Are You Part Cherokee?

Posted By BrokenClaw on January 26, 2007

How many times have I heard someone say that they are part Indian, and how many times does the tribe mentioned turn out to be Cherokee? I’m not referring just to personal experience, but also to people and characters heard on radio and television. Whenever someone makes a statement like that to me, and then confesses that they don’t know any other details, it makes me smile.

It’s not that I doubt their sincerity. It’s just that family stories like that seem so commonplace now, as ethnic diversity becomes more accepted. But why does the name Cherokee come up so often? Perhaps it has something to do with modern media: going back to TV Daniel Boone’s sidekick, Mingo, the friendly Cherokee, and the pop song, Cherokee People, and the popular Jeep Cherokee, and the Target department store’s Cherokee brand of clothing, and even Cherokee Electronics, not to mention celebrities associated with Cherokee ancestry.

The list of celebrities who are claimed, either by themselves or by their fans, to have Cherokee blood is quite long. From Ava Gardner to Burt Reynolds to Val Kilmer, from Loretta Lynn to Tina Turner to Tori Amos, from James Earl Jones to Chuck Norris to Johnny Depp. Perhaps the most famous Cherokee is Cher, who admits to having 1/16th Cherokee blood on her mother’s side, which means that one of her great-great-grandparents was Cherokee, although some fan sites list her as much as 1/2 Cherokee, probably resulting from her hit song, Half Breed. Her dark features apparently are inherited from her Armenian father.

Again, it’s not that I doubt the person’s family story of Indian blood. I just wonder, since so much of the story has been lost, how much of the story has been enhanced? Without any other details of their ancestry, it would just sound more credible if the person could name a tribe other than the default Cherokee. Certainly the Cherokee have always been a large group, and today have the largest membership of any tribe. (The whole concept of being part Indian, based on blood quanta, is certainly open for debate, but it is beyond the scope of this discussion.) Regardless, it’s amazing how often the Cherokee name comes up in family folklore, and even more amazing when the unknown ancestor is described as a chief or princess.

I suppose a person who states the ethnic origin of one of their ancestors is trying to establish some connection, either to that heritage, or to those who share it. But if they have never experienced that heritage, what possible connection can they have? Imagine if you had a visitor from Scotland, and you casually mentioned that one of your ancestors was a Scottish Duke or Earl. His response would probably be, “Oh, really, which one?” to which you could only shrug.

My maternal ancestors came from Germany, Switzerland, and the British Isles in the 18th Century, but I feel no particular connection to any of those countries, other than the traditions of the Pennsylvania Dutch in which I was raised. Certainly we were always aware of our Indian heritage. Of course my father looks more Indian than my siblings and I, and everyone in school, church, etc. knew it. We experienced our heritage first-hand whenever we visited family in Oklahoma, attending pow wow, attending tribal funerals, visiting the graves of our ancestors in the tribal cemetery, and participating in other traditional ceremony with our cousins. But I do not claim to be Indian, in the same sense as my father and his siblings, who grew up on the reservation among the tribe.

Update: Over the years I have received periodic emails from people who object to what they perceive as a disparaging attitude of this article. Please read my related articles:

More information on the Web

For anyone serious about pursuing their Cherokee genealogy, there are lots of helpful sites on the Web. Just go to your favorite search engine and type in “Cherokee genealogy“. Here are a few sites that give advice on how to proceed:

Comments

22 Responses to “Are You Part Cherokee?”

  1. Paula Gregoire says:

    Hi,
    I guess I’ll put my two cents worth in here. Many of the Scotch/Irish immigrants who landed on the southern shores in the 1700 and 1800′s freely intermarried with the Cherokees more than any other tribe. White women were scarce in those days and the Cherokee people were the most civilized, freely traded and intermingled with white people. Many of them even owned slaves.
    If you can’t find your ancestor on any of the rolls, it’s probably because they didn’t register! They knew they couldn’t own land or vote …. and were not considered US citizens if they registered. If your ancester did not register, this is most probably the reason. The Cherokees who left Tennessee before the Trail of Tears could see the writing on the wall. And too, the US government encouraged leaving Tennessee with offers of blankets for every tribe member and other enticements. They went to Arkansas where there was then a large settlement of the tribe. Many of them then went on to the Republic of Texas. My own Cherokee ancestors left Tennessee before the Trail of Tears and ended up in Henderson County, Texas where many of the Cherokee had already settled, trying to get away from white encroachment. People who claim to have Indian roots probably do!

