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The Ellen Payne Odom Genealogy Library Family Tree
The Family Tree - August/September 2003
She Owns the Property

Riverdale, GA: Since you discovered that your grandmother is not a "Cherokee princess," you wonder who she was and her role in the Nation. You discover, in your research, that she is a member of a clan and that clans were family groups. Membership in any clan was through the woman. The family groups included extended family members. Clan membership was important for the health and wellbeing of the tribe. It was important then and remains so today. Being a member meant you were part of an extended family. If you were not a member of the clan, you did not exist. It was against the law to marry within one’s clan and, to do so, was considered incest and was severely punished. While doing research on your family, you should know or have an idea of which clan your ancestor was associated with. This sometimes is difficult because this information may have been lost or forgotten. Prior to 1835, there were numerous clans. After 1835 and today the clan number has shrunk to seven clans. The clans in existence today are: Bird Clan, Deer Clan, Wolf Clan, Paint Clan, Hair Clan, Potato Clan and Blue Clan.

Before the system was changed in 1835 to the patrilineal system, the Cherokee Nation was a matrilineal society. All lineage and inheritance was through the woman. Under this society, the woman owned everything—all properties, including the dwelling, orchards, fields and livestock, and the children. The man owned only what was "on his back," his weapons, all his personal clothing, and his footwear. His responsibilities were limited to protection, propagation, and providing meat and fish. When he failed to provide for the family the way he should, the woman had the right to divorce him by placing all his belongings outside the dwelling. Once she did that, they were no longer married. The children of the marriage, as mentioned earlier, belonged to the woman and her family. The logic for this is—since she carried them full term; they were part of her body. As such, it was the responsibility of her family to mentor and train the children for their roles in the clan and Nation. Although the system was changed in 1835, women still play an important role in the Cherokee Nation.

This is just a brief tidbit of information of women in the social structure of the Cherokee Nation. This is a sample of what you can discover on the Cherokee Nation’s web page This web page includes information about clans, women, rolls, censuses and rosters; as well as, the history of the Nation.

There have been numerous written on the genealogy, family history and rolls of the Cherokee Nation. These books are informative and interesting. They are: The History of the Cherokee Indians, Old Cherokee Families, Index, Notes of Emmet Starr, Volumes 1-37, J. J. Hill/Emmet Starr; Genealogy of Old and New Cherokee Families, George Morrison Bell, Sr. (out of print currently); Cherokee by Blood Series, Cherokee Roots Vol. 1 & 2, 1898 Dawes "Plus", 1909 Guion Miller "Plus", Bob Blankenship; Cherokee Footprints Volume I: "The Principal People—"Aniyunwiya", Cherokee Footprints Volume II: "Home and Hearth", Dr. Charles O. Walker; Cherokee Planters in Georgia 1832-1838, Unhallowed Intrusion: A History of Cherokee Families in Forsyth County, Georgia, Don L. Shadburn; The Story of Craig County and It’s People, Craig County Historical Society, Oklahoma and any published family trees. Further reading in the histories or non-genealogical books will yield a wealth of information and, occasionally, you will find the name of an ancestor mentioned in the text. Three books I recommend are: The Trail of Tears: The Rise and Fall of the Cherokee Nation, John Ehle; Myths of the Cherokee, James Mooney; and Indian Removal, Grant Foreman with a "Foreword" by Angie Debo. Each book gives vivid accounts and histories of the life and times of the Cherokee prior to and during the "Trail of Tears." One last book I recommend for reading and for research is Cherokee Rose: On Rivers of Golden Tears, Joseph H. Vann, great, great grandson of Cherokee Chief Rich Joe Vann.

One very important booklet I recommend, if all others not available, is Exploring Your Cherokee Ancestry by Thomas G. Mooney. Mooney has written a complete, yet, concise instruction on how to research your genealogy, where to go and who to contact, such as the Indian Archives Division of the Oklahoma Historical Society, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. He tells you what rolls will be beneficial for those who are applying for membership in the Cherokee Nation and Eastern Band of Cherokees—for example, the Dawes Rolls and Miller Guion Rolls. He explains what the rolls were for and what group uses these rolls for registration. This book is available through the Cherokee Heritage Center Bookstore [the address is on the Cherokee Nation web page] or the National Archives.

Researching family history is a rewarding experience. There is a cliché that states: "To understand the present, look to the past." Wandering in the past and visiting our ancestors gives us an idea of who we are; where we came from and what we can attain.

Return to My grandmother was a Cherokee Princess | Return to August/September 2003 Index


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