Why Do So Many Americans Think They Have Cherokee Blood?

native-american-indian-edward-s-curtis-1910It is one of the most popular myths in American genealogies. Millions of Americans think they have Cherokee ancestry. It is a nice thought but is almost always erroneous. In the 2010 U.S. Census, 819,105 Americans claimed at least one Cherokee ancestor. If true, that must have been a huge tribe!

Gregory D. Smithers has published an article in Slate that examines this myth and tells why so many Americans claim to possess “Cherokee blood.” The article is available at http://goo.gl/55RVqC.

22 Comments

I do have Cherokee Blood, and Choctaw, I am also of Comanche heritage not including anglo blood and there were a great many PEOPLE, Cherokee and there was a lot of whites and even Blacks marrying into the tribe and a lot of the time those children married into he tribe as they lived there amonst The People and so yes lots of Babies and lots of Cherokees and other tribes. There are a great many of us either full blood or less degrees but as they say even if you have one drop of Native American Blood you ARE Native American.

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Here are the main reasons white Americans claim Cherokee blood and this may anger a lot of people: 1) European, especially British or German blood, is “boring” to them. 2) guilt over the treatment of the Native Americans makes one want to be associated by blood to absolve them in their minds of the tragedies associated with government policy. 3) explaining away dark features or high cheekbones.

Now, I am descended from TWO native lines, via my French Canadian lines: my Prevost line, via Mantouebeouitch, a Huron Indian, and my L’Eveille line. But I don’t use that as bragging rights. It is a documented fact via the very accurate and detailed Quebec parish registers.

Many French Canadian and Americans of French Canadian descent can prove descent from Native ancestors via the parish registers, which denotes them as sauvage or as panis.

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    If you have family that came to America as late as 1800-1810, you have a 50% chance of having Native American roots as shown by numerous studies – check Christa Cowan’s YouTube video for one example. Does that mean it shows up in DNA or that you can prove it? No! DNA washes out pretty fast and many Native Americans chose to claim white or avoid being on any of the tribal census/Dawes Rolls because the way they were treated. I have Native American in my DNA from my mother’s side. It shows up in some companies, but shows up in mt DNA.
    1) I have British and German ancestry and it’s not boring. Your ethnic results are what you make of them – boring, exciting, mundane, etc.
    2) What the government did before I was voting age isn’t my responsibility or guilt.
    3) Don’t think I have either so N/A for me. Dark features and high cheekbones are not necessarily Native American as many ethnic groups have one or both.

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    Oh, I am not disagreeing with what you’re saying. I had worked as a helper at the family history center in Rochester New York and I have heard people asking do I have anything else besides German or Irish or English Ancestry? Because I find that so boring. I heard that with my own ears. I always tell him to read the histories of those countries and the histories of Those specific nationalities, they are anything but boring. I would always get I wish I had some Indian ancestry did does spicen things up. That is the kind of attitude very amateur historians and Genealogists have.

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It’s like the Australians gagging to find Convict ancestors.

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    After the war of independence in 1776, the American colonies would no longer accept British convicts, so Britain had to find somewhere else to send them. They sent them to Africa, but convicts and guards almost all died of disease. From 1788 they sent them to Australia.
    Because it took place earlier, in total there are more present day Americans than Australians with British convict ancestry. Unlike Australians, most Americans are still in denial about this.

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I have researched lines for several people here in the South who claimed Cherokee blood. Nil, nada, nothing. On the other hand, my aunt claimed that my grandfather (her father) was part Indian (from Canada). I traced every one of his lines back to France. Again, nil, nada, nothing. Was she upset when I proved the family tradition wrong!

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I was always told by my grandmother that her mother was born on a reservation and was half Cherokee. Well.. After lots of research I found she was in fact born in Indian territory but all the records for her that I could find, said white. I did my DNA and came back 1%. Not a lot but she must of had some native blood.

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    At 1%, it could be noise or it could be trace. Native American DNA washes out fast, a lot faster than the paper trail 50% rule. You inherit 0-100% of a parent’s ethnic groups. Potentially a child whose parents both tested at 25% Native American could have anywhere from 0 to 50% Native American in their results.

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I also have been told they myth of the “dark-skinned” grandmother, possibly Cherokee. The only thing that showed up on my atDNA was a 6% Mediterranean. I haven’t found them but I expect there may be some Spanish or Italian hiding back there somewhere.

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There are no longer any full blooded Cherokee. Most Cherokee have very little Cherokee blood. But if you embrace the culture, you should be considered Cherokee. This is the Indian way. Their are actually more mixed French/Cherokee than English/Cherokee. When the south fell, the returning soldiers came back to Sherman’s devastation and went west to Indian Territory. Hence there were 5 white people for every Indian, in Indian Territory. And many people’s stories should read that there ancestors lived with and traded with Indians, but instead, after a couple of generations the handed down story changes to being an Indian Princess, etc. There are many Cherokee Descendants but the descendants would have many more white ancestors than Cherokee.
For those that have hispanic ancestors in Texas, New Mexico, Arizona before 1900, you would definitely be part Native American, but not Cherokee, unless you came from the Texas Cherokee who came before the Trail of Tears. If you were from North Dakota, Wisconsin, Northern Michigan before 1830 you had Sioux-on Ancestors.

