Friday, October 9, 2009

My Cherokee Ancestor Passed for White

My ancestor was Cherokee, but they passed for white so they are always recorded as white in the records. This is a statement often made by people trying to prove their family story of Cherokee ancestry. Often times, these people claim the Cherokee ancestor was "a full blood" passing for white. When I hear these claims, I wonder if the person making the claim has ever seen a real full blood, because if they had, they would realize how absurd their claim is. I have seen full bloods, mixed bloods and whites my whole life. I have never seen a full blood who could pass himself off as a white person and be believed. I have also seen quite a few mixed bloods who could never pass for white.

Many of these stories are also based on an ancestor who lived in the South. Knowing the racial divisiveness of the South through- out history should wave a red flag about these stories. It would not matter what a person wanted to try to pass themselves off as, it would matter how they were seen and accepted in the community. It is very unlikely that the whites of that time would accept anyone, Indian or African American, as white. It is also unlikely that a census enumerator would record a person of color as white. If your ancestor is repeatedly recorded as white on the US census, they very likely were white.

It is important for us, as researchers, to base our genealogy on facts, not hearsay. Though family stories are interesting and heartwarming, they are not always based in truth. If your family has one of these stories about a Cherokee ancestor who passed for white, it is best to set the story aside and simply follow the standard and accepted methods of genealogy which means you work from yourself backwards basing your findings on documentation and facts. It is important to do your own research and not depend on what others find or post on the internet.

Always be skeptical about information from people who have a strong desire to prove their Cherokee ancestry rather than their ancestry, whatever it might be. Often times, these people suggest their hard to research ancestor was "the Indian". These are the people who argue against facts and historical documentation. They are people who refuse to accept a family story is just that......... a matter what evidence you provide to show otherwise. Cherokee genealogy message boards and mailing lists are filled with these people. If you take advise from someone on such a board, I would recommend you make sure the person you are taking advice from has knowledge and experience in Cherokee genealogy.

Those are my thoughts for today.
Thank you for listening.

The Granddaughter
copyright 2009, Polly's Granddaughter - TCB
*Note - All the photos in this post are of known and documented full blood Cherokee Indians.


  1. Beautiful Cherokee faces!

  2. Then there are those of us who ARE Cherokee (and luckily can prove it) whose ancestors really DID try to pass for white. (They weren't full-bloods, of course.) They lied in order to avoid having a white guardian control their property, so they claimed to be less than 1/2. I don't go around telling people that, because I know other Natives will assume that I'm just some white wannabe. Maybe it's the real wannabes out there who give us mixed-bloods a bad name, but it sure would be nice not to be judged so quickly by other Cherokees. I doubt that's what my Cherokee ancestors intended for us when they lied about their blood quantum.

  3. Of course I am not addressing those who can prove their Cherokee genealogy through documentation. My post was directed to those who have no documentation to prove their claims of Cherokee ancestry, yet they claim to be Cherokee and say the reason there is no proof is because their ancestors passed for white.


Your comments are welcome!