When it comes to researching families that were free families of color who lived east of the Mississippi River – consider using Eastern Cherokee Applications to find your family. Not every FPOC family in the East had connections to Native American tribes. However, numerous families who did – and those who believed they did – filed for Native American recognition by the U. S. Federal Government. The Eastern Cherokee Application records hold invaluable ancestral information for FPOC claimants.
I’ve been researching my paternal Hale family in Wythe and Grayson Counties for the past three or so years. This hasn’t been a particularly easy family to research. They are one of the few families comprised of free people of color (FPOC) who haven’t been extensively researched. Like my Hill, Carpenter, Clark, Kenny/Kinney, and Robertson kin, who were also FPOC in the same region of southwest Virginia, very little has been written about them.
When you factor in the majority European and Native American Hale family branches…it is one enormous and sprawling family that encompasses the four corners of America.
I had a pretty good foundation for this specific ancestral line via census returns. However, I knew there were large gaps that included plenty of missing people. Nor did I have a clue about how my direct Hale lines connected with the wider Hale family in Lancaster, Bedford, and Essex Counties in Virginia. Much less the older branches of the family in New England.
A message from ‘GingerGirl’, a Hale family relation, via Ancestry.com changed all of that. She suggested I take a look at Eastern Cherokee Applications (ECAs) on Fold3. The existence of ECAs came as news to me. Turns out, this tip was quite the revelation. The myriad of Hale family ECAs on Fold 3 enabled me to finally tackle my Hales. Not only tackle them…but connect the dots between different Hale family groups scattered across Virginia, Tennessee, Kentucky, and North Carolina.
I have one suggestion before I continue. I recommend checking this resource out if you have ancestors who were FPOC. I have found missing FPOC ancestors and kin from the Bird/Byrd, Drew, Findley, Hathcock/Haithcock/Heathcock, and Walden families, among others, through their ECA applications.
So what kinds of genealogy information do these applications have?
Plenty. I’m going to use cousin Jerome Hale’s EPA as an example.
The image above is a pretty standard application cover page. It has the applicant’s name, as well as the application roll number assigned to their case. In the case of Jerome, his ECA number was 41355. You can also use this number to search for any other EPA attached to an applicant’s file. As you can probably imagine, entire families submitted individual applications. Making a note of each ECA roll number enables you to cross-reference and cross-check information. There’s also a date stamp. I use this date when updating the then-current residency information on an individual’s page on Ancestry.com.
The page above has a wealth of basic genealogy-related information:
The applicant’s full name, including any Native American name they might have had
Current residency information
Age at the time of application, and the birth date the applicant used
Place of birth
Marital status, including the name of a spouse
Tribal affiliation. OK, we’re talking about Eastern Cherokee applications, so it’s no surprise that the tribal affiliation is going to be associated with the Cherokee. However, I have seen a handful of references to a parent who was Choctaw, Shawnee, or Powhatan
The names, ages, and dates of birth of the applicant’s children
Parents’ names, as well as their place of birth
There’s a bit of a mystery around Jerome’s father, William. William vacillated between the surnames Clark, Hale (Haile), and Kinney (Kinney) when he was younger. Frankly, his habit of chopping and changing between 3 different surnames has made him a nightmare to research. Part of the problem is the identity of his father is unknown. His mother, Phyllis, used the surname Kenney/Kinney; whether this name was through birth or marriage is also uncertain.
I’m left wondering where these surnames came from. And, more importantly, what these surnames meant to them. Names are a fundamental part of anyone’s identity. These surnames clearly meant something to Phyllis and William. What they meant to them, however, remains unclear.
This also raises a question about the relationship between my Clarks who were free and my Clarks who were enslaved. Both groups have origins in Grayson County before a removal to Wythe County. Both groups share a tri-racial – European, African, and Native American – ancestry. The two groups, including descendants, also married each other in Wythe County. DNA matches suggest both Clark family groups shared a common Clark ancestor. Who that person was remains unknown.
What this page tells me is that Jerome’s father, William, finally settled on Clark as his family name, which matches later Census returns for him. His wife, Selia/Celia, and their children also chopped and changed between using the names Kinney/Kenney and Hale; finally settling upon Hale as their family name.
The page above also has basic, yet crucial information:
Parents’ place of residence in 1851. Seemingly innocuous, this is an important piece of information to have. There are times when I can’t locate ancestors or kin on the 1850 Census. It’s simply due to not knowing where a person was living, especially if they had a common name. Even more so if they moved around frequently. and my Hales moved around quite a bit. I couldn’t find Jerome’s parents in the 1850 Census, for instance. Once I knew where they were in 1851, I went back and finally found them in the 1850 Census.
- The names and residences of siblings. Again, this is pure gold dust. With other families’ ECAs, I discovered the applicant had siblings that I hadn’t discovered in my other research efforts. Or, I could finally make a connection between a few different family groups. Even better, depending on the thoroughness of the applicant, I also discovered if an applicant’s mother remarried, thus having a different surname – as well as discovering the married names of
sisters. Having a woman’s correct surname at a certain date point enabled me to find them in vital records, etc.
- Last, but by no means least, you can have 3 generations’ worth of family lineages provided, as in the case above.
There are a few things to unpack regarding the dates used in the ECAs
The dates of 1834-5 and 1851 were important due to various treaties signed between the Eastern Cherokee and the US government. Basically, the US government wanted confirmation that an application has been a member of the Eastern Cherokee tribe at the time of the treaties of 1835 (Treaty of New Echota, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Treaty_of_New_Echota ), or 1836 (Treaty of Bowles Village with the Republic of Texas), or 1843 (Treaty of Bird’s Fort with the Republic of Texas, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Treaty_of_Bird’s_Fort ) between the United States and the Eastern Cherokee.
