found HERE.
 
In some cases both cards will provide good information. The Old Series cards, often describe the relationships between family members in more detail, and explain relationships often more clearly.
A good example is the case of Caroline Bruner, another Creek citizen. The data is rich on the Old Series Card bearing her case.
 
 
The hand written piece on the right side of the card describes clearly several relationships between parties listed on the card. 
 
Front Side of Caroline Bruner Card
National Archives Publication M1186 Creek Nation Card #523
 
Reverse Side of Caroline Bruner Card
 
The Dawes Card reflects people in the household but not as clearly as the written text on the Old Series Card. However, the critical information pertaining to the identity of the Creek slave holder on the Dawes Card, and this is data useful to the family historian, and information that the careful researcher will want to incorporate into the family data.
 
These are two small examples of how all records bearing the name of the family are essential to telling the story completely and accurately. Hopefully it will inspire others to look at earlier records as part of the research process.
 
 
 

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Judge Rules That Cherokee Freedmen Can Sue for Treaty Rights




"Applying the precedents that permit suits against government officials in their capacities, we conclude that this suit may proceed against the principal chief in his official capacity, without the Cherokee Nation itself as a party," the court wrote."

These words give a green light signal to the descendants of the slaves held in bondage by Cherokees, that they may continue to pursue their treaty rights in court. This particular case going back several years had been placed by the Cherokee Nation against several Freedmen descendants to halt their efforts to maintain their status as citizens of the Cherokee Nation.

Their parents, grandparents and gr. grandparents were citizens, and for many, their great grandparents were at one time enslaved by Cherokees. For decades the former slaves and their descendants, lived, voted, worked and abided by the laws of the Cherokee Nation. Some of them also served on the tribal council. And until the late 1970s they were Cherokees by right of their birth. At that time, it was decided that a majority of these former slaves were not "Indian", although it was never said that they were not Cherokee. 

"Indian" became the operative word, without using the word race. The concern, it was said was about blood ties to the tribe, but examining the roll that the tribe uses---the Dawes Roll, the Freedmen never had their blood recorded, only their names---regardless of whether or not their mother or father was Indian---they were told that they were Black and that their blood did not count. And many had been enslaved by the leaders of the tribe.

Enrollment card of Benjamin Vann, former slave of Clem Vann

And in the 1970s a mere decade after America passed the landmark Civil Right Act and the country was finally on the road to making many improvements for all people,  the tribe sought to purge itself of a portion of the population that was distinguished by race. Though the official argument is that "this is not about race" the distinguishing factor of Freedmen being categorized as Freedmen is race. Their being "Indian" is always addressed, although their being Cherokee is not for they are Cherokee. 

So, this ruling now allows the Freedmen descendants to continue to pursue their rights in court. This is what is now being challenged. If the final judgement from the US Court of Appeals rules in their favor then Freedmen can continue to enroll in the nation of their birth.

To understand the current case pending, information can be gleaned in an article shared by the Huffington Post. in 2012 (See article HERE)

Descendants from the other former slave holding tribes (Choctaw, Chickasaw, Creek and Seminole) are also paying close attention to the case and will also be following the anticipated ruling still to come, and determining how it may apply to their own situation where they too have been barred from enrollment.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Reflections on a Historic Cherokee Freedman Hearing in Washington DC



I had the experience today to attend the oral arguments of the case that may finally decide the issues of Cherokee Freedmen and their status in their nation, the Cherokee Nation. The issue pertained to the Treaty of 1866 where the Cherokee Freedmen, as was stated in Article 9 of the Treaty of 1866, were given all rights as Cherokee citizens, were to retain those rights of citizenship given to Freedmen and their descendants.

Cherokee Freedmen enjoyed rights as citizens and were allowed to vote during most of the 20th century until the 1980s when elder Freedmen came to cast a vote in an election and learned that they were no longer citizens and their rights had been removed by the tribe.  This began a series of cases over the years from the Nero Case, to the Riggs Case, to the Vann Case. In turn the tribe has counter-sued the Freedmen claiming a conflict between the tribe having to adhere to Article 9 of the Treaty, and their right to sovereignty and to decide who belongs in the tribe.

The arguments were presented by Diane Hammons for the Cherokee Nation, pointing out that the Treaty was already upheld when Freedmen were given citizenship. They had citizenship, and voted, and therefore the treaty was honored. The concern was that forcing the tribe to continue to admit Freedmen "and their descendants" meant that the tribe had no rights to determine who their members should be. She stated that he conflict between the continued status of Freedmen and the tribe having to uphold this part of the treaty was in conflict with tribal sovereignty.

