Thanks to the growing interest in Indian country and the accessibility of genealogical records online, there has never been a better time to investigate old family rumors about Native ancestry. And as with all genealogy, though it’s entertaining to dig up the roots of one’s family tree, even positive verification of a Cherokee grandmother or Choctaw grandfather often leads to as many questions as answers.

The best thing a curious person can do is start tracing your ancestry back using something like, or Or you can find a genealogist willing to help with the search—professionals are listed by specialty including Native American at If that isn’t something you’d like to do, local libraries can often help as well with research into your genealogy. Either way, you have to start tracing your lineage back and creating a family tree. That’s the best way to get started. That often means interviewing friends and elders who may be able to identify key dates, towns and lineages.

The Cherokee Nation is celebrating the purchase and acquisition of the historic home of legendary statesman and inventor of the Cherokee syllabary, Sequoyah.

“We are so proud to assume ownership and management of this historical site, and we welcome the opportunity to give it the respect and reverence it deserves,” said Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Bill John Baker. “In our tribe’s long and storied history, Sequoyah made an everlasting impact and truly changed the way our people communicate, share ideas and preserve history. He was a genius who advanced the Cherokee Nation and our rich culture. He reshaped the future of Cherokees and all Native people, not just seven generations but infinite generations.”

Cherokee Nation officials formalized the purchase of Sequoyah’s Cabin from the Oklahoma Historical Society with a signing ceremony Wednesday, November 9, 2016. The state of Oklahoma is no longer able to operate and maintain the site due to budget cuts.

Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Bill John Baker and Bob Blackburn, director of the Oklahoma Historical Society, sign the official certificate of transfer for Sequoyah’s Cabin in Sallisaw, Oklahoma. (Courtesy Cherokee Nation)

Courtesy Cherokee Nation

Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Bill John Baker and Bob Blackburn, director of the Oklahoma Historical Society, sign the official certificate of transfer for Sequoyah’s Cabin in Sallisaw, Oklahoma.

The popular tourist attraction was constructed by Sequoyah in 1829 and welcomes more than 12,000 visitors each year. It was designated as a National Historic Landmark in 1966 and a National Literary Landmark in 2006. The homestead includes a one-room cabin and nearly 200 acres.

“Since 1902 and federal enforcement of allotment, the Cherokee people have suffered a gradual loss of their homeland,” said Dr. Bob Blackburn, executive director of the Oklahoma Historical Society. “I want to thank Chief Baker and his staff for working with us in such a cooperative manner, state to nation. We are thankful to have had such a longstanding relationship with the Cherokee Nation and appreciate their willingness to get involved in this project.”

Cherokee Nation Chief of Staff Chuck Hoskin, who also serves in the Oklahoma House of Representatives, played a vital role in finding a solution for the site.

Sequoyah’s log cabin in Sequoyah County, Oklahoma is on the National Register of Historic Places. (Wikipedia)


Sequoyah’s log cabin in Sequoyah County, Oklahoma is on the National Register of Historic Places.

“Our ability to partner with the state’s historical society benefits all students of history in northeast Oklahoma,” said Hoskin. “It makes perfect sense that Cherokee Nation is finally acquiring ownership of the site. Our operation of the cabin and the surrounding land will enable us, as Cherokees, to tell the story of Sequoyah through a uniquely Cherokee perspective. We will be able to do it in our own words and in our own language, which he helped advance.”

Sequoyah, also known as George Guess or George Gist, was born in Tennessee around 1778. He began experimenting with an alphabet for the Cherokee language, and it was complete in the 1820s. The Cherokees were the first Indian tribe to develop a written alphabet, known as the Cherokee syllabary. Literacy rates among Cherokees soared within just a few years.

“It’s an honor to represent the people and the district, where such a significant landmark of our tribal history resides,” said District 6 Cherokee Nation Tribal Councilor Bryan Warner. “The fiscal resources the tribe can invest, coupled with our cultural tourism marketing abilities, ensure we maintain a world-class tribute to arguably the most famous Cherokee in history.”

Sequoyah’s Cabin will continue operations under Cherokee Nation Businesses and be managed by the cultural tourism department. In recent years, the Cherokee Nation also assumed ownership of two Oklahoma welcome centers, one in east Tulsa and one in Kansas, Oklahoma. The centers still operate as welcome centers and now feature Cherokee merchandise, clothing and information on Cherokee attractions.

American Indian heritage is a common perception among many Americans, and many people claim to be Native without truly basing their personal history on facts. Tribal nations such as the Creek, Choctaw, Cherokee, Seminole and Chickasaw have been heavily documented and can trace family lineages back to the 19th and 18th centuries through censuses and lists such as the Dawes Roll.

Be warned: Many Native Americans will roll their eyes at family tales of the mythical ‘Cherokee Princess’ in one’s background, or to be told upon greeting a non-Native that ‘I’m part Cherokee.’ (Cherokee, for a variety of reasons, is the tribe most often associated with families’ genealogy myth-making.)

Most important, contemporary Indian nations have active lists and Native citizenship requirements. They know who belongs to their tribe. ‘Where are you from?’ and ‘Who are your people?’ are the most common questions asked at events and pow wows, and there is often something akin to less than six degrees of separation among contemporary Natives. So, as a rule of thumb, ‘discovering’ you are Native or have Indian heritage somewhere in your genealogy bloodline is hardly enough to guarantee tribal enrollment or the benefits of social services (of which there are many myths and misunderstandings)—or, for that matter, the right to call yourself Indian. Tribal historians and enrollment officers can be contacted at individual nations if you need to learn more about a particular tribe’s requirements.

In the modern era, Native American history is rife with examples of families broken apart and separated as part of the boarding school era, the termination era (in which tribal nations were forcibly disbanded) and urban migration (forced off the land and into the cities). There are many stories about families who lost members during this historical trauma and have since sought out hidden branches of their family tree. Given the far-flung landing places for dispossessed people, family reunions are not uncommon in Indian country.

There are also many recovery and healing efforts involving the disproportionate number of children adopted out of Indian country due to misguided government policies. The search to find and heal such ‘Lost Birds’ is ongoing.

The intersection of African American and Native cultures, and the interactions between black Americans and Indians for hundreds of years is also fertile ground for genealogy research. Black Indians form a well-known pantheon in Native history as well, as well as a lively line of genealogical research.

The proliferation of over-the-counter and online DNA kits have also fueled interest in Native genealogy. The results of this method, however, can be far more complicated an ambiguous. Identifying certain strains of heritage through various haplotides is extremely fraught, and a degree of ‘Native blood’ does not often resolve very much. Building and verifying a family tree is the only real means of making sure of a particular tribal descent.


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