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    I hear this Indian nonsense often. I ask the person if their ancestor is listed on the Dawes rolls, or if they are enrolled in what tribe? Blank looks. Most people that claim American Indian ancestry are deluded or just plain lying. I have actually seen the DNA results for folks that try claim Native American Ancestry and when the results come back Sub-Saharan African-they wont accept it. LOL

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    Wow. What a crock of sh**. I DO happen to be 1/2 Cherokee. I’m adopted, and my father (adopted) looked into my heritage. My mother was/is 100% Cherokee Indian. I have also gone to both Cherokee, NC and Snowbird, NC. There are plenty of full-blooded Cherokee there.
    I also happen to be a History teacher. Where do you get the part (of your fantasy) that says the Texas Cherokee came before the Trail of Tears?! The Texas Cherokee are a result of Cherokee who left/escaped the Oklahoma reservation and fled to Texas. Many of them refused to be placed on the Rolls and therefore are not “registered” as part of The Official Tribe of Cherokee (also known as the Oklahoma Cherokee).
    Following the encouragement of my adopted dad, I have researched and studied the Cherokee History all my life. As I said before: I am also a History teacher. Your comment is not only a hunk of crap concerning the Cherokee People, but very historically inaccurate.

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    @jim the realist, as I posted above, if you have family here by 1800 – 1810, there’s a 50% chance you have Native American. That far back, it’s probably not going to show in DNA exception in rare cases, more likely if it’s Y-DNA or mtDNA than autosomal, but it can happen. Dawes Roll is meaningless unless the ancestor belonged to the handful of tribes the Dawes Roll covered – Five Civilized Tribes (Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Creek, and Seminole) and living in an area where the Dawes Roll was taken. Otherwise, out of the hundreds of other tribes who aren’t on the Dawes Rolls or if your ancestor lived outside the area where the Dawes Rolls were taken or if they lived in the area and chose to either lie about their names or avoid being put on the rolls, you won’t find them. Many tribal members felt being put on the rolls was a way to track them and given the government’s track record at the time, can you blame them?

    To be enrolled in a tribe is a different issue. Tribes go one of three routes for membership: 1) specific blood quantum (using the 50% rule) ranging from 1/32 to 1/2; 2) trace to an ancestor who was on a tribal census or Dawes Roll (for those of the Five Civilized Tribes); 3) a combination of the above. Proving 2) is difficult because many tribal members avoided the census takers for reasons noted above.

    For DNA purposes, there are several ways for Native American to show up: 1) Y-DNA haplogroup; 2) mtDNA haplogroup; 3) ethnic result, but needs to be above 10% since a company may not show it at lower levels or it could be noise (noise range is usually <1 – 3 to 5%, depending on expert); 4) the 9 DNA test – D9S919 – if you take this test and it comes back with a 9 in the result, that's considered proof of Native American (by DNA experts, not the tribes) unless you have one of several Asian ethnic results. However, only 30% of Native Americans come back with a 9 so it's pretty hit or miss. As more Native Americans DNA test, the odds are specific unique Native American markers will be added to the mix.

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The only family reference to the Cherokee came from my mother, born in central Mississippi, who said when she was growing up her mother would let Cherokee returning back to their homes spend the night on the family’s front porch. Nothing unusual in that, but years later my dentist at the time asked me just out of the blue if I had Cherokee ancestry. He said my tooth structure/shape resembled that found in people with Indian ancestry. So far I’ve found no documentation to substantiate the observation.

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Lori Harris Catherine D (Lori) Drinkwater Harris October 8, 2015 at 8:21 pm

As a child I was always told by people that I was Indian because my last name was Drinkwater. I have high cheekbones, blonde hair, green eyes, very fair, as is my brother! My parents were the first to move from the East Coast to West Coast in 1949. Drinkwater is Scots, my Dad’s family came to America in the mid 1800’s. Grandma was a Humphrey from BellHaven, VA, English. My Mom’s family (Bowling & Grove) came from Ireland & Germany also in the mid 1800’s. That’s as far back as I currently have information thanks to older relatives, all in Baltimore. No Indians of any kind in the family history. Of course, this was all before my time!

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Love hearing the countless white people in these comments who pretend they are native american because of some story they heard. You people are pathetic.

GET A DNA TEST OR A CIB, or stop claiming.

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    What i love is everyone forgets about all the black native americans that where already here before the white man came to america or there DNA. They love to show all the light skin native americans and not the dark skin. They never talk about how blacks from african have been mating with native americans of all colors in america for hundreds aka thousand of years before the white man landed in america.

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My great great grandmother was Cherokee and so was her husband. Their daughter married a white man and then gave birth to my Nana. I am Cherokee, Blackfoot, Dutch, Irish, German, and English. I was told I have more ancestors from different places. I have two pictures. One of me and one of my Nana’s mother I have similar features to her. Her parents have walked the Trail of Tears and i could not imagine the pain and suffrage that they have been through . Of my many intrests I really love learning of Native American culture not just of my ancestors. I have visited Indian mounds this summer and i felt something spiritual in the wind and sunlight. When I graduate I want to visit Native American reservations and learn more physically not just from knowledge. And someday I hope to visit the places of which all of my ancestors come from.

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WOW. Lots of people here don’t know much about Cherokee history, Cherokee DNA testing, or genealogy.

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The Dawes Roll is NOT the only roll for Cherokees, etc. There are actually many. Baker and Guion Miller among them. EVERY tribe, however, has a list of enrollees and their names. Call the tribal enrollment office for help. There may be a fee.
As to the black people here before white people, there is no scientific or archaeological evidence to back that up, and Native people who have done DNA tests would have it show up. That is a myth being created by some people based on anecdotal evidence only, no actual proof.

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