The arguments on behalf of the Freedmen was presented by Jon Velie were clear and he pointed out that the Treaty itself was made by a party that was at one time an enemy of the United States, having fought with the South in the Civil War. He pointed out that this was not the story of a "few slaves held by a few people." The leaders of this very sophisticated tribe, were principal slave holders, including the last Confederate general to surrender, who was Cherokee slave holder, Stan Watie.

Velie continued to address the southern history and the southern biases toward the former slaves, and he spoke fact after fact about the participation of Freedmen leaders who served on the tribal council in the 19th century, and pointed out that this was not a case of a simply unknown alien people trying to join a tribe. This was an act where the history, heritage and cultural ties of a people who were part of the tribe, were having their role, their history and their identity stripped from them.

The judge asked poignant questions and both parties answered them. Of particular interest was the issue of the future of Freedmen as citizens of the tribe. On side from the tribe, there was the concern expressed that by granting continued citizenship rights to the Freedmen, there was the act of making the "rights" to extend into perpetuity. Velie responded by pointing out the key word "descendants". Nothing is ambiguous about the wording of the Treaty. He also pointed out that the efforts to exclude people, seem to be focused on this one class of people in the tribe.

The significant point of his argument came as he addressed the history and the treatment of Freedmen during the hearings on the Dawes Rolls. In response to the issue of Freedmen and the "inability" to determine blood quantum today was also addressed. He then explained the history of the "politics" of blood. He pointed out that in the cases where a Freedman who was half Cherokee and half black, the policy was simple---"your blood does not matter" and they were thus put on the Freedman roll. And now after over 100 years the effort is made to cast out people based on blood when their blood was never worth being addressed no matter how high it was at the time.

Clearly, history was the most important factor emphasized. There was also the discussion of what was meant when the treaty of 1866 was actually signed.

The presentation by the tribe was that extending rights to the Freedmen under Article 9 did not mean into perpetuity.

And the response was simple, the fact is that there is nothing unclear and nothing ambiguous about the Treaty and about Article 9.

Article 9 of the Treaty of 1866


The hearing lasted for approximately 1 hour, 10 minutes and adjourned at approximately 10:52 am. It is expected that the judge will make a ruling within a short period of time.

Being a witness to this case was significant for me.

In 1998, I was an expert witness as the genealogist and historian for the Bernice Riggs Case. This was held in Cherokee Supreme Court, and took place in Tahlequah Oklahoma. To be a witness to the oral arguments today was part of a major event, for should the Freedmen win this case, this may be the end of a 100+ year saga of determining the status of the former slaves of this former slave holding tribe.

It was interesting to see the persons who were there in attendance, from California, to Oklahoma, to the greater Washington DC region. This issue has gone through several stages, and within the Cherokee Nation, it is hoped that finally a era of Jim Crow sentiments left over from a southern former slave holding community, may finally come to an end. When some bad practices, based on old biases end, the entire community moves ahead to a better future. And when all of the components of the society being allowed to participate everyone makes that same community a better entity.

As the Cherokee attorney Diane Hammond pointed out, the Cherokee Nation is no longer "a geo-political entity with one contiguous geographic community" and it was also pointed out that the Cherokee Nation is the largest Indian tribe in the US. Well, I can only hope that the largest tribe, will emerge stronger and better, when all of the people that make up the tribe are allowed to not simply exist, but to contribute to the nation. When all of the people work together the outcome can only be for the better.

This was a historic day in Cherokee history, but also for the Freedmen of all of the tribes. I, as a Choctaw Freedman descendant find that there is hope for the other nations where the Freedmen are disenfranchised, to also be addressed someday.

But today, was a day in which I was there as an eyewitness to history, and I am proud of what I saw.

I hope that Bernice Riggs, was there in spirit, today, and Rev. Nero, and the Whitmires and the spirits of so many others who had the courage to address the wrongs they saw, and I hope that their spirits were all there today.

And so were the spirits of  the Freedmen leaders who once served on the Cherokee tribal council and their names deserved to be mentioned: Joseph Brown, Frank Vann, Ned Irons, Stick Ross, Samuel Stidham, Jerry Alberty.  They should never be gotten and their history is a rich one, though seldom mentioned by the tribe, it should be mentioned by all who cherish history and truth, for these were men of Cherokee soil, and life and culture.

