Freedmen versus Cherokee Nation

A ruling on the decades-long Freedmen versus Cherokee Nation controversy is out. On 30 August, 2017 the United States District Court for the District of Columbia handed down its long-awaited ruling. The crux of the controversy is whether or not the Cherokee Nation can deny the rights of citizenship to Freedmen descendants-descendants of former slaves of the Cherokee. The rights in question are the right to vote and receive tribal benefits.  These rights were practically undisputed until the year 1983, but has been a point of contention in the Cherokee Nation ever since. The ruling of the court is that the Cherokee Nation cannot deny Freedmen descendants these rights. The background of this issue has its roots in Cherokee history, even before their removal from the Southeastern United States.

Beginnings of the Cherokee Freedmen

Probably more than any other Native American group, the Cherokee attempted to adopt the ways of the white population encroaching upon their lands. One of these ways the Cherokee adopted from their southern neighbors was slavery. The Cherokee enslaved some Native Americans, but enslaved many more African Americans.

Judge Thomas F. Hogan’s opening statement of the ruling is rather candid:
“Although it is a grievous axiom of American history that the Cherokee Nation’s narrative is steeped in sorrow as a result of United States governmental policies that marginalized Native American Indians and removed them from their lands, it is, perhaps, lesser known that both nations’ chronicles share the shameful taint of African slavery. “

After years of attempts to hold onto their lands that had dwindled to parts of Georgia, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Alabama, the Cherokee were forced out by the federal government to their new homes in the west, the current state of Oklahoma. Cherokees that owned slaves took them with them to their new homes and reestablished their farms there. As might be expected, the Cherokee sided with the Confederacy during the War Between the States, even supplying troops for the effort. Stand Watie, a Cherokee, had the distinction of being the last Confederate general to surrender.

Post-Slavery History of Cherokee Freedmen

In 1863 the Cherokee Nation rescinded its support for the Confederacy and emancipated slaves in the nation. After the war’s end, in 1866, the Cherokee and the U.S. government signed a treaty forcing the Cherokee Nation in Oklahoma to grant citizenship to all residents of the nation, including freed slaves. These freed slaves become known as Cherokee Freedmen or just Freedmen. That same year the Cherokee Nation changed its constitution to implement the citizenship requirements of the treaty, making Freedmen full citizens of the nation. It is this 1866 treaty that was at the heart of the legal arguments that led to the ruling.

In 1893 the U.S. congress passed legislation forcing the Five Civilized Tribes, including the Cherokee, to agree to allot tribal lands to individual tribal members.  The intent was to abolish tribal governments and the reservation system. In 1896 congress authorized the Dawes Commission to begin accepting applications for enrollment in the tribes, and thereby receive land allotments and other benefits. The rolls of accepted applicants became known as the Final Rolls, or more commonly the Dawes Rolls. There were separate rolls for Cherokee by blood and Freedmen. Congress closed the enrollment in 1906 and officially terminated the Cherokee Nation. From that point, both Cherokee by blood and Freedmen received equitable treatment in the allotment of land and other benefits.

Recent Developments

In the 1970’s the federal government allowed the Cherokee in Oklahoma to hold elections and develop a new constitution. Freedmen descendants were allowed to vote in Cherokee national elections of 1971, 1975, and 1979. But, that changed in 1983 when the Cherokee Nation cancelled the citizenship of Freedmen and refused to allow them to vote.

The legal basis for the 1983 actions of the Cherokee Nation was that the nation then required a Certificate Degree of Indian Blood (CDIB) issued by the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA). Since the Dawes Commission listed the degree of Indian blood on the Cherokee by blood roll, but not the Freedmen roll, descendants of the latter could not provide a CDIB. These actions set off a series of legal maneuvers on both sides that climaxed in this week’s ruling. During that time, the descendants of the Freedmen were not allowed to vote in the Cherokee Nation (except for an agreement that allowed them to vote in a 2011 special election for Principal Chief). With the District Court’s ruling, this situation will undoubtedly change.

