I Know I'm Cherokee, But How Do I Prove It?
by Christina Berry

It is one thing to know you are Cherokee, but it is quite another to "prove" it. Unfortunately there were very few records kept of the Cherokee people prior to their relationship with the United States, and even then the records were hardly complete.

There were a few census records taken within Indian Territory, but by far the most useful documents for proving Cherokee ancestry are the rolls. There seems to be a lot of confusion about the Cherokee rolls. Why were they taken? Who was on them? What do they mean today?

There were sixteen rolls which recorded the Cherokee people from 1817-1924. The rolls were often taken as a result of land or money distribution due to new treaties or US policies relating to the Cherokee. These rolls, coupled with the Federal Census of Indian Territory in 1860 and 1900 and the Cherokee Nation Census of 1880, are the only official records of those people who lived in both eastern and western Cherokee territories.

Finding your ancestors on these rolls means that your family is Cherokee, plain and simple. However, nothing in Cherokee genealogy is that simple, and thus I arrive at the complicated part -- if you do not find your ancestors on these records it does not mean that you are not Cherokee. Err...that was a triple negative and poorly worded. In a nutshell, these records were not complete.

Why? Well, many Cherokee moved away from the Nation for various reasons (intermarriage, immigration, treaties...). Because they were not living within the boundaries of the Nation, they would not be recorded on the Cherokee rolls.

Regardless of the limitations, the rolls (and few Indian Territory censii) remain the only primary source documents of Cherokee genealogy. The Cherokee rolls are:



  • Rolls Before and During Removal
    • Reservation Rolls 1817
      Recorded the Cherokees who chose to accept a plot of land on the Cherokee reservation (Eastern Band).

      Emigration Rolls 1817-1835
      Recorded those Cherokee who chose to "emigrate" to Indian Territory west of the Mississippi River in present day Oklahoma and Arkansas (prior to the Trail of Tears.

      Henderson Roll 1835
      Recorded those Cherokees who were to be removed to Indian Territory on what would later be called the Trail of Tears.

  • Post Removal Rolls
    • Mullay Roll 1848
      Recorded the Cherokees who remained in North Carolina after removal.

      Siler Roll 1851 - Eastern
      Recorded Eastern Cherokee entitled to per capita payment.

      Old Settler Roll 1851 - Western
      Recorded those Cherokee (still living) who had emigrated to Indian Territory prior to removal.

      Chapman Roll 1852 - Eastern
      Recorded the Eastern Cherokee who actually received payment from the government (reference to Siler Roll).

      Drennen Roll 1852 - Western
      Recorded those Cherokee who came to Indian Territory in 1839 on the Trail of Tears.

      Act of Congress Roll 1854 - Eastern
      Small roll of names added to the Siler Roll.

      Swetland Roll 1869 - Eastern
      Recorded those Cherokees, and their descendants, who were listed on the Mullay Roll as residing in North Carolina.

      Hester Roll 1883 - Eastern
      A roll of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians which provides a good deal of detail about those listed.

      Churchill Roll 1908 - Eastern
      Additional roll of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians which also included a list of those rejected from the Eastern Band.

      Guion Miller Roll 1909 - Eastern & Western
      For Cherokees (east and west) excluding the "Old Settlers" who were effected by numerous treaty violations and might be eligible for a monetary award as a result of the treaty violations.

      The Dawes Rolls 1898-1914 - Western
      The final roll of the western Cherokee. The roll ended the Cherokee Nation and allotted the land to the roll signers. This roll is the basis for tribal membership in the Cherokee Nation.

      Baker Roll 1924 - Eastern
      The final roll of the Eastern Band of the Cherokee in anticipation of allotment. The land was not allotted and the reservation still exists. This roll is the basis for tribal membership in the Eastern Band.

      Keetoowah Base Roll 1949 - Western
      The final roll of the Eastern Band of the Cherokee in anticipation of allotment. The land was not allotted and the reservation still exists. This roll is the basis for tribal membership in the Eastern Band.

There were also two records which recorded the freed slaves living within the Cherokee Nation post Civil War.

  • Freedman Rolls
    • Wallace Roll 1888 - Western
      A schedule of names of Cherokee freedmen of the Cherokee Nation.

      Kern-Clifton Roll 1896-1897 - Western
      A schedule of names of Cherokee freedmen of the Cherokee Nation, this roll was created to fill in the omissions of the Wallace Roll.


If you're searching for your ancestors on the rolls, All Things Cherokee offers a customized genealogy report that can help. The All Things Cherokee Customized Cherokee Rolls Report includes listings for the surname(s) you seek on the Cherokee rolls plus tons of other helpful information.


Related Reading

Title: Cherokee Roots: Eastern (Volume 1)
Price: $10.00



Description: Indexes all rolls of the Eastern Cherokee, taken from 1817 to 1924. This records those Cherokee living east of the Mississippi River.

Title: Cherokee Roots: Western (Volume 2)
Price: $20.00



Description: Indexes all rolls of the Western Cherokee, taken from 1851 to 1909. This records those Cherokee living west of the Mississippi River.


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