The hearing adjourned at approximately 10:52 am.  Afterwards a few who were in attendance gathered to have lunch in a nearby cafe, before departing in many directions
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Group of Cherokee Freedmen and Attorneys after hearing
Front Row: Cynthia Cook Robertson, Attorney, Jon Velie, Attorney, Marilynn Vann Cherokee Freedman, Dexter Ruffin Cherokee Freedman, (2nd from left back row) Sam Ford, Cherokee Freedman, David Cornsilk Cherokee By Blood, Mark Harrison, Cherokee Freedman.)
(Photo courtesy of Sam Ford)

Ron Graham (Creek Freedman) and Marilyn Vann (Cherokee Freedmen) outside courthouse


Cherokee Freedmen from California at lunch



Journalist Sam Ford, (Cherokee Freedman), Mrs. Ford, and Marilyn Vann (Cherokee Freedman)



Mark Harrison (Cherokee Freedman) & Mark West of No. Carolina


California based Cherokee Freedmen who were also in attendance.


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Sunday, May 4, 2014

Washington Hearings to Unfold For Cherokee Freedmen Monday


Oral arguments pertaining to the status of Cherokee Freedmen originally scheduled for April 28th were moved to Monday May 5th at 9:30 am. This is the case filed by the Cherokee Nation against descendants of their former slaves, known as Cherokee Freedmen.

At issue will be issues pertaining to the Treaty of 1866 where the former slaves of the Cherokee Nation were adopted and were given full status as citizens of the tribe. These issues emerged again in the mid 20th century as the Cherokee Nation (and the other tribes that signed their respective treaties) enacted new laws excluding descendants of Cherokee Freedmen.

From decade to decade in the 20th century, issues arose with freedmen and their rights being honored, most frequently, in the Cherokee Nation. In the 1980s there was the Nero Case. In 1983, when Rev. Nero went to vote in a Cherokee election as ge had in the past, he and his family and other companions learned that the laws of the Cherokee Nation had been changed to exclude them. However, they had voted in previous elections including 1979. But the tribe had quietly changed the restrictions and the elderly Nero learned that he was no longer wanted in the nation, that he always assumed was his nation by birth.

In the 1990s there was the Bernice Riggs case. She challenged the laws banning the Freedmen and filed in Cherokee court, and it though it took years for a decision to be made, it was initially decided against her, but then it was reversed when the Supreme Court of the Cherokee Nation reviewed the case, and decided that the Treaty of 1866 was still valid and Mrs. Riggs and other were indeed citizens of the Tribe.

Many enrolled, and the action of the then sitting chief was swift, when it was decided to put the admission of Freedmen to the tribe to a vote by the population. And as the votes were cast, it should be pointed out that this was an election in which 3% of of eligible Cherokee voters participated, The result was to remove the Freedmen from the tribe. This was followed by lawsuits and counter lawsuits. The Vann case emerged, initiated by Cherokee Freedman leader Marilyn Vann, and it was followed by a counter suit from the tribe and the case left Oklahoma to emerge in Federal Court.

And the latest chapter of this ongoing saga will unfold tomorrow in Washington DC at the Federal Courthouse on Constitution Avenue NW.

But this saga has a long history, stemming from the Treaty of 1866, and the various acts to exclude persons of African ancestry from participating in the tribe, which was part of the only nation that they knew as home, and the tribe which their parents and grandparents had lived, toiled and died as slaves.

Interestingly 100 years ago, the same issues were there and can be followed in the press from multiple states.

The Day Book, Chicago, January 30, 1912 p. 25

And looking at the press from Oklahoma, one sees other headlines also similar to the issues of today. Note this one from 1906.


So the issues are not new, and it is truly amazing to see that an issue that began in the 19th century is still being heard in the 21st century.

Many arrived in Washington on Sunday, including Marilyn Vann named in the suit, and in attendance at the hearing will be Cherokee Freedman advocate David Cornsilk, and several Cherokee citizens, and representatives from Cherokee Freedmen,Creek Freedmen, Choctaw Freedmen,and others.

And so it continues. The oral arguments will be heard at the Federal Courthouse at 9:30 am at 3rd and Constitution Avenue NW, in Washington DC.

"Sometimes what is news is not always new."

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

In 1866, Creek Treaty Abolishing Slavery Was Covered in National Press


After the Civil War ended a series of treaties were signed with the Five Civilized Tribes to officially end slavery in Indian Territory. A treaty was signed with each tribe, and the treaties are referred to as the "Treaty of 1866."