For the complete ruling from the court, go to:

Historical/Genealogical Information in the Ruling

The court’s ruling includes a detailed history of the Cherokee and their legal entanglements with the United States government. It starts with the Cherokees’ resistance to removal from the southeastern United States to their relocation west, and ends with their current state. Although the focus is obviously on the legal standing of Freedmen, it is definitely a good read for anyone interested in Cherokee history.

If you have an African American ancestor that lived in Indian Territory (currently Oklahoma) during the time of 1896-1906 you may find him or her on the Dawes roll of Cherokee Freedmen. If so, a possible rich source of family history information awaits you in the application – accepted or rejected!  And also, you may be eligible to apply for membership in the Cherokee Nation – a privilege not available for years.

It is too early to tell how this landmark ruling will affect the Cherokee Nation. Will the nation appeal the ruling? How exactly will it enact the necessary changes? When will the changes take effect? Answers to these questions will come in the months and maybe years to come. We will stay on top of this issue and try to keep the DeepRootsInTheSouth community informed.

Cherokee County Deeds Now Online – FREE

Kudos go to the Cherokee County, Georgia Clerk of Courts’ office for making Cherokee County deeds available online and free to the public.  To my knowledge, Cherokee county is the only one in North Georgia to provide online access to all of its deeds at no cost to the public.  At least one North Georgia county (Floyd) allows online access to its deeds for a fee.  Many U.S. county records, such as marriage and probate have become available online, but due to the sheer volume of deeds, these records have been slow in coming online.  Cherokee County has risen to the challenge.  Hopefully, others will soon follow their lead.

On the Cherokee County site, recent deeds are indexed and easily searchable online.  However, historians and genealogists are more likely interested in older deeds and these are not indexed online.  This is not a problem since the images of the actual index books at the courthouse are available on the site.

Using the Site

To access the site, go to  From here, you can search for deeds or if you know the book and page you can go to it from here.  To search for older deeds, select OnPoint from the menu.  Then click on Accept. This will take you to the Index Book Search screen.

Select the appropriate index book from the “Index Book Series” (Book 1 is the earliest).  Then select either the Grantor (Direct) or Grantee (Reverse) index.  Finally, enter a Last Name and click on the Submit button.  Follow the link in the results to show the first page in that section of the index book.  If you find a deed you are interested in, make a note of the book and page from the index and enter that information into the Deed Search boxes above.  Then click on “Deed Search.”  The image of the deed will appear and from this screen you can view and print the deed.

If you know of other counties in one of the southern states which have made their deed records available online, at no cost, I would love to hear from you.  I’ll be sure and share this information with everyone in our DeepRootsInTheSouth community.


Tracing Past Owners-Georgia Land Lottery

In an earlier post, I introduced you to the concept of identifying the past owners (chain of title) for a property originally granted through the 1832 Georgia land lottery (and gold lottery).   In this post, I will show you the process for tracing the chain of title for such a property.

How to trace the chain of ownership

  1. Locate the deed “room” for the county where the property is located. This may be in the courthouse, or an annex or similar building nearby.  And, although property records are usually maintained by the Clerk of Superior Court, it’s usually just easier to ask, “Where are the deeds?”
  2. With the current deed in hand, note who the grantor is (the first or “from” party). Then, find him in the most recent grantee index.  This at first may seem confusing, but remember, you want to find the deed where the current grantor received the property earlier – or the deed where he is the grantee.   Once found, verify that the entry is for the property you’re searching for (since the grantor may have more properties).  This is either done from the description in the index or by locating the deed itself in the appropriate Deed Book and Page shown in the index.  If the appropriate grantor/property is not in the index, search the next most recent grantee index book and so on until located.
  3. From the index or deed make a note of who the “new” grantor is – the next link in the chain. Repeat Step #2 for that grantor.
  4. Continue this process until the last grantor found in the chain cannot be found in the earliest grantee book. At this point you may have reached the original grantee of the land lot or just as far back as existing records will allow.  Or, the property may not have changed owners since the current county was created.  In this case, you would need to continue the process in the earlier county it was formed from.
  5. If you were not able to trace ownership back to the original owner, and the county has a numerical index, check it for any deed earlier than the earliest one you found it Step #4. It’s possible a deed was missed (by you or the clerk at the time) in the grantee index.
  6. If you were still not able to trace ownership back to the original owner, but you have the name of the original owner, reverse the process above. Search forward through time from the original owner instead of back through time from the current owner.  This time you will try to locate the original owner in the earliest grantor index.  If found, you then have the name of a “new” grantee who you will then try to locate in the grantor index and so forth. This works great until you find the land lot is divided or only part of it transferred.  At this point, you would have to trace each “chain” forward every time the property is split – something most likely not a good use of your time!Doc - 8-11-16, 4-51 PM