  2. erika says:

    It really make true praticing native americans upset when the (white man) claim to be native blood especially cherokee because most people that claim they are know nothing about their heritage or cultural roots. I am white but my son is a fourth lumbee indian which if you didnt know the culture you could just say hes cherokee(which is not correct to Lumbee indians).How i understand it is that cherokees and lumbees are descendents of the Croatoan tribe from my understanding hearing the srories from my baby fathers family. I also understand that Lumbee doesnt just come from the Croatoan but there are other tribes too. My babys father says that when the white man came over and tried to send their people to the reservations the Lumbees stayed on the east coast of North Carolina and fought for their land while the Cherokees went to the cherokee reservation instead of fighting. i am sure this not all true for both tribes but is very interesting if it is true at all. I know that we went to Cherokee,North Carolina to try to trace his blood line for him to receive benefits for being native blood they told him that even though hes more than fifty percent Croatoan blood he wouldnt get any benefits due to his family not being in Cherokee North Carolina in 1924 for the 1924 census!!!WoW! anyways i guess what i am trying to say if you think that you have native blood look into more and trace your roots youll never know what youll find!!!

  3. Olivia Ramirez says:

    So I have the Same prombelm my mom says I am Cherokee because of my great grand mother. My grandma won’t talk to me or my mom about her dad or mom. I am only 15. But i remember when i thought I was part of the Cheyenne. I want some information that can help me. I am so confused and my family doesnt like to mention the past. So know who is alive will talk. My newly decesed grandpa was the only connection to the indiana but he got ALS Diease and died. So now i am alone on this journey for finding my lost ancestor. I am mexican, spanish, and german. I would like to know if i have indiana in me. So i can learn some customs of my fallen tribe if there is one.

  4. Dotty Nash says:

    Doing research on Thomas Ring 1757 North Carolina, I am told one of his sons Thomas Ring 1757 NC, either Thomas Ring, Jr. or Joseph Peter Ring married a Cherokee Princess. It is been told over the 200 years that there is Cherokee blood in the family. I would like to see where this leads. I do know at one point Joseph married a lady named Carmela Medline????

    Thanking you all,
    Dotty
    For the Family of Dave Ring

  5. Robbie says:

    Being of Wendat descent makes me proud. I don’t have Ani yun wiya ancestry which most people call “Cherokee”. There is no such word. Chilo gee. Which is Muskogean in it’s description of the Native Americans in the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee and Western North Carolina. I believe blood quantum is something the white man uses to divide people and also to keep people who have Native American ancestry from applying to “tribal” membership. I know my ancestry is difficult to research since it came from Kanata (Canada) and the jesuits kept little information on the Wendat and other Iroquoian groups.
    Claiming your Native American ancestry is easy but actually understanding and knowing the history,language,beliefs is what really makes you more Native American. Understanding the present problems of Native Americans and being around Native Americans can develop your sense of pride further. Yes many non Native Americans do have Native American ancestry but most don’t discuss it or if they do, it’s stereotyped and not fully acknowledged., Having blue eyes and dark hair and fair skin doesn’t make you a “full blood”. But when you identify with the cultures and ways of your ancestors counts more.

  6. S West says:

    I also have always known that I have Native American Ancestry on my Mother’s side. She and her siblings look Native American. I have the features also but with my Father’s pale complexion. No one ever talked of it until my Aunt from her hospital bed told me we were of Cherokee heritage but never talked about it because it wasn’t a good thing in those days. They always tried to hide it. I found out my Mother’s grandfather was called Pony because he was Native American. My Father is of English and Irish decent. I have found out that when my parents had a fight my Dad would call the kids half-breeds. That hurts my feelings. My Native American ancestors used different first names and different spellings and dates of birth on various census reports. I doubt I will be able to find any proof.