These dates don’t seem to be hard and fast excluders if an ancestor wasn’t recognized as an Eastern Cherokee tribe member at those date points. I’m still researching this to determine what tripwire/minefield these 3 date points represent for a prospective applicant. Bureaucracy is a demanding mistress. Those year dates are far from arbitrary. They are there for a multitude of reasons. Treaty years is but one.
The year 1851 has to do with the Drennen Roll. This roll was a post Trail of Tears. This roll logged payments made to Cherokees living to the west of the Mississippi River. These Cherokees were removed from the eastern United States to the west of the Mississippi River. The roll was prepared by John Drennen, and contains the name of the person to be paid, their Cherokee district, and information about their family group.
Back to the genealogy nuggets of gold
I’ve included the image above just to illustrate the affidavit part of the process. Like any other legal matter, affidavits were part and parcel of this process.
Other Hale family ECA’s contain additional genealogy nuggets that are pure gold. Like the letter below, which is part of Silas Hale’s ECA. Silas was Jerome’s cousin. Below is a letter written by Silas to the US Court of Claims regarding his own application.
This is a very simple letter. Yet, I love this for so many reasons. The first is that Silas could clearly read and write. Given that this was 1907, literacy is something that can’t be taken for granted. It’s also pretty cool to see a family member’s 100+ year old writing. The vocabulary and penmanship tell me something about Silas. Considering this was a chasing letter, it’s pretty polite.
Appl. #37721 | May 15, 1908
Relative to your application for participation in the Eastern Cherokee Fund, please state whether you, your parents, or grandparents ever resided with the Cherokee tribe. If so, state when and where. Were you, your parents, or grandparents recognized as white people, Indians or negroes in the communities in which you and they have resided?
Why was the parent through whom you claim not enrolled in 1851, and where was he or she residing in 1834-5, if living at the time? Where were your grandparents on the side through which you claim residing in 1834-5?
If your parents or grandparents were slaves, state whether slaves of Indians or white people.
The other thing that leaps out at me is the not-so-subtle questions about race and slave status. They seem to be filters. Again, seemingly simple questions could be used as tripwires to invalidate a claim (Blood Quantum Laws via https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blood_quantum_laws; and Who’s a Native American? It’s Complicated via http://inamerica.blogs.cnn.com/2012/05/14/whos-a-native-american-its-complicated are quick introductions to this topic).
The vast majority of Hale ECAs were rejected. The usual reason cited was a lack of documentary evidence to prove their Cherokee ancestry. There were other factors at play. The letter below, from Charles Hale (another cousin), is a not-so-subtle hint that family members knew the forces that were at play regarding their applications.
The sentence “under misapprehension in having this application filled out” speaks volumes. He clearly knew exactly what was at stake.
Silas’s response to the letter he received follows below. He too knew what was at stake. I include it to illustrate some of the key genealogical information that can be gleaned through these applications.
I apologize for not transcribing it. I’ll readily admit that I struggled with the cursive writing. However, the parts I could easily read again had important genealogy information:
Silas stated that his grandparents and parents were recognized as Cherokee, although not formally enrolled in the tribe;
His mother was Cherokee and European
He believed the reason why his father hadn’t enrolled in 1851 was due to his leaving Cherokee territory for Virginia. Which, as it turned out, was true. His mother had already died by 1851; and;
- That his grandparents were residents of Cherokee territory in 1834-5. In fact, all of them had died in Cherokee territory.
Again, it provides a concise little genealogy covering his parents and grandparents: their names and where they were living on key dates.
Like the majority of other Hale ECAs, Silas’s was rejected.
I love these ECAs for the information they contain. They equally frustrate me. I keep asking myself how the Court of Claims could expect people living in remote areas in the early to mid-1800s to have gathered – much less think about –legal/official proof of Cherokee affiliation. You’re busy just trying to deal with the hurly-burly of everyday life and providing for your family. Time is an issue. Do you take the one or two days necessary to ride into town to enroll as a member of a Native American tribe or do you tend to whatever your source of income and/or subsistence was? Many of my Hales were farmers. A day or two away from the farm was simply out of the question.
Enrollment and/or documentary proof may, or may not, have required money. If so, where did that money come from? These were not rich people. I know I probably wouldn’t have spent the money or time to prove something that my family, and others who knew my family, already knew to be true.
I also can’t take literacy for granted. Regardless of race. If multiple generations of a family were illiterate, there would be no one to write such proofs down for posterity.
These were also people who moved about. Frequently. Even if they had the inclination, time, and money, to register – it’s an easy thing to lose or misplace papers with each move you make. There’s one Hale family group who went from North Carolina to Virginia and then on to Tennessee, Kentucky, Texas, and were ultimately removed to Oklahoma. That’s a whole lot of moving. Considering they only had access to horses and wagons, this is actually quite impressive. However, there were a whole lot of opportunities to lose important papers, should those papers have existed in the first place.
This is the other aspect of ECAs that I find interesting. The historical context – the backdrop as it were – that impacted the lives of these applicants. History and genealogy do indeed go hand in hand. These applications provide us with real glimpses into both.
Images via: Eastern Cherokee Applications of the U.S. Court of Claims, 1906-1909
Eastern Cherokee Applications via Fold 3: https://www.fold3.com/title_73/eastern_cherokee_applications#overview
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