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.


Unknown said...

Awesome post. I enjoyed the information and will heed your advice. Funny thing is I just read about the Cherokee denial of their black ancestors this morning. Great article keep them coming.

Anonymous said...

What was the status of Silas' siblings' mother. Was she a slave?

Anonymous said...

When all the research is done and if there is documented proof that there is tribal blood ties to a tribe
what then? These people are never going to get admitted to the rolls nor get the coveted card that so many seek.Why not settle for being who you are and be proud of your true ancestry. When all the dust settles many will find that they are jumping from the fry pan into the fire.I see all this ancestry research as futile as our racially motivated western society will always judge by phenotype.I had the pleasure of working with an urban 'Indian" center for over 4 years and interacted with many tribal members of many and varied groups. I did not find them to be anymore stable mentally, actually less so than the African American people. If trying to join up with the "Indians" is thought to be a superior move think again.

Anonymous said...

related Link

Unknown said...

Thank you Miss Angela Y. Walton-Raji for one of the most comprehensive post on researching Five Civilized Tribe Freedmen.

I previously started researching my grandmother's history in 2006 and of course being a novice of the political issues hit the brick wall. I remember telling my husband that regardless what the tribe states about Freedmen, I wasn't about to let someone deter me from learning about my history.

In honor of my grandmother whom I love dearly, I continue to research our story. So far I have meet a cousin which is fantastic and I look forward to uncovering more about my family.

My grandmother was an amazing woman, always with a smile and a person everyone looked up to. I stumbled into this research after coming across a picture of her father and she began to tell the story of growing up in Tahlequah and what it meant to be Cherokee and Creek. My gg-and ggg-grandmothers were Creek Freedmen Her mother, father and grandfather were Cherokee Freedmen.

I am the granddaughter of Avis Madelyn Swepston Duncan, daughter of Perry Swepston & Jane Elizabeth Vann (Cherokee Freedmen), daughter of Joseph (Turk) Vann (Cherokee Freedmen), Clora Shaw (originally Creek, enrolled as Cherokee during the enrollment, daughter of Richard Shaw (Cherokee Freedmen) and Nancy Sells (Creek Freedmen)

Thank you again for your wonderful article and tips on how to research our history.

Denise Clarke
Escondido CA

Traci Barger Ruffner said...

How do I join the fight for the citizenship of the descendants of freed slaves? Is there contact information for a group that is fighting this?

Unknown said...

This is very informative and timely as I am on this path at the moment, learning that I have a full blood indian as a 4x great grandfather and just was rejected by the BIA for the CDIB card. Although they acknowledged the fact of my connection to him they said by federal law they are barred from issuing a card. I like how you stated that the whole idea of identifying a blood line by only one parent is flawed, I agree totally. Its a denial of once heritage and these people need to be held accountable. As I learn more about the history I will continue on my path for justice. With God nothing is impossible!