  7. I have a situation were I have been longing to learn about mt native american heritage. I know that when my grandfather was alive he said his farther was a cheorkee Indian whats makes his situation so intriging tome is that. his fther was a cheorkee Indian and his mother was a full blood african woman I know my grndfather had the name cloud white and i was told his fthers name was sam white cloud iam in my fifties and my grandfather passed away arround the 1970,s I know he met his wife in eads tennesse and was born around 1896. he killed a white man by accident i think and lefted his wife and five children whom I learned he never married and moved to chicago or rather escaped there his sister passed away in 19990 aroud the age of 96 the baby sister was his last living sibling. ialso know that they lived in yazoo missippi. I even talked to my grandfather who said his farther was cheorkke but his baby sister also said he looked like any white man you ever saw so maybe he was a ligth skin cheorkee or part white. becuse my great grandmother was an african woman named parthenia and he was a cheorke Indian man i belive they really must have stood out and I long to know their story people hve always told us that our family loos like we have Indian but some white people treat it as if it is a joke if you are part afrcan american I plan to take at least a dna ttest one day so i can see the blood resuls i would love to be certified or at least have medical or education benefits to me learning about my heitage my cheorkee heritage would be like coming home. even more so now that I hve no parents. I know about rols and things like that but iam wonderig if i would have to search maybe old sttlerr rolls becuse my great grandfather hiself didnot live on any reservation as far as i know can anyone tell me that with the information i have would i have a fair shot at tracing my cheorkee heratage? my aunt who is almost 90 years of age can also attest that her grandfather was a cherokee Indian I want so much to learn about him my grat grandfather and even his parents and grandparents. someone growingg up on an indian reservation cannot possibley understands how a person who never grew up on an Indian reservation wants to feel connected to aside of the family that they hve never knoened and longs to know the history. not just the hitory but the personalities gigts and traits that one coild have inheited from their own ancestors its like a quest to find ones sself with the help of almigthy God i hope to seek the answers that I crave for if anyone out there understands how I feel and has suggestions let me know and I thank you for this website

  8. Diane says:

    My whole life I was told that I was Irish since my fathers family and my mothers parents were Irish. My mother was the darkest Irish person you’d ever wanna meet. I have green eyes, olive skin, and dark brown hair. I just found out from 1st cousins on my mothers side who I haven’t spoken to in 35 years that at my mothers brothers wedding there is a picture of their biological paternal grandmother in full native ceremony outfit. This was in Brooklyn, ny but they said she wasn’t from ny…all I know his her fathers name was William reed/Reid. What a kick in the pants and very cool I think…waiting to see that picture maybe her clothing can give me a clue as to her tribe because Cherokee was mentioned…

  9. Ruth Davis says:

    Consider sheer probability (not in connection to tribal leadership, but simply to the blood of the tribal nation). To me, it seems as though many of us who have kin that come from the colonial timeframe of the area now known as North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee and Georgia, have a pretty high likelihood of some Cherokee blood in us, as my father’s side of our family did. His family with some colonial era roots was from High Point NC. The Cherokee Nation was quite a large nation. At that time in history, for a while at least, their population numbers probably outnumbered the settlers from Europe. And, let’s face it, sex happens and babies are born. My father was born with blue-green eyes and blond hair that later became light brown…and yet, part German Jew, his genetic expression was seen by others as “white.” My mother is full-blood Filipino – I inherited her dark hair and tan complexion, but my father’s more pointed features. My father’s sister thinks I look like the members of their kin whose genetic expression seem to come more from the Native American ancestry. I have been called “white” by people who are African American as well as some people who are Anglo American…and yet to a number of Anglo Americans, especially the Mayflower claimants, I will never be pure enough to be called “white” or included in their group. In the end, I honor all of my roots. I am what I am genetically because of a number of decisions outside of my control were made by my ancestors. I can only hope that the places where the unions involved in making me what I am will also make me a better person who is kinder to people like and unlike me.

