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Thank you for contacting the National Archives in pursuit of your genealogical research. I have attached some resources that will help you find records of your Cherokee ancestors.
There is no such thing as a list of everyone who was Cherokee. The only way to show that someone was Cherokee would be to find their names on one of the early Cherokee rolls. If your ancestor was a member of a recognized tribe and was living with the tribe, then there could be a record of him/her on the Indian Census Rolls. You can search them yourself online using the tools described below. If they were not a member of a federally recognized tribe, then we will not have a record of them as an Indian under the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA). In this event you would then just conduct a basic genealogical search using standard birth, death, and census records, obituaries, etc., in an effort to locate further information that verifies their ancestry.
The Indian Census Rolls were undertaken by the BIA, from about 1885 to 1940. These are the names of persons living with their tribes under the supervision of a BIA agent on reservation lands. These censuses were compiled and returned each year to the Commissioner of Indian Affairs. However, not all tribes are included and not all years are covered. Sometimes agents were unable to complete them. These Rolls were microfilmed by the National Archives (M595), and they have been digitized and made available on the Internet. If you come to one of our branches, then you can use our computers to undertake your research for free. Otherwise, you pay a subscription fee for the site. Sometimes you may find free services at your local library.
This site links directly to records available on the National Archives Catalog: https://historyhub.history.gov/docs/DOC-1097
Instructions for Fold3.com:
Go to http://www.fold3.com/institution-index.php, select All Titles, and choose Indian Census Rolls. These are the censuses of all the tribes, except the Five Civilized Tribes in Oklahoma, from about 1885 to 1940. They do not include everyone who was an Indian, only those living on reservations. You have a choice of searching with a name or you can click on Browse, choose the tribe, and search individual rolls yourself. This will allow you to check out all the possibilities for names and see if any seem to be your relatives.
Instructions for Ancestry.com:
Go to http://search.ancestryinstitution.com/search/group/nativeamerican and choose US Indian Census Rolls. This page lists everything they have in terms of Native American Records. Select the category you want to research and you can put in a name to search there too.
You can access the Allotment files for free on FamilySearch. The allotment records of the Five Civilized Tribes are available at https://familysearch.org/search/collection/1390101
If you find the name of your person on the Indian Census Rolls, then you need to get in touch with the tribe to become a member. There are three recognized tribes of Cherokees at present: the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians - Qualla Boundary, the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma, and the United Keetowah Band of Cherokee Indians. Having the name on a roll is not the same thing as membership. However, it may help you if you are applying for membership. Generally, the requirement is that you have an ancestor on the Dawes Rolls for the Oklahoma Cherokee and the Guion Miller Rolls for the Eastern Cherokee.
If you try this search and do not find someone, then you probably will not be able to become a member. There are many people who have some Cherokee ancestry but are not eligible for enrollment with the tribe, because of the tribe’s right to make its own enrollment rules and choose its own members.
I know this is a lot of information, but I hope it helps you with your search.
This post was written by Cherkea Howery with contributions from Lauren Van Zandt.