Although this process has focused on the 1832 Georgia land lottery, it is very similar to tracing the chain of title in any area in Georgia that was distributed by a land lottery (1832 were the last ones).  One difference is that the 1832 lotteries were the only ones whose legal descriptions contain a section.  All of the others are described with land lots and districts within a county.  Also, the land lots are not necessarily the same size in each lottery.

In a later post, I will describe how to find the name of the original “fortunate drawer” and/or owner of a land lot in the 1832 Georgia land lottery.

The 1924 Baker Roll and Cherokee Genealogy

The 1924 Baker Roll is one of the best sources for Cherokee genealogy, and is the basis for membership in the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians today.  The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians is one of three Cherokee tribes or bands recognized by the U.S. government.  Applications for inclusion on the Baker Roll contain a wealth of family history information, even for those who were rejected.  It seems there was some confusion about who could be included, and so many applied who probably shouldn’t have.  This was bad news for the government agents taking the applications, but good news for Cherokee family historians!  And, many of the applications were rejected, not because the applicants couldn’t show Cherokee ancestry, but because they had no association with the band living in North Carolina. This makes the Baker Roll a definite “go to” source if you had a Cherokee ancestor living in the southeastern United States in 1924.

Information Found on the 1924 Baker Roll

1924 Baker Roll Application

Baker Roll Application

Information requested on the application is shown below, and from it should be easily seen why the Baker Roll is so important to Eastern Cherokee genealogy:

*current name and name prior to marriage,
*age and birth place,
*places of residence,
*degree of Eastern Cherokee blood,
*name and relationship of Cherokee ancestor,
*applicants’ descent from the ancestor,
*both parents’ names, date of marriage, and residences,
*all four grandparents’ names, including maiden names,
*other relatives who were previously enrolled,
*spouse’s name, and names/ages of children.

The 1924 Baker Roll can be found on microfilm at the National Archives branch in Morrow, Georgia; or online at the paid site  If your ancestor is on the roll itself, then you are eligible for membership, but there may be other requirements to meet.  Follow this link for more information about The Eastern Band of Cherokee.  If your ancestor is not on the roll, then she still may have applied.  Check the applications which are in alphabetical order.

Other Cherokee Rolls

If you still can’t locate your ancestor, don’t give up – he may be found on an earlier Cherokee roll.  Another good source of Cherokee genealogy is the Guion Miller Roll of 1909.  This roll includes both eastern and western Cherokees, and like Baker, includes the applications with information similar to Baker applications.  The Miller Roll includes separate indexes for eastern and western Cherokees, so make sure your check both.  Other rolls dealing with the eastern Cherokee include the Hester Roll of 1883 and the Chapman Roll of 1852.  You must have a Cherokee ancestor living during the times of these rolls to have a chance of finding her there.

If you think your ancestor may have been associated with the western Cherokees (Oklahoma), then he may have been enrolled on the Dawes Roll of 1898-1914.  This roll is the basis for membership in the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma, another federally-recognized Cherokee tribe or band.  Follow this link for more information on the Cherokee Nation.  A final Cherokee tribe recognized by the U.S. government is the United Keetoowah Band, also based in Oklahoma.  The 1949 Base Roll is the basis for membership in this group.  To view this roll, and for more information, go to the UKB website.

DeepRootsInTheSouth has access to all of the rolls mentioned above, and we would be happy to help you with your Cherokee family history.


