How to Find Cherokee Tribal Ancestors

by Desire Hendricks

The Dawes Commission cataloged the members of the “Five Civilized Tribes"— Cherokees, Creeks, Choctaws, Chickasaws and Seminoles—for the purpose of land negotiations with tribal members. The initial applications, taken in 1896, were declared invalid. The next series of applications occurred from 1898 to 1914; the Commission compiled the accepted applications into the Dawes Rolls. Applicants for membership to these five tribes must show direct descent from at least one of the tribal members listed.

Find a Western Cherokee Ancestor

Locate a Cherokee ancestor's census card or enrollment information. Census documents provide key information that makes it possible to locate other documents associated with your ancestors. Go to the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration website to search for your ancestor’s 1900 census card in digital format. If you located the it, note the census card number on the digital copy. Use this census enrollment number to request a copy of the actual card from the NARA, which is in Fort Worth, Texas. The census card might provide clues to other records or indicate your ancestor’s tribal affiliation if you do not already know it.

Search the Archival Research Catalog for your ancestor’s census card and enrollment information. If you are able to locate a copy of their census card online, write down or print the number and all of the information associated with the card. Use this information to request a copy from NARA.

Access the online index to the “Final Rolls of the Citizens and Freedmen of the Five Civilized Tribes in Indian Territory” if you are not able to locate 1900 census information for your ancestor. Follow the instructions provided by NARA to search for your ancestor’s name and census card roll number. If you find their name in the rolls, write down all of the information in the line associated with their entry. Use their census enrollment number to request a copy of their census card from NARA.

Contact the National Archives facility in Fort Worth, if your online search fails to yield any results. The NARA retains copies of the 1896 Dawes applications and alphabetical indexes of all applicants to the Final Rolls; you may be able to locate among them a reference for a Cherokee ancestor that did not make it onto the rolls. The online index only shows the accepted applicants.

Find an Eastern Cherokee Ancestor

Use the Guion Miller Roll to locate your ancestor if they belonged to the Eastern Cherokee tribal group. These tribal members avoided forced removal to Indian Territory in the West by hiding in the mountains of North Carolina. They were eventually granted permanent residence in North Carolina as well as land to form a reservation. The Guion Miller Roll list Cherokee living in this area who applied for compensation for the purpose of settling three treaty disputes that the Cherokee claimed with the U.S. government. This roll only lists applications and does not differentiate between those granted their claim and those denied.

Access the Guion Miller Roll Index on the NARA website. The roll lists applications alphabetically by last name. Locate your ancestor's name on the list and write down all of the information associated with their entry.

Use the application number listed to contact the National Archives in Washington, D.C. to request a copy of the application. Full instructions are available on the Guion Miller Roll Index web page. Then use their application to search for their Census Card and other records.

Items you will need

  • Ancestor's Name
  • Ancestor's Date of Birth
  • Ancestor's Tribe
  • Internet Access


  • Other archival resources of Cherokee tribe members are available. Kent Carter's "Wantabes and Outalucks: Searching for Indian Ancestors in Federal Records" is a resource recommended by NARA. Visit the websites of the Cherokee Nation and the Eastern Cherokees for additional genealogical resources and information.

About the Author

Desiré Hendricks' writing career spans over 10 years. Her credits include pieces in "The Kansas City Star" and online at various websites. She teaches yoga and holds the following certifications through the YMCA's training program: Healthy Lifestyle Principles, Foundations of Group Exercise and a Yoga Certification registered with the American Council on Exercise. Hendricks graduated from Yale with a B.A. in film studies.

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