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.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Native American Tribe Discovers Slave Cemetery in Arkansas

A group from the Quapaw Tribe recently made a discovery of an old slave cemetery in Pulaski County Arkansas. This is an amazing story where this federally recognized community of Native Americans have noted their discovery and are reaching out to the community to show its respect and to honor the dead in an appropriate manner. They have not disclosed the location as yet, in an effort to preserve it properly. The site is located in Arkansas, which is the ancestral home of the Quapaws, and the cemetery is located in that area that became occupied after Quapaws were moved into Oklahoma. This now Oklahoma-based nation is extremely reverent towards burial places, and they are to be commended in their efforts to protect this site. This is one of the first cases, where a Native people are working to preserve an African American burial ground. I shall personally be sharing this story with cemetery preservationists in Arkansas, as well as with others who may be willing to work with the Quapaw Tribe to honor those who are buried in this cemetery. More information can be found HERE.

This afternoon, I spoke with Ms. Carla Coleman this afternoon, who is Vice President of PAAC (Preservation of African American Cemeteries) who is on her way this afternoon, to the burial ground with President, Tamela Tenpenny-Lewis. Ms. Coleman said "I think it is very honorable that the Quapaw Tribe is reaching out to the community of preservationists who happen to be black to preserve this site properly. We plan to do whatever we can to work with them to preserve this site."

The two ladies will also be visiting the burial ground this afternoon, and will share images of this site as they are obtained.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Series: First Freedman Enrollees - Chickasaw Freedmen Card No.1

Front & Back Side of Chickasaw Freedman Card No1
NARA Publication M1186 Record Group 75  Roll 70 

As stated in the previous article, about Freedman enrollment, the persons who began the Dawes enrollment when the commissioners came to the community were often persons who were persons of standing in the local community.

The case of William Alexander is interesting, because he was a rather young man at the time of the Dawes Commission. He applied for enrollment for himself and family in 1898. He is said to be the son of Cornelius Pickens, but he is actually the son of Cornelius Alexander.  His Dawes interview reveals only a few details about his life, and like many Chickasaw Freedmen, he has one of those interviews that were shortened by the commission.

William Alexander was active politically in the Chickasaw community where he lived. When the enrollment process began for Chickasaw Freedmen, Alexander was among the Freedmen who gathered to meet at Dawes Academy, near Berwyn. This meeting was a critical one, because the Chickasaw Freedmen never adopted their formerly enslaved community, though they agreed to in 1866.

In August of 1898, twelve men met at Dawes Academy, and that meeting consisted of William Alexander. The Chickasaw Freedmen had hired two attorneys, Robert B. Belt, and Joseph P. Mullen for their role ins securing benefits for them, under the Curtis Act. 

In addition, William Alexander was also connected to another prominent family among Chickasaw Freedmen. His mother was Margaret Wilson, who was also the mother of Bettie Ligon, the lead litigant in a major suit made by Freedmen known as Equity Case 7071. Clearly this was a small community and all of the Freedmen interacted with each other, fighting for years to secure the few rights that they were able to obtain.

The Dawes Commission set up the enrollment process in Stonewall on September 1, 1898 and first to be interviewed was William Alexander. His participation in the committee of active Chickasaw Freedmen, and his known status as one of the Freedmen leaders put him at the front of the line of people to be interviewed.

 National Archives Publication Number M1301, 
Applications for Enrollment of the Commission to the Five Civilized Tribes, 1898-1914, 
Chickasaw Freedman #1

Although many of the Chickasaw Freedmen interviews were evaluated and basically summarized interviews, some significant data can be extracted from the files, including data pertaining to the parents of everyone in the family group that was enrolled.

Looking at the data provided by the Enrollment Card and the Application jacket, can more be learned? Yes, more can be learned. William Alexander pointed out that his father died in the Civil War. Was his father possibly a Civil War veteran? Only research will tell, but records of the Indian Home Guard, as well as the US Colored Troops might reveal more. Also noting that this first interview was conducted in Stonewall, a study of other interviews made at the same date and time would be worthwhile. And knowing his relationship to other prominent Chickasaw Freedmen to glean more about the entire community. the records of those known leaders of the Choctaw & Chickasaw Freedmen Association will undoubtedly unlock more stories and reflect more clearly the resilience of the community of Freedmen in Chickasaw country as well as more insights into the life of the man William Alexander, the first Freedman to be enrolled from his tribe.