Slavery was abolished in the United States in 1865, but there was much resistance in Indian Territory to end the practice of black chattel slavery. As a result, the Indian slave holding tribes were each required to sign a treaty abolishing slavery. There were also expectations that the formerly enslaved people would be adopted into their respective tribes.

One can also see that there were other parts of the treaty that pertained to railroad passage rights which would make eventual westward expansion easier in future years. Additional stipulations in each treaty involved the establishment of a judicial system and references are made to the unfolding of such a system in each tribe.

In some parts of the country, signing the treaty made national press. The article above was taken from the Worcester Evening Gazette  in Worcester Massachusetts from March 1866.

Masthead of Worcester Evening Gazette, Worcester MA

Those researching Indian Territory history will benefit from studying the stipulations of the treaty of each of the Five Tribes.







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Monday, March 10, 2014

Oral Arguments in Cherokee Freedmen Case to Be Held in April

Cover Page of Cherokee Freedman Brief


Oral arguments on 1866 treaty in the federal case Cherokee Nation v Cherokee Freedmen Vann & Nash will be on Monday, April 28th at 10 am at the Federal Courthouse 333 Constitution Street NW in Washington DC. Courtroom 25A. 

For those who wish to receive a copy of the entire brief, send an email to: 
AngelaW859@aol.com.

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More pages of the brief can shared upon request.

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Sunday, February 9, 2014

The Family Is On The Rolls, So What's Next? Advice for Indian Freedmen Descendants

Front Page of Index to Dawes Roll
National Archives Publication M1186

I often hear from people who are researching their family history and find someone of the Dawes Rolls, and after their excitement has subsided, they are not sure what do next. My advice is to slow down, tread cautiously and stay focused on the goal to tell the story.

Why do I saw that? Well the fact is, many will become side-tracked and make and immediate detour into another arena and that detour will lead them down a one-way street never to return again to the path of discovering their family history. Many will become immersed in the path to tribal enrollment and remain there forever. This detour is also directed in many cases by well respected genealogists themselves. But the fact should understood, tribal enrollment and the thorough pursuit of your genealogy are two separate exercises, and should be understood as two different things.

First, understand the records, and secondly, learn how they overlap. Many families are found within multiple categories, and no matter how distinct they may be--some in one category are often related to people in another category. For those of African & Native Ancestry, this is particularly the case. Some have blood ties to the tribe, but because the mother was enslaved, the blood tie of the children to their Indian father is not considered today by the tribes, nor by the BIA that will NEVER issue a CDIB card to Freedmen descendants. This will not change until the policy is addressed in large numbers and brought to light. But herein lies the danger.

Many will become immersed in the policy issue, and never return to the pursuit of history. Stories of the enslaved, of their resistance, of their acquisition of freedom, of their adaptation to freedom, become overlooked by all. Rich stories that are well documented become buried and undiscovered, though there is a rich paper trail to tell the story.


Blurred Lines with Roll Categories

The categories, are citizens "By Blood", "Freedmen" "Minors" "New Borns" and "Intermarried Whites". The term citizens "By Blood", suggests that one had a blood tie to a person recognized as an Indian--both racially, and culturally. The term "Freedmen" indicates that one or one's parents had been African slaves of an Indian. The terms "Minors" and "New Borns" were children born to citizens who had already been approved as being citizens  "by blood" or "Freedmen" after the interviews had begun, and before the rolls were officially closed.

However,  the categories---By Blood and Freedmen are often blurred by lines that cross each other. And some have no logic at all. In some cases one's placement on a particular roll was the outcome of political status and the political influence that various families had.  The case of Silas Jefferson---a prominent man of African ancestry is a good example.


Silas Jefferson, Creek Nation Leader

Noted Creek Leader Silas Jefferson, was a man of African Ancestry, who was active in the affairs of the Creek Nation. He was a bilingual leader who served as interpreter for the Creeks on an official delegation to Washington, DC and his history was distinguished also in during the years of the Civil War, when he served as a member of the Indian Home Guards as Silas Tucker or simply Tucker.

Silas Jefferson was placed on the By Blood Rolls of the Creek Nation. It was recorded that he was 1/2 Creek. It is not clear how this was determined, as there was no scientific method of determining a "blood" amount or degree of ethnicity.  Was his status as being 1/2 Creek "Indian" a political status or a racial status or a cultural status?

