“Cherokee - White Intermarriages”
Or Citizenship By Intermarriage
in the Cherokee Nation
By James Pylant
Under the provision of Section 21 of the Act of Congress, approved 28 June 1898, the Department of the Interior, Commissioner of Five Civilized Tribes, recognized “citizenship by intermarriage” in the Cherokee Nation. To qualify, an applicant had to sufficiently prove that he or she was married in accordance with Cherokee law, and who at the time of the marriage was a recognized citizen by blood of the Cherokee Nation. The Commissioner of the Five Civilized Tribes then compared the applicant’s information with that shown on the Cherokee tribal roll of 1880 and the Cherokee Census Roll of 1896 as an intermarried citizen of the Cherokee Nation.
Available as Applications for Enrollment of the Commission to the Five Civilized Tribes, 1898-1914, National Archives micropublication M1301, rolls 305, 306 and 307, this genealogical data was abstracted as an eleven-part series in American Genealogy Magazine, Volumes 10, No. 1 thru Vol. 13, No. 3. (For a list of each applicant, see the back issues list.)
Applications rarely name the full-blooded Cherokee ancestor. The degree of tribal descent is not always given, either. Clearly, many citizens by blood had more Anglo ancestry than Native American. For instance, James C. Yeargin enrolled as a citizen of the Cherokee Nation by his marriage to a recognized citizen by blood, Mary Jane Kinney, who was about one-thirty-second Cherokee.
In spite of being labeled “marriages,” these records do not always give an exact marriage date or even the maiden name of the bride. Sometimes two wedding dates for the same couple are found in an application. This simply implies that the couple had married before their arrival and needed an official record of their union in the Cherokee Nation.
Applicants were required to testify about their marital history. The Commissioner asked the applicant about any previous spouses, whether an earlier marriage ended in death or separation, and the Cherokee Nation citizenship status of any previous spouse. Friends and relatives were often called to testify to substantiate the applicant’s claims.
Before the 1870s, many Cherokee-white unions were “informal” or common law. Though an Act of Cherokee Council passed on 15 October 1855 required a marriage license, some couples continued the earlier practice of having a so-called “Indian style” marriage. Nancy Cordrey’s application for enrollment was accepted, though it was indeterminate whether or not she and her half-Cherokee husband had legally wed. Her stepson stated that, in 1862, Nancy and Wilson M. Cordrey “commenced living together like people did in them times. . . I never asked no questions; it was a general rule that people lived together.” And a minister named Joe Fox recanted his earlier testimony about James Wright and Hattie Hall’s marital history, clarifying that they “took up and lived together” and had “two, or three, or four” children before marrying.
Some divorces were “informal,” too. In Mary J. Catron's application, Martin A. Wallace testified:
When I came to this country in '71, there were no divorce law among the Indians, nor no marriage law. They just courted the woman and if she agreed they lived together, and when they got tired they quit.
The type of data found in applications varies greatly. Actual birth dates are rarely given, but ages were always recorded. Applicants were required to state their address, marital status, whether or not he or she was a citizen by blood or intermarriage, the spouse’s citizenship status, and the names of others included in the application for enrollment. In most cases, only children under the age of twenty-one needed to be named. Otherwise, adult children had to file their own papers for membership status. Other inquiries might be tailored to the case. In these instances, the Commissioner might ask for the names of the applicant’s parents or in-laws. For example, the application of Joseph H. Alexander (born ca. 1841) states that his parents were Silas Alexander and the former Mary Kennedy or Kannady. Joseph H.’s wife, the former Sophronia E. Duncan, is identified as the daughter of a Cherokee named John Duncan and Besty, whose maiden name was not given.
The data provided in these applications verbatim testimony is a genealogical treasure trove.