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How to Search for the Five Civilized Tribes

Posted By Dennis On In Native American | No Comments

 These pages are meant as a guide for researching your Cherokee, Choctaw, Chickasaw, Creek and Seminole ancestors, also known as the Five Civilized Tribes.

Dusty has provided us with a guide and suggestions on how to start the process, we have added URL’s for additional information.


So, there’s a story in your family that great, great grandma (or grandpa) was an Indian, and you’d like to find out if it’s true?  Good for you…it’s about time the millions of descendants of this country’s original inhabitants were reconnecting with their lost families.  However, stepping off into the quagmire of Native American research can be, for beginners, a nightmare of rolls, numbers, changed names, etc., so here’s a few suggestions that might help you track down that lost ancestor.

What I’d like to address here is “the rolls”.  Since my experience has been only with what is now called “The Five Civilized Tribes” of the southeast (Choctaw, Cherokee, Creek, Seminole and Chickasaw), these remarks will be limited to doing research on those tribes.

Let’s take the Final Dawes rolls, for example, which are the most important rolls for those ancestors who removed to Indian Territory (Oklahoma) during the 1800’s, as well as the Seminoles in Florida.  The Dawes rolls lists those members of the Five Civilized Tribes who participated in what is called “The Trail of Tears”.  This is a census of those people who were awarded land allotments subsequent to the General Allotment Act of 1887, passed by Congress in an effort to do away with communally-held tribal lands and initiate individual land ownership among the Indians in Oklahoma. The mistake that most researchers make is to go immediately to one of the rolls without doing the proper research first. It is common for a researcher to find the name they are looking for, and assume that they have found their long-lost ancestor and the search is over.   There are, however,  tens of thousands of allottees listed on the Dawes alone, ensuring that you can find just about any name you are looking for.  (There are 32 John Smith’s listed on Dawes.)  By the time you have searched the many extant rolls available for all five southeastern tribes, you can see the confusion that can abound.

I’m going to list the major rolls, when and where they were done and a brief explanation of why each census was made:

The Final Dawes Roll (1898-1914): Dawes is a list of those members of the Five Civilized Tribes who removed to Indian Territory (Oklahoma) during the 1800’s and were living there during the above dates.  IF YOUR ANCESTOR WAS NOT LIVING IN INDIAN TERRITORY AT THIS TIME, THEY WILL NOT BE LISTED ON DAWES!!  This is a list of those Choctaws, Cherokees, Chickasaws, Seminoles and Creeks who were given land allotments in Indian Territory via the 1877 Dawes Act.  It was the final step the US government took to break up the tribal status of these nations and to assimilate them into mainstream white society.  The left-over land in Indian Territory was opened to white settlement and sold prior to statehood.  This act opened the way for the famous “land runs” in Oklahoma at the turn of the century.    Not until the Indian Reorganization Act of the 1970’s were these tribes re-established and their tribal governments reinstated.  Does that mean that every person living in Oklahoma at this time is listed on Dawes??  NO!  There were plenty of people there (intruders and others) who were not entitled to land allotments.  Dawes lists only those Indians who RECEIVED LAND under the provisions of the Dawes Act.  It also lists those Freedmen who received land allotments as provided for in the Dawes Act.

The Guion-Miller Roll (1909):  In 1909 the US government was ordered by the courts to make payments to the descendants of the original Eastern Band of Cherokee (of North Carolina) for treaty violations on the part of the US that had occurred in the 1800’s.  Some 100,000 people made applications to be included in this payment, claiming they were descendants.  Each application was reviewed and only 35,000 were proved to be actual descendants.  Therefore, your ancestor may have applied for this roll, but found not eligible and rejected.  There are records of these applications which include name, application number and the state the applicant was living in at the time it was made.  Those who were found to be genuinely eligible for this payment are listed on the “Guion Miller Roll”.  This roll includes EASTERN CHEROKEE ONLY, but they may have been living in any state in 1909.

1817 Reservation Roll:  A list of those Cherokee living in the “east” who stated they did not want to remove to Oklahoma and signed up to accept a 640 acre tract of land in the eastern part of the United States and remain there.

1817-1835 Emigration Rolls:  This is a list of those Cherokees in the east who signed up to move west, first to Arkansas Territory and then on to Oklahoma.

1831 Armstrong Roll:  This roll was done in Mississippi, Alabama and Louisiana and is a listing of CHOCTAWS living in those states, the number of acres farmed and number of people in the household.  Made prior to the removal of the main body of Choctaws to Indian Territory under the provisions of the Dawes Act.

