Saturday, November 17, 2018

Researching Native American Slaveholders

Portion of a sample Slave Schedule from Choctaw Nation

Do you have ancestors who were enslaved in Cherokee, Choctaw, Chickasaw and Seminole Nations? 

When you find that first Freedman Dawes Card and see the name of the slave holder, what can you do to learn more?
Is there a way to find out more about the life and history of the person who enslaved your ancestor in Indian Territory?

The Dawes records reflecting those who ancestors were Oklahoma Freedmen quickly find that there is a unique challenge that they have. For them, there is no easy way to research the history of the slave holder. The basic reason is because from 1870 till 1900, data for the Federal Census was not collected in Indian Territory.

Unlike those whose ancestors were enslaved in the United States, there are decades where federal census records simply don't exist. And likewise, there was no county courthouse where vital records, and land records were held in those pre-statehood years. So, when trying to learn more about who the slave holder was, from the Five Civilized Tribes--many Freedmen descendants are at a loss of what to do next, and where to go to find out more about the slave holder.  So how does one find out more about the slaveholders from Cherokee, Choctaw, Chickasaw, Creek and Seminole nations?

Here are five suggestions that might be useful for Fr eedmen descendants to use.

1) Search the slave holder's family on the Dawes Card database.When searching the Dawes records on Ancestry, try typing in the name of the slave holder. For Freedmen that name is on every enrollment card. And on the reverse side of Freedmen cards, even the name of the slaveholder of each of the parents is also revealed. Even if the slave holder was deceased by the time of the Dawes Commission, (1898-1914) there is a possibility that the slave holder's descendants were on the Dawes Roll. With the Ancestry database, the names of the parents of Dawes enrollees is a part of the indexed database. By studying the slave holder's family, then one will learn more about the family of the slave holder, and in many cases, their history since removal.

2) Locate the slaveholder's family on any of the tribe's pre-Dawes rolls. Numerous records abound from Indian Territory for each of the five tribes. This is especially the case with records from the 1890s, and 1880s. These records can shed more light on that family.

3) Find the Slave holder's name on the 1860 Slave schedule. This pre-civil war document is part of the federal census and provides a head count of all people enslaved. The only names on these records are those of the slave holders, and this can be quite significant for the researcher.

Firstly, keep in mind that the 1860 slave schedule reveals the actual number of people held in bondage for that year. In some cases the actual "owner" of record may have been the wife or the widow of the head of house. Secondly, by studying the numbers of enslaved people, the researcher may be able to glean more information about the kind of community that the ancestor being held in bondage may have lived. If they were slaves of Robert Jones, for example they experienced a southern plantation kind of life with the big house and slave quarters. On the other hand if the slave holder only had a small number of enslaved people then the life experience may have differed.
Note---with slave schedules, it is important to use them properly. Many people will look at the record and try to guess which person is their ancestor, by making a mathematical calculation. This is not an appropriate use of the record. A document with no name should never be used to declare that an ancestor is reflected on the record. A "guess" is not genealogical evidence, and does not meet the standards of genealogical proof.

4) Include the Indian Pioneer Papers in your research. This collection, which is part of the Western History Collection at the University of Oklahoma should be a standard part of  your genealogical research. This is a 116-volume collection of interviews with people from Indian Territory. People who were "early" residents of the territory or descendants of the early residents were interviewed in the 1930s. This amazing collection of white, black and Indian people should be a standard database used by Oklahoma genealogists. This collection is fully digitized, and searchable, and much valuable data can be studied. In many cases, slave holder data is discussed on multiple levels.

5) Study the Civil War participation of the slave holder. Many slave holders were confederate sympathizers in the war, and served in one of the numerous Indian Confederate regiments. (A fully detailed article on Civil War regiments is being developed in a separate article for this blog.)

Beyond the wonderfully rich data that one finds among the Dawes records, it is imperative that for Freedmen research, that the narrative can be expanded by examining the slave owner's history. The life of the ancestor while enslaved, during the war, and during those early days of freedom will unravel many of the untold mysteries in the family's history. Hopefully the unspoken relationship between the slave holder and the families once enslaved will be explored, and will allow the researcher to tell more of this little studied history.