Enrollment Card of Silas Jefferson
National Archives Pulication No. M1301 Creek By Blood Census Card No. 1141

His ex wife Jennie and son Manual were also placed on the rolls of citizens "By Blood" in the Creek Nation.


On this card it is indicated that Manual was the son of Silas Jefferson, thus on the Roll by Blood. Yet, 
Silas Jefferson's own siblings---were placed on the Freedmen Roll, suggesting that they had no blood ties to the tribe. Sadly, the political issues surrounding what roll some one's ancestors were put on, can often blur the search to find the people in the family and the stories about the family.

Another example comes from both Choctaw & Chickasaw Nations. Fannie Parks was the mother of two children. Her younger child was Ardena Darneal, who was the daughter of Silas Darneal, a Choctaw Indian. Fannie was separated from her Choctaw husband, at the time of enrollment. But the enrollment card of the family clearly indicates that Ardena's father was a Choctaw Indian.

Enrollment Card National Archive Publication M1186 Chickasaw Freedman Card 929
A notation on the card indicates that the mother was separated at that time from her Choctaw husband:

Close up of notation from card

The back side of the card indicates that the father of Ardena was indeed Silas Darneal, a Choctaw Indian.

Back side of Enrollment card for Fannie Parks and children


Ardena's father is clearly identified as Silas Darneal

 Today, none of the descendants of Ardena Darneal have been allowed to enroll in the Choctaw Nation, although their father was a citizen. The descendants have sought enrollment and been denied. One of the descendants today is a leader in the Choctaw Freedman community in eastern Oklahoma.

The Question Overlooked---is the blood issue real?
Today the issue becomes more complicated, because some tribes extend membership to new members, if one can prove that they have a minuscule "drop" of blood. Yet, the politics in recent years with Cherokee Freedmen for example reflect a tribe where one can have as little as 1/1000th  1/2000th 1/7000th degree of Indian blood---and if one can "prove" it genealogically---then current "membership" in the tribe is welcomed. This occurs usually in cases where a white US citizen married a Cherokee citizen. In the cases where Freedmen had Indian fathers, thus making them 1/2 Cherokee---they were still "condemned" to wear the badge of slavery to this day.

The past tribal chief went out of his way to refer to Cherokee Freedmen descendants as "non-Indian Freedmen", relying on the flawed and racially charged policy of the Dawes Roll. Yet the "barely Indian" 1/7000th degree members who live most of their lives as caucasian, are welcomed members of this Indian tribe.

And todays' policies continue where one must descend ONLY from the portion of the roll that did not reflect the former slaves. But understand one thing----Blood is a political issue. In some cases the issue of blood means a tie to a community or family. And in other issues--it is a matter of race. And the politics of race are a strong part of the process. AND---they become blurred, and can immediately derail the genealogical journey.

And today,the tenacious scholar must ask the question---exactly how "Indian" is the 1/7000th degree Indian? Are they really Indian, or is there a group of people really padding their tribal numbers with truly non-Indian droplet degree members, to qualify for millions of congressional dollars? Regardless of the answer, genealogists must remember their goal and their mission, which is to tell the family story.

Special Challenge for Descendants of the Enslaved.
This questions that arise around enrollment of course can only be answered by each of the tribes that exclude the descendants of their former slaves. But it should be noted that the answer lies in much of the history of each tribe, and also in the actions of the reorganization of the tribes that occurred in the 1970s, quietly, and out of the public eye. It was decided during the years when re-organization was occurring that Freedmen descendants would simply be made to no longer be eligible. It was done, quietly, and no one noticed. Until it was too late. There was the Nero case in the late 1980s and another challenge in the 1990s with Bernice Riggs. A later case that still continues arose with Cherokee Freedmen in the early 21st century with the Lucy Allen case, and continues to this day with litigation on going with Cherokee Freedmen with the Vann case. But for all descendants of the Five tribes, comes this reminder: Stay Focused on the Goal. Again, for Indian Tribal Freedmen, stay focused on the goal, to tell your family story.

As a genealogist---your goal is to tell the story. Do not let blood politics derail your goal to document the story. This is quite hard to do, because many solid genealogy sites that offer assistance to genealogy researchers but, they will immediately include large sections about joining the tribe. And joining the tribe is a walk down a political mine field. If one descends from the Indian Tribal Freedmen, then you will immediately step on a mine when tribal enrollment becomes part of the genealogy process.