1835 Henderson Roll:  These Cherokees were living in Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee and North Carolina IN 1835 and signed up to remove to Oklahoma under the 1835 Treaty of New Echota (contains 16,000 names).  Just because they signed up doesn’t mean they actually went, but they registered their intent to remove.

1848 Mullay Roll:  This is a list of those Cherokees who REMAINED in NORTH CAROLINA after the others left in 1838.  It contains 1,157 names.

1851 Siler Roll:  An act of Congress in 1850 forced the United States government to make a payment to some members of the Eastern Band of Cherokees.  These are the names of those who were found to be entitled to receive this payment.  Contains 1700 names.

1851 Old Settler Roll:  This roll lists those Cherokees IN OKLAHOMA who were still living in 1851 who were already living in Indian Territory when the main body of the Cherokee arrives in the winter of 1839.  These people are known as the “Old Settlers”.  They were already in Oklahoma when the Cherokees who removed under the 1835 Treaty of New Echota got there.

1852 Drennen Roll:  This was the first census of the new arrivals of 1839 and is today known as the “Trail of Tears” group.

1852 Chapman Roll:  This roll lists those Cherokee who actually received the payment  based on the names Siler had.

1855 Cooper Roll:  Listing of CHOCTAWS remaining in Mississippi, Alabama and Louisiana at this time.

1869 Swetland Roll:  Lists those Eastern Cherokee and their descendants who were STILL LIVING IN NORTH CAROLINA in 1848 and who were considering removal to Indian Territory.

1883 Hester Roll: Lists the Eastern Band of Cherokees in 1883.  These were the people who were still in the east and had not removed to Indian Territory.  This roll contains ancestors, age and Indian name, plus English names.

1908 Churchill Roll:  Again, lists only those members certified as Eastern Band of Cherokee.  Includes degree of blood and lists rejected.

1924 Baker Roll:  This was supposed to be the last roll of the Eastern Band of Cherokee. Their land remaining in the east was to be allotted to them individually rather than communally-held tribal lands, and they would become regular US citizens.  Fortunately the Eastern Band of Cherokee was able to avoid termination of their tribal status, unlike those who had removed to Oklahoma.  The Revised Baker Roll is the “base roll” for membership in the Eastern Band of Cherokee today.  One must be able to PROVE a direct blood line back to someone listed on the Baker Roll, plus meet age and blood quantum requirements, to be enrolled today in the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians in North Carolina.

Most newbies to Indian research seem to think that, at some point, those government bean-counters said to themselves, “let’s sit down and make a list of all the Indians so their descendants can find them in 150 years.”  NOTHING could be further from the truth!  The above-named tribes were removed from their homelands during the administration of Andrew Jackson (although plans for the removals had been started under the presidency of Thomas Jefferson) to free-up prime agricultural lands inhabited by indigenous people to white settlement.  The long-range plan of the US government was to isolate those tribes in that portion of the southeast that had been designated “Indian Territory” (later to become part of the States of Arkansas and Oklahoma) and then to begin the total assimilation of all Indians into the encroaching white culture with the termination of all tribal governments and ties to their original nations.

The only reason we have the “rolls” or “censuses” that we have today is because Uncle Sam had to keep track of who he was moving, allotting land to, making payments to for treaties broken, etc. – not to make sure that everybody was counted.  The rolls and censuses done are not complete and sometimes inaccurate, but they’re all we have.  There are dozens of different “rolls” (they were censuses first – later they became “rolls) for the different nations (tribes) done at different times for  different reasons.

These rolls have been transferred to microfilm and are housed at the National Archives, the Ft. Worth, Texas branch being the primary home for those records dealing with the Five Civilized Tribes. Some are also housed at the branch in Atlanta, Georgia.  Most of them have been published in some form, and are available for public research at libraries in larger towns (usually in the “Federal Records” division), on the Internet at various sites, and in printed form for private purchase.  There is also available many other “lists” of names recording transactions between the nations and the federal government, both published and on microfilm.
The National Archives publishes a catalog of all it’s holdings relating to Indian records which can be searched for the specific records you will need to research your particular tribe.  That catalog is a good place to start.  Most libraries have this catalog, or a copy can be ordered from any branch of the National Archives.  Ask for “American Indians: A Select Catalog of National Archives Microfilm Publications“.  Records are listed by nation (tribe), so it’s a good idea to first find out which nation your ancestor may have been a member of.  Look at the nations that were living in the area where your ancestor was born at that time.

Another terrific source for researching the Five Civilized Tribes is the Oklahoma Historical Society, 2100 North Lincoln Blvd., Oklahoma City, OK 73105-4997.  This Society is committed to preserving Oklahoma history and maintains a large library of documents, manuscripts, etc.  They also publish a catalog of their holdings which can be ordered by contacting them at the above address.


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