~ Discovering Your Family's Past To Shape Your Future ~
Maybe I wasn’t paying attention to the lectures, classes, and studies I’ve done. Whatever it is, it has caused me great frustration in searching out American Indian families. But now I know why and now I know several potential solutions.
You can find lots of resources to help you if you are researching one of the “Five Civilized Tribes” – Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Muscogee (Creek) or Seminole. At least if they were forcibly removed to the new Indian Territories following the Indian Removal Act of 1830. Why? Because it was a federal action, there were treaties and other documentation.
But what if they were not removed? What if they hid in the hills of North Carolina, Tennessee, Kentucky and West(ern) Virginia? No documentation for that. And they may have “transitioned” to white if they could – as did many people of varying ethnicity who had light skin. Sometimes census records recorded them as Mulatto or Black.
There were others who remained on their lands and were not removed like the rest of their tribe. How? Legalese, my friend.
The Removal Act of 1830 states that the President can exchange
the whole or any part or portion of the territory claimed and occupied by such tribe or nation, within the bounds of any one or more of the states or territories, where the land claimed and occupied by the Indians, is owned by the United States…
So if you really want to keep your land and have your wits about you, there is a clear solution. Since Indian tribes and nations cannot own land, you can keep your land by not being a member of a tribe or nation. And some chose to do this – renounce their claim to tribal membership, become a citizen of the state they lived in, and continue on with life. This makes it tricky for genealogists, because by the language of the Act (and the nearly 70 removal treaties enacted thereafter), Indians could not live outside the Indian Territories, which means that – technically – there are no recorded births, marriages, deaths, etc. for Indians after 1830 because – legally – Indians did not live in, say West Virginia. Only Americans did. Fascinating, no? That’s not to say that some records may not exist (we are talking about people, here). But if your American Indian line stayed in the East, finding documentation to prove Indian heritage between 1830 and 1965 when it was once again legal to indicate Indian heritage (at least in West Virginia) is going to be really hard!
Have any of these strategies worked for you? What other techniques have you used to find American Indian ancestors?