  10. Sharptalon says:

    I think the idea of a Cherokee princess came from Moytoy who was the first who was the first Cherokee to have a formal relationship with Great Britain. In 1730 Alexander Cuming declared him the emperor of all Cherokees & a treaty that declared Cherokees loyal to King George to encourage trade. Because of the governments attempts at assimilation, such as the idea of a blood quantum & boarding schools, many mixed blood people have lost valuable information about their history. However, if you are Indian it can be seen in little ways that you and your family think and live. Maybe you should research the rolls to preserve that information for your descendants, but after all the hardships that they had to endure you should not be ashamed to claim your anscesters were Indian even if it is that one great great grandmother who might have lost so much during her time, but whose blood still runs through your blue veins that can be seen on your white skin.

  11. Ken Herman says:

    Hello

    My story began when I was a little boy. I always had a strong feeling about being Indian. My maternal Grandfather (whose European ancestors have been in this country since the 1500′s) would just shrug when I asked him if we had Indian ancestry. However his sister once told me that they had thought that their paternal grandmother Mollie Cross had some Indian blood. (My research suggests that Mollie may have had some Powhattan ancestry although I have not been able to verify that yet).

    This then began a quest for me of several years of family research where I was finally able to locate an ancestor from the area of what is now Walkerstown North Carolina. His name was Thomas Ring (1757-1846) and he was a documented Revolutionary War veteran. (Thomas is the great-great grandfather of Mollie’s husband Lewis Zike).

    According to numerous Ring distant relatives of mine that I have been in contact with, various family stories all say that we derive a Cherokee bloodline thru Thomas Ring. I am still researching this particular Cherokee connection.

    I then went a step further and participated in two differant DNA tests from separate companies, both of which found certain distinct Native American genetic markers within my DNA. The second test even shows a map of the Western hemishere, which corresponds with the regions that my Indian ancestors were from, based upon population studies conducted with the tribes who inhabit those areas, (i.e. Cherokee locations of both North Carolina and Oklahoma, as well as tribes from Michigan, British Columbia, and southern Alaska.

    I am very proud of my Indian heritage and will not let that history be lost again. I will make sure that my children and grandchildren are all aware of this knowledge so that it can be passed on to future generations.

    Ken Herman

  12. Fritz Zimmerman says:

    Now available is a new publication entitled, “A Photographic Essay and Guide to the Adena Hopewell Sioux and Iroquois Mounds and Earthworks” It is avaiable at Itasca books. 222 mound and earthwork sites were photographed and directions provided in Ohio,Indiana, West Virginia, Kentucky and Michigan. Overwhelming evidence is presented that the the Hopewell were Sioux along with the kindred tribes of Cherokee and Iroquois. Analysis of the measurments of the earthworks reveals that the Adena and Hopewell had knowledge of complex mathamatics that included the formulations of pi and square roots.
    The future for the mounds and earthworks is to restore, protect and return them to the Native Americans.

  13. tasha says:

    the jonas brothers are also cherokee indian

  14. A Radcliffe says:

    My Mother is Cherokee and eurpean. I grew up with the knowledge. My Mother was raised to be ashamed native american blood, it was kept quiet. It was rare it was talked about. My Mother was not raised in the Cherokee culture, her birth certificate can not be located. So my question, i identify with my Mother and the Cherokee people. I am light skinned with light eyes. I am proud of my heritage, i study the language, So if I am hearing correctly, I should not talk about the cherokee side of me, it would be interpreted as just talk. You cannot tell by skin color, or eyes, only by what is in the heart. For me this is a hard concept. No wonder my Mother always felt along, not quiet fitting any where. I will not say I am part Cherokee, I will say I am Cherokee.

  15. dlawahgigehstayohed says:

    it always amuses me to hear “in my heart”. to me,thats like “in my heart,i know i have the winning lottery ticket”.you either are or you’re not. you can go to tahlequah to cherokee nation capitol and not know who is really cherokee. a card does not make you one. speaking the language doesnt make you one. learning from books doesnt make you one. books have always been suspect anyway,especially mooney. theres a lot to be said of the oral histories. guess you have to live it.

