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Tribal genealogist helps research Cherokee roots

“For the most part, the people who stop in here are visiting, taking a day trip and are curious,” Norris said. “We do have a few from time to time who come in equipped to do serious research, but it’s important those who are seeking to trace Cherokee ancestry have more than just a name.”

Norris said in a genealogical pursuit, it’s important to begin with yourself, and work back from there. If possible, birth certificates for parents is key.

“It’s also helpful if a person can trace ancestry to a specific line — either the mother or the father,” Norris said. “The more information, the better.”

According to Norris, about two in 10 people are successful in actually verifying ancestry. Being Cherokee in a genetic sense, and being Cherokee on paper, are two different things.

“The U.S. is such a melting pot,” Norris said. “Today’s census provides myriad options for identifying race, which was not true 150 years ago. There are only two federal censuses — those of 1870 and 1880 — that gave a category for Indian.”

Those familiar with modern Cherokee Nation law understand to be considered a tribal citizen, a person has to be able to trace an ancestor to the Dawes Rolls.

“What is really interesting is that Indian tribes were not concerned with blood quantum,” Norris said. “Blood degrees were established by the federal government. Tribes may have had an idea of blood degree in a mathematical sense, but had no need to use it.”

About blood degrees

Norris said the lowest blood degree listed on the Dawes Rolls was 1/128th, which means a Cherokee citizen born in 2000 who is descended from a person of that blood quantum is 1/4,096th Cherokee.

“A lot of people find it’s very important to let us know of their ancestral blood degree,” Norris said. “But it was the Dawes Commission that used blood degree for allotment of land that made blood degree important.”

Though the U.S. had promised, through any number of treaties, the Cherokee people a state would never be made of the Cherokee Nation, the Dawes Act retracted that promise, and the people feared their loss of sovereignty.

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