Like all applicants whose ancestors were on the Dawes Rolls, Freedmen will be told to get a CDIB card.
However descendants of Indian Tribal Freedmen, (those who were once enslaved) whether they had a blood tie to their former slaveholder or not were put on the Freedman roll if their mother was not Indian. In the case of most Freedmen, they had Indian fathers. So---the BIA will not administer the coveted CDIB Card to them, no matter how many documents are presented that illustrate that there is a blood tie to the tribe members on the "By Blood" roll. The result is that the new genealogist will suddenly find him/herself immersed in the emotional battle of trying to fight a system that is structured by its very nature to exclude them.  And professional genealogists who combine CDIB procedures on their websites with the genealogical process, are contributing to greater alienation of Freedmen descendants from their history.


Now, there are other reasons why this confusion and complicated story prevails. In a 2009 issue of Family Tree Magazine there was an excellent interesting article on tracing Native American ancestry and how to go about doing so. But like many genealogical articles and books and records that mention the Dawes Records there was the automatic discussion of how to obtain membership in the tribe. It is possible the assumption that proving ancestral ties, is affiliated with tribal membership, and that process contributes to many of the political issues that one reads about today.

Most genealogical sites will direct the first time inquirer enrollment procedure. This once again takes the researcher on a quest to get a CDIB card. Over and over again, this is the direction that most genealogy sites will take you. But these words will not be said: If you are an Indian Tribal Freedman Descendant you will never get a CDIB card and will therefore never be admitted to the tribe by today's rules.  That is the brutal truth, never uttered by any of the genealogical sites that assist people with Native American ancestry. So researchers find out sometimes very painfully that they are going to be "rejected".

There are over 14,000 Freedmen files that were part of the Dawes Commission. The genealogical value of these records can never be over emphasized. So therefore, a word of advice. Keep the two entities separate. Separate the genealogical research from the application for enrollment in the tribe. As a genealogist, stay focused on the history, look at all of the records and all of the rolls from 1866 onward. One's ancestor's name on a 19th century roll does not go hand in hand with tribal membership.

The politics of the day created the structure of the Dawes Rolls. And--the politics of today govern the use of the rolls by the former slave-holding tribes and how they exclude descendants of their former slaves. The issues though related, are two distinct issues and hopefully this is understood.

The current issue of those who descend from Freedmen and the quest for citizenship today is a serious one and a complicated story with many chapters unfolding in both the Cherokee and Creek Freedmen communities. Challenges are also being addressed with Choctaw as well as Chickasaw Freedmen descendants.

But-----if you are a genealogist--do not confuse tribal enrollment with your genealogy. 

Even if tribal enrollment is an interest--it should never be a destination. If it is, then you will have slammed the door to history and to other amazing pieces of information. And this is critical for Freedmen descendants. The doors have already been closed to tribal enrollment. There is an effort to open them being carried out by various parties, and their effort is a noble one. But obtaining a tribal card is not the end of the journey---it is only a passing landmark along the way to knowing your history.

Acknowledge the Reality.
Many want to bypass history and get into a warm fuzzy period in history where everyone got along. Well that might not be the reality. But part of the harsh reality is that of slavery of Black Chattel Slavery. The fact that black chattel slavery took place in Indian Territory, is not widely known, is not admitted by the tribes and never mentioned on their websites, and is not understood by most who live outside of Oklahoma.
But simply put---slavery happened. Those who were finally freed (freed men and women) later became known simply as "Freedmen" and most remained in Indian Territory. After decades of living there---that was home. Like those once enslaved in the Deep South--they remained in the only place they knew.

The challenges with the records exist because there are many political issues that surround them. However, politics aside---amazing genealogical data exists by the thousands. There are over 14,000 files of people classified as "Freedmen" with multiple generations reflected in those records. Among those records are interviews, birth and death affidavits, and even pre-statehood marriage certificates. They are a genealogical gold mine. Worth exploring? Most definitely!

Beyond The Rolls--What Else Is There?
Beyond the Dawes Rolls there are also census records, military records, post Civil war rolls, Congressional Records, and Freedmen School Rosters. Some of these have been published privately and others remain untouched and are lying in microfilm un-viewed for decades. There are many opportunities for scholars and researchers to pursue these long over looked and under-used records.

The rich history from Indian Territory should never end with the Dawes Rolls. And the quest for history should not be derailed when contemporary citizenship issues arise. A true commitment to telling this story is required and a charge is made to all Indian Territory researchers to commit to unraveling these long overdue stories and to place them back on the historical landscape where they belong.