Wednesday, September 16, 2009

The Myth of the Cherokee Grandma - Part 1

I bet you are wondering who Polly is, aren't you? Well, she was my Cherokee grandma. I know, I know, just about everyone has a Cherokee grandma, but mine is real. I know her name and where she was born and where she died and who her parents were and who her husband was and who her children were. She was born to citizens of the Cherokee Nation East and moved with them when they relocated to Indian Territory. She was listed on every Cherokee roll that was taken from the time of her birth in the 1830's to the Miller Roll. Her existence is well documented and I have a paper trail that leads from her all the way to me.

If I seemed to have gone overboard on what I know about my Cherokee grandma, it is only because so many people claim to have one. Of course all my Cherokee friends have Cherokee grandma's or else they wouldn't be Cherokee, but there are a lot of other people who claim to have Cherokee grandmas too. If you are Indian, you have undoubtedly met at least one of these people in your life. Since you are Indian, these people seem to feel obliged to tell you about their Indian grandma. They rarely have a name to go with this grandma. They just know they have an Indian grandma, often Cherokee, often full blood. They have always heard stories about her.

The story is almost always the same. Here is "The Myth of the Cherokee Grandma".

I had a Cherokee grandma. She was a full blood. Not sure how far back she is in the family tree, but she was able to escape the Trail of Tears and then marry my grandpa. She was able to pass for white so the family never talked about her Indian blood because it was not good to be an Indian back in those days. Later generations didn't talk about her much because they were ashamed of her being Indian. We have tried to research her, but can't find anything about her because records on Indians were so rare.

This is a VERY common story. Oh, there will be a few minor differences to each story that is told, but the ultimate point of the story is to explain why the person cannot tell you who their Indian grandma was and why they cannot register with one of the three Federally Recognized tribes. When someone tells me this story about their family, I always wonder if they realize I have already heard this story at least 100 times before. I wonder if they have any idea how many other people tell a very similar story. And, I wonder if they realize, it is not mathematically possible for every person in the United States who claims to have a Cherokee grandma to actually have one. The historical Cherokee Nation just wasn't that large.

So, I know I might have gone a little overboard on stating what I know about Grandma Polly, but I didn't want her to be perceived as one of those mythological Cherokee grandmas some other people have.

Those are my thoughts for the day.
Thank you for reading.

The Granddaughter


  1. This is very interesting. I look forward to reading more. Is that a picture of your grandmother in the cameo at the top of the page?
    I like cameos as you can see by my signature. This site really caught my eye.

  2. Yes, that is Polly! Wasn't she beautiful?

  3. Thank you Twila - I too hear the Cherokee princess and/or Cherokee grandma stories and they get a little tireson. Now and then the monotony is broken up by a chief grandpa story, but not often. Having worked in Cherokee history and genealogy for over 30 years, I definately have heard it all. Your grandma is beautiful, as are all the Cherokee women of our nation. I too have ancestors on the Dawes Rolls, as well as all of the rolls which predate Dawes, number 30 tribal rolls. That fact does not include the federal, tribal, state, missionary and other extraneous records created by and for the Cherokee people over the past 300 years. Anyone interested in seeing my Cherokee ancestors, visit my profile on MySpace at, then click on photos/my ancestors. I have nine direct ancestors on Dawes and because my ex-wife is full blood, my children have 20! Keep up the good work, love your blog.

  4. It's refreshing to read an honest perspective like this. I am one of those people who's family always said my grandfather and great grandmother were Cherokee--but we didn't have any proof. My cousin just found my great grandmother and my grandfather on the Cherokee rolls--so I guess in my case it was actually true. But, correct me if I'm wrong--I don't think being 1/4th generation makes me Cherokee. I didn't grow up with any of the heritage, history or culture--so really, I'm just a white person that had a great grandmother I never knew and a grandfather I loved but who, like in all the stories mentioned above, would never talk about growing up on the reservation because he was ashamed of it. I think being a member of a race and culture is more than blood lines . . .


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