Land Owners in the 1832 Land Lottery

I have had a lot of inquiries in the last few months from owners, or ancestors of owners, of property originally distributed by Georgia in the 1832 land lottery.  Current owners may be interested in who the past owners have been and who originally drew the land in the lottery.  Ancestors of owners may want to know how long the property was in the family or who the ancestor obtained it from, or later who he sold or gave it to.

In this and later posts I will be describing how to discover the owners and location of property distributed through the 1832 land lottery.  Actually, there were two lotteries in 1832 – the land lottery where lots were 160 acres, and the gold lottery consisting of districts thought to possibly contain gold, with lots that were 40 acres.

“Chain of Title” of Property in the 1832 Land Lottery

Whatever the interest in the ownership of a land lot in North Georgia is, the process of finding past owners will involve tracing the chain of title (or ownership).  A chain of title is a listing of each owner, or link in the chain, of all the owners of a piece of property from the current owner all the way back to the original person who was granted it from the State of Georgia.  Each link in the chain will be a property deed which shows who the property was granted to (the grantee), and from whom they were granted it (the grantor).  It is interesting to note that the legal property descriptions of most current deeds will still contain the original land lot, district, and section as originally granted as a result of the 1832 lotteries – even if only a part of that land lot.  For example, the legal description of a current deed might state something like this:
“…being part of land lot 177 of the 12th district, 1st section of Whitfield County, Georgia; and being lot 42 of the Cherokee Valley Subdivision.” (for example only – not a valid legal description, so don’t try to find it!)

County Deed Records

Property deeds were recorded and maintained by the county where the property was located, usually at the county courthouse or other building nearby.  The method for maintaining the deeds may vary by county, but the general method is to record and file each deed in sequential pages as recorded there in books also numbered (or in some Deed Book Graphicsearly deeds by letter) sequentially.  It should be noted that deeds are filed as recorded, not necessarily by the date the deed was executed (the actual date on the deed).  This means a deed executed in one year might not be recorded until the next year, although most of the time the execution date and recording date are within a few days or weeks.  Although many counties have digitized their deed records, very few have been published online.  This necessitates a physical visit to the county seat, which may present a problem to the family historian living in another area.  Also, county boundaries have changed over time, so property that was originally in one county might now be in another.  It may be necessary to visit a neighboring county that originally contained the property. Click here for an interactive map for county formation history.  We at DeepRootsInTheSouth can research deeds in all the counties containing land originally distributed from the 1832 land and gold lotteries.

Unfortunately, over the years, courthouse disasters from fires, floods, tornadoes, and even that devil Sherman have destroyed many early deed records.  So practically speaking, it is sometimes very hard to document a complete chain of title from the original drawer in the lottery to the current owner.  Other records such as property tax digests and censuses may help to fill in the missing gaps in the chain.

Due to the enormous quantity of deeds in a county (Some larger ones have thousands of books!) tracing a chain of title would be impossible without indexes.  Fortunately, all counties have good indexes, at least for the past 100 years or so, and many have them on computer for ease of searching.  There are actually two indexes – the grantor index and grantee index – sometimes referred to as the direct (grantor) and reverse (grantee) indexes.  Most counties also have a numerical index (or land lot index) which will show all deeds that refer to a particular land lot. The process for tracing a chain of title is fairly straight forward and will be detailed in a later post.

The Southern Claims Commission – A Treasure Chest of Southern Genealogy and History

The Southern Claims Commission (SCC) was created by the U.S. government after the War Between the States as a means to allow southerners loyal to the Union to file claims for losses as a result of the war.  Claimants had to prove their loyalty to the Union and also that their losses were from an “official” confiscation of their property by Union military forces.  Documents provided as “proof” of these two things offer interesting, sometimes humorous, and sometimes moving snapshots of life in the South during the war. Continue reading

The Cherokee Land Lotteries of North Georgia

When you think of a lottery in Georgia, you probably think of laying a dollar on the counter and hoping to win thousands or even millions of dollars. But, the current lottery sponsored by the State of Georgia is not the first lottery in the state’s history.  In the first half of the 19th century Georgia held several lotteries, but the prizes were not millions of dollars but acres of land! Continue reading