  16. Ashleigh says:

    I love this article…to an extent. I am part Cherokee(Tsalagi) on my father’s side. His grandmother was Cherokee from NC. I have a picture of her to prove it, and clearly she is a Native. It shows in all of our features as well. My mother’s grandmother was Tsalagi as well. Now when I was in school, the usual reaction to my appearance was that I had “pretty hair” “you must have indian in your family”. When I explained that I did, there it came. I am part Cherokee too. As well, I did not know what to think, and most times I would laugh. I could approach you with the same statement. Now if you asked me any history, I do not know. My mother’s side of the family has all passed, she only has in her generation one half-brother left. On my father’s side, it hard to even get my grandmother to talk, and all I can get is his grandmother’s name. I do not know how much blood quantum I have, but I know what I am, and to me, that is most important. Now again, if I was to approach you with this, would you believe me? That is where it is not so amusing to read this. I have no idea how to become or if I can even register. I would love to, especially to reconnect what has been lost. To answer, Cherokee is used, because it is one of the more well known tribes. Navajo, Sioux, Hopi, Choctaw, Iroquois, are not known to those who are not really familiar with Native history or culture.

    Wado,
    Ashleigh

    • BrokenClaw says:

      Ashleigh, but you see, you DO know your Cherokee ancestors. My only suggestion to you would be, when talking to an interested person, instead of just saying “My grandmother is/was Cherokee”, you should say something like “My [great-] grandmother, [give her name], was a Cherokee from [name the town or county] of North Carolina.” Even though the names and places don’t mean anything to the listener, just giving those simple facts personalizes your story and makes it different from the generic grandmother story.

      Naming your ancestors honors your ancestors. It is something that differentiates native Americans from white Americans. For instance, if you read a feature article about a native American, for example about a particular honor or achievement in school, or even an obituary, they often name their grandparents and sometimes even one or more of their great-grandparents. Personal websites of young native Americans, too, often honor the names of their grandparents.

      Now, if you know the names of your ancestors, especially maiden names, and know when and where they lived, it’s likely you could find them on federal censuses and, if they lived in a tribal community, on tribal censuses.

      With regard to identifying other tribes, the point is to identify the correct tribe. My ancestors come from the Otoe, Missouria, and Munsee tribes, which most people have never heard of. But when they ask, I use it as an opportunity to educate the listener.

  17. Interesting debate. I’m not part Cherokee but my father is half Inuit and my mother is half Chippewa. What a mudblood I am. I grew up where my father is from but when his father died and his mother remarried another white man the family became disconnected from it’s Inuit side. Then they moved away. My father moved back with my mother and I. Going to school, I always knew that I was related to this one or that but for whatever reason, was shunned.

    As for my mother, she was illegitimate. Mother white, father Chippewa from Saugeen reserve in Ontario.

    I am dark and look native. The kids in school made fun of me and called me a wagon burner. I know where I come from and have a deep longing to reconnect to my roots but am not welcome on either side. This is how cultures become lost. Slowly, one person at a time. It makes me sad when I think about it.

    Jackie aka Sweetgrass

  18. Aaron Schnelle says:

    Hi my name is Aaron and I am trying to figure out my indian back ground wich is aparently cheroke according to my dad. he told me great grandma was full blooded cherokee from north carolina . Her name doesnt sound cherokee but i under stand that was back when the natives where tryingto cover there tracks and took on the white mans name any help you can give would be greatly aprtiated, by the way her name was Myrtle O Feibushe.

