Tracing one's Native American heritage can be an exercise in futility. Once a proud group of individual nations co-existing, and sometimes clashing, the native peoples of North America were spiritual people who lived, worked, played and fought communally, never taking from nature more than was required, and always offering a prayer of thanks for the food, shelter and clothing they derived from the plants, animals, soil, water and air.
Family "records" were kept on totem poles and lineage was passed down from generation to generation by elders who honored and respected their ancestors, keeping their memories alive by passing on tales of great exploits, trials and tribulations that defined and identified those who had gone before. To a Native American the spirits of their loved ones deceased became one with nature, and were found to be alive in the plants and animals that protected, nourished and sheltered them from the ravages of storms and inclimate weather. It was a proud people who passed along the family history, never forgetting the elders who had been their forefathers for many generations long gone.
Then, Columbus "discovered" America. I have often wondered how he could have discovered America when there were already people living here for more than 10,000 years previously, but those silly Europeans had it in their heads that nothing was discovered until THEY found it! As Spanish, Portugese, French, Italian and other explorers brought their ships and crews to this new land (India, as Columbus mistakenly thought it to be) they also brought disease and death as the Native Americans were exposed to bacteria and germs so alien to their existence that it killed them while barely affecting those Europeans who carried the viruses and infections to the "New World". In addition to the medical problems that were plagues to the indigenous peoples the Europeans were hell bent on killing every "Indian" they could not Christianize, and conquest of lands rich in minerals, gold, diamonds, other precious stones and scenery beyond belief pushed the Native peoples off their centuries-old lands and onto reservations.
As the First Nations tribes were moved to reservations many of them were given "Christian" names, and in the process many familial genealogical links were forever lost or so buried that they are nearly impossible to find. The "Trail Where They Cried" (also called the "Trail of Tears") resulted in death to nearly 25% of the Cherokee nation and other native tribes that were part of that great migration from Georgia to the Oklahoma Territory reservations. Families were split up or separated by death and displacement. Intermarriages to whites and other races resulted in name changes that brought about the broken trails back to native names and ancestry.
And, as many people were ashamed of the Native American blood in their families, relationships to the tribal families were covered up. Nobody wanted to be known as a "half-breed", and many people did not want to acknowledge that "savage" or "heathen" blood as part of their own genealogy. The character, integrity, honor, decency and respect for nature and other people that were native to the original tribes were lost on European people dedicated to exploitation and conquest. All these things combined to bury the native heritage, making it hard to trace our ancestry back to the proud forefathers whose names we barely remember, but who led their respective tribes by wisdom, strength and (usually) democracy in the purest sense.
I said all this to say that tracing my own native ancestry has been one of those exercises in futility. I know, for a fact, that the two grandmothers of my father's mother were full blood Cherokee and half-Apache. I know this because of recorded data left behind in family Bibles and passed down by word of mouth. But, finding names and tracing my Native American ancestry back more than five generations has been impossible to this date, and may never be proven.
I am quite proud of my Native American ancestry, just as I am my Scottish heritage. In fact, the Scots were quite unlike other Europeans who came to conquer the New World, choosing to live among, trade with and learn from the native tribes rather than vanquish them in a bloodbath of greed and hostility. My Scottish ancestors were tribal and lived a lifestyle not too unfamiliar to the Native American ancestors within my family. Perhaps it was those similarities that brought the Scots together with the Cherokee and other tribes, for both revered Mother Nature and respected their fellow man. Both thirsted for knowledge and enjoyed the exchange of culture and ideas with others of diverse backgrounds.
The search for the past will always continue. It is in our past that we realize who we are today. From the mountains of the Killekrankie Valley to the Trail of Tears and into Texas our family tree grew, and today parts of the family now known to be related directly only a few generations back live in many states, mostly in the south, south central and southwestern areas of the country. As the family grows, so grows the desire to know the past and learn from it. Our ancestors were proud and decent people who survived the harshest of challenges and emerged as a strong family, an example we should try to follow every day. This is a special tribute to acknowledge my Native American heritage proudly, and to honor the Cherokee and Apache Nations from where an important part of my soul came.
Below are tables of links to other related web sites including Native American genealogy, First Nations and Tribal web sites, and personal web sites that have Native American culture as an important element in their content. Visit these sites by clicking on the links below. And please return here from time to time as new information and links are added for your entertainment as well as to assist you in your own genealogy tracing.