By Rose Buchanan, Archivist and Subject Matter Expert for Native American Related Records
As the National Archives continues to digitize our microfilm collection, more records related to Native Americans are becoming available online in the National Archives Catalog. This includes the Eastern Cherokee Census Rolls, which date from 1835 to 1884 and are an excellent source for tracing Eastern Cherokee ancestry.
Who are the Eastern Cherokee?
The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians (ECBI) is an American Indian sovereign nation headquartered in western North Carolina. When the Federal Government forcibly removed Cherokee people from what is today the U.S. Southeast to Indian Territory (present-day Oklahoma), some Cherokees remained in their homelands and rebuilt their communities. Over time, they became known as the “Eastern Band” of Cherokees to distinguish them from the Cherokees living west of the Mississippi River.
Today, the ECBI is one of three federally recognized Cherokee nations. The other two are the Cherokee Nation and the United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians, both headquartered in Oklahoma.
What are the Eastern Cherokee Census Rolls?
The Eastern Cherokee Census Rolls are a collection of census records that provide basic information about Eastern Cherokee members at different points in time. The Federal Government compiled each census roll for a different administrative reason, so each roll has a different format and contains different amounts of information. See our descriptive pamphlet for additional background information about these rolls.
Which rolls are included in the Eastern Cherokee Census Rolls?
The following census rolls are included in this collection:
- 1835 Census of Cherokees Living East of the Mississippi River (also known as the Henderson Roll)
- 1848 Mullay Roll
- 1851 Siler Roll
- 1852 Chapman Roll
- 1854 Act of Congress Roll
- 1867 Powell Roll
- 1869 Swetland Roll
- 1884 Hester Roll
Our descriptive pamphlet explains in detail the reason the Federal Government created each roll and the type of information each roll includes.
How do I access the Eastern Cherokee Census Rolls online?
The Eastern Cherokee Census Rolls were microfilmed as NARA Microfilm Publication M1773. M1773 is freely available in the National Archives Catalog.
How are the digitized Eastern Cherokee Census Rolls arranged?
The digitized rolls are listed chronologically by the year they were taken and identified by the surname of the federal enrolling agent who compiled them. Most rolls are then arranged by geographical location. Many include alphabetical name indexes of people who were enrolled.
Are the digitized Eastern Cherokee Census Rolls searchable by name?
Yes, you can search the digitized rolls by name. To do this, click the “Search within this series” link on the rolls’ main Catalog page.
This will bring up a list of the digitized rolls. You can then type a name in the search bar at the top of the page. Click the magnifying glass icon () to the right of the search bar to initiate the search.
As an example, I searched for “Flying Squirrel,” the English translation of “Salonitah.” Salonitah was the third Principal Chief of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians.
The search returned one result for “Flying Squirrel” in the 1867 Powell Roll.
From the search results list, you can click the hyperlinked roll title to open the page with the digitized images of that roll. The name search does not identify the exact image where a person’s name appears, so you will have to scroll through the images to find them. Checking a roll’s name index can make browsing easier. When present, name indexes are often included at the end of a roll.
When I opened the 1867 Powell Roll and browsed for Flying Squirrel’s name, I found him on page 58 of the roll. His roll number was 173, and his entry indicates that he was “Chief of Paint town.”
Flying Squirrel also appears in the name index to the 1867 Powell Roll, which is typewritten and located after the handwritten roll. The index includes his roll number and the page number where he appears as well. There is a slight difference from the actual roll: the index indicates that Flying Squirrel was chief of "Panel Town," not "Paint town."
However, it is important to note a few caveats about searching the Eastern Cherokee Census Rolls by name:
- Not everyone who was a member of the Eastern Cherokee during 1835–1884 will appear on all rolls. Some rolls, like the 1854 Act of Congress Roll, were created as supplements to earlier rolls and only include people who were omitted from the earlier rolls.
- Federal officials who created the rolls were not consistent in how they recorded or spelled people’s names. Sometimes they translated a person’s Cherokee name into English (e.g., “The Big Bear”). Other times they transcribed a person’s Cherokee name using English letters (e.g., “Ooloochy,” “Keh to keh”). Often, they only included a common English first name (e.g., “Nancy”).
- The name search is not 100% accurate because it is based on optical character recognition (OCR) and artificial intelligence/machine learning. These technologies do not always transcribe handwritten text or non-English names accurately.
If you search the Eastern Cherokee Census Rolls for a person’s name and do not get any results, try a different spelling or version of their name. If you still do not get any results, try checking a roll’s index when available or browsing the rolls instead.
Can I help transcribe the Eastern Cherokee Census Rolls to improve name searches?
Yes! The National Archives Catalog includes a transcription tool, which you can use to help improve the accuracy of name searches for everyone. You will first need to register for a free Catalog user account. See Get Started Transcribing for more information.
Who should I contact if I have more questions about the Eastern Cherokee Census Rolls?
The Archives 1 Reference Branch (RR1R) at the National Archives in Washington, DC, is the custodial unit for the Eastern Cherokee Census Rolls. Please email their staff at email@example.com if you have questions about these rolls.
Does the National Archives house other records related to the Eastern Cherokee?
Other records can be identified by searching the National Archives Catalog for “Eastern Cherokee.” See our How to Search the Catalog video for tips on keyword searching.
 For a list of Principal Chiefs of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, please see the ECBI’s website: https://ebci.com/government/.