    Thank you

  19. I am 1/4 Cherokee on my mothers side. 1/4 Choctaw on my Grandfathers side and Creek on my fathers side. All my family was dark with either dark brown or black hair. I was not that fortunate. I was always told by my mother that we were Indian and when I was young I use to go to the movies and see the Indians on the screen. Dark, bare chested, long black hair. This is what I thought we were. Then one day my mother showed me pictures of some of our elders, most who had passed away. I was shocked. In stead of what I visioned my people to look like, they didn’t. The old pictures showed people wearing turbans and old centurion coats, smoking long stemmed pipes. Or the newer fotos who showed what looked like just farmers, in the fields or by log cabins or wood homes. Not what I had envisioned.
    As I became older and more taught I learned much more about my people. Over the years I have also, as stated in here that all the wannabes were mostly all Cherokee. I ask…WHY? If I was not an Indian but wanted to tell everyone I was…why not choose Apache, Commanche, Sue, and thing you saw on tv or in the movies…not Cherokee.
    I don’t have the answer for that but what I do know is that the Cherokee people are the first Indian people who had contact with the Europeans. As time went by we started inter marriages. Our blood line thinned by this and as years passed a lot of our ancestors became lighter than other Natives who had yet to see the white people.
    Our plight in the 1880′s were no different than any other tribes across the US when Andrew Jackson signed the Indian Removal Act. Our benefit was that many of our people escaped the Trail of Tears and went into the Smokey Mountains and lived their among the mountain people The mountain people accepted accepted our people and because of complexion, we blended well.
    However, they were still Indian. So most changed their names and destroyed any written record of being Indian. That was great for them, but it lost a lot of family history. So today, what our ancestors did to protect themselves from being caught by the military, has caused our people today, not to be able to track their heritage. Instead, their heritage at some point hits a brick wall and there it is lost. A very good indication that those people are in fact Cherokee or some tribe. Myself, it has taken me 50 years to be able to find relatives or ancestors before my mother was born. She was born but I couldn’t find her parents anywhere. But because of the computer, I have found her and her sister on the Baker Rolls. I finally found my great grandfather on the Keetowah rolls. So finialy today, I can truthfully say, I am Cherokee…before I pass on to my ancestors.
    So I say that those who heard you are Cherokee, keep looking, you might find something. But don’t be overly disappointed if you don’t find a thing.
    Now as the writer said, there was not real Cherokee Princesses. However I did find that the word princess was used widely by parents, grand parents and the daughters. So hearing that your grandmother was a Cherokee princess, maybe does not mean they were royalty, but a princess to someone.
    Remember that the belief of the Cherokee is that even if you have but one drop of Cherokee blood, as long as you know you are Cherokee and your heart beats Cherokee and you walk the path…then you are Cherokee.
    Wado,
    Edgar WhiteWolf
    Chief
    Lone Wolf Band of Cherokee Indians

  20. Sandra Keske says:

    I want to let you know how much I’ve enjoyed your Blog. Why? Let me tell you. . . All my life I was told that my ggrandmother was a “Cherokee Princess”! Her mother died when she was 12, but evidently had “long black hair”. When my g-mother died, my mother recorded her death certificate as “Cherokee”. I had always been intrigued and planned to do some research to make an authentic connection.

    I began attending pow wow’s and purchased many books – on all different nations. I must confess, I had a bit of pride there. I fell in love.

    After many years of research, I finally found my g-mothers’ relatives on her mothers side. Guess what . . . no evidence of native american any where!

    I no longer make the claim of being part Cherokee, but I have taken the nations into my heart – and greive for what was lost – wishing someway it would be recovered. I still attend pow wow’s and continue to read books and encourage my “cub scouts” to respect the first peoples of our nation.

    Just the idea of being “Part Cherokee” encouraged a lot of research and I attained a lot of knowledge which I wouldn’t have if I had not had that sparkle to consider.

    Just wanted to share that with you.

    Sandi K.

  21. Bad Pony Medicine says:

    I understand both sides of the “I’m Cherokee” issue. I myself am part Cherokee, and in the process of tracing it down (thankyou for the links to resources), but I’ve also found evidence of Creek, Choctaw, Chickasaw, and we’ve known of the Powhattan for a very long time (Descendant of Pocahontas, so my family ADMITS to that Indian blood, because she was a ‘good Indian’…gawd….) But I’ve also dealt with a lot of the ‘My Gramma was a Cherokee princess’, and they’re dead serious. You can’t convince them the monarchy didn’t exist. Since I’m mostly white, I just tell people I’m part white, but I can’t prove it. They don’t get it. Big surprise. I think blood quantums are many things — a measure of how ‘guilty’ or ‘threatened’ people feel they need to be around us. “Oh, you’re only 1/8th, that’s not MUCH “…so they continue to tell racist jokes, etc. The higher your blood quantum, the uneasier they are about telling those jokes. Well, I take my Native Blood very serious. I’m an activist, etc. Most people who only know me from the ‘net’ wouldn’t think I was anything but fullblood. But as the elders have told me, it’s not so much a matter of blood quantum, but what is in your heart. Either that, or they say, “You’re part Indian? Which part?”

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