Between 1898 and 1914, every living member of the Cherokee, Choctaw, Seminole, Chickasaw and Creek tribes was compulsorily registered by the Dawes Commission. The resulting list, which contains the names of over 100,000 people, is used by many as a jumping-off point for discovering their tribal ancestry. A digital version of the Dawes Rolls, also known as the Final Rolls, is maintained by the National Archives. You can perform a simple Cherokee roll search online.
Log Onto the Dawes Rolls Index
Navigate to the National Archives web page titled "Digitized Index to the Final Rolls of Citizens and Freedmen of the Five Civilized Tribes in Indian Territory (Dawes)." Scroll down until you find the Cherokee section. There are 258 separate pages in this section, which are categorized "Cherokee by Blood," "Cherokees by Intermarriage," "Minor Cherokees" and so on. Your ancestor's category depends on his mother's race. For example, a person with a Cherokee mother will be listed under "Cherokee by Birth." Use this to guide your search.
Find Your Ancestor's Name
Click on a link in the Cherokee category you're searching. You'll see that it brings up a single page of the rolls, and that enrollees are listed alphabetically by name. For example, clicking the first link under "Cherokee Freedmen" will take you to a page containing the names Adams through to Alberty. Click through several links until you find the correct page. Write down the roll number listed alongside your ancestor's name.
Examine the Final Rolls
Now you have the Cherokee roll number, you can use this to search the Final Rolls. This will give you additional information such as your ancestor's age at the time of registration, census card number and blood degree. To search the rolls, navigate to the National Archives Catalog. Enter "300321" into the search field; this is the numerical identifier for the Final Dawes Rolls. Alternatively, type "The Final Rolls of Citizens and Freedmen of the Five Civilized Tribes in Indian Territory, 1907" into the search box. Scroll through the pages until you find the Cherokee section. The person you're looking for will be listed numerically against the roll number you obtained from the index.
Unlisted Tribal Members
If you can't find your ancestor, it's probably because she was not alive when the Dawes Commission was registering Cherokees, or she found a way to escape registration. Fortunately, a listing in the Dawes Rolls is not the only proof of tribal membership. You can check the "Census of Intruders," or non-Indians living on tribal land, compiled by Cherokees in 1893, or continue your search by scrolling through the links to Native American websites on the National Archives "Additional Resources" page.
- National Archives: Dawes Rolls
- National Archives: Use the Index to the Final Rolls Online
- National Archives: Digitized Index to the Final Rolls of Citizens and Freedmen of the Five Civilized Tribes in Indian Territory (Dawes)
- National Archives: Look Up the Person in the Final Rolls Online
- National Archives Catalog
- National Archives: Additional Resources
- Thinkstock Images/Comstock/Getty Images