When I was little, my Grandpa always said his mother’s side of the family had Cherokee blood running through their veins. My great grandmother’s surname is Noah and many Noah family trees associate themselves with the Cherokee tribe. The family migrated to Patrick County, Virginia just prior to the Civil War but I could not find any links to the Cherokee in this time frame. I began looking further back and noticed many public family trees proclaiming a John Noah/Noe having a Cherokee bride, but no evidence to support this. John Noe is the son of Peter Noe (circa 1720-1789), the immigrant and after researching the footsteps of this family from the mid 18th century to present day, nothing has been found by way of proof to Cherokee lineage and the Noah family. I then began researching the White surname which was the mother of Mary Noah, my great grandmother, and still nothing that pertains to Native American genealogy. To add to my dilemma, my grandmother on my Mom’s side also proclaimed that her family was tied to the Cherokee tribe. This encouraged me to look into the Eaton, Cromer, Johnson, Jenkins and even more surnames. But, nothing has ever been located during the 18th or 19th centuries to link my family to the Cherokee or any other tribes of North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Tennessee or Virginia.
My main objective with this article is to share with you all why researching Native Americans before 1800 is so difficult. I also want to express to everyone that family stories are just as important as names and dates when it relates to our family trees. But, as a family historian, I feel that we must separate the two between fact versus fiction and state this on our family trees. The stories that were told to me as a child are special memories for me now. They are part of who I am and what I share with all of you.
The Truth About Native American Genealogy
Getting back to my Grandpa’s story, he stated that his great grandfather was half Cherokee on his mother’s side. This would mean that Jordan Cain Noah (1821-1901) was the son of a Native American. Tracing the lineage, Jordan was the eldest son of Daniel and Sallie Noah. They lived in Orange County, North Carolina near present day Haw River. Although Sallie’s surname is not known, there is no indication that she is a Native American. She dies during childbirth in 1831 and is buried in Orange County. Daniel then remarries in October of 1832 to Margaret Bayley. Margaret dies and Daniel marries for the last time during the year of 1866 to Auzilla May. Daniel lives his entire life in the Orange, Alamance County areas of North Carolina where he dies in 1881.
I then, turn my attention to going back even further to Daniel’s father, John Noe(circa 1765-1845). This John is born in the present day Orange County area of North Carolina and his father, John Noe is the individual who others proclaimed as marrying a Cherokee. But, as records surfaced, I discovered this John Noe born circa 1747 as marrying Catherine Efland in Virginia prior to migrating to North Carolina. This John is the son of Peter Noe who is the actual immigrant who arrived to the colonies and migrated with his son to the area after 1760. Nothing in relations to Native American lineage in any form. Although, I’ve not found every detail on this particular family, there is nothing in the paper trail to suggest to me that Native American genealogy is associated with the Noah family. When going through these records, I came across hundreds of public family trees that proclaim Cherokee lineage or Siouan lineage or various other tribes and nations. All of these trees proclaim the lineage but offer very little or no evidence to support this. Where is the proof? Why is it so difficult to prove Native American lineage?
Several reasons come quickly to mind with this. We all wrestle with the idea that our family stories are true. So we begin our search with what we “think” we know instead of concentrating on the facts only. It’s so important to separate these stories and determine what has been proven and what has not. Then, you determine the timeline of your research. If you are searching after 1800, you stand a better chance on acquiring some type of records pertaining to your Native American genealogy. Also, research on a ground level as much as you can in order to understand what if any tribes were living in or near the area of your research. The most important factor is to separate the fact from the fiction and research each small piece of your story thoroughly. If you are researching during the 17th and 18th centuries for your Native American genealogy, you have an entire different world to conduct your research.
It is a known fact that the Native Americans did not record materials in a written format until 1821 when Sequoyah created the Cherokee written word. So what records exist prior to 1821 for the Cherokee? They vary greatly between the states, colonies, etc. Depending a great deal on the exact time frame of your research, various documents can be located concerning the early Native Americans and their families. During the early 18th century, explorers would travel throughout the colonies sharing their experiences by writing in their journals and diaries. They wrote of the people, places, villages, names, chiefs and much more. You can find these specific journals filled with one objective in mind; to create a communication relationship, to entice trade and to maintain peace with the Native Americans. Each and every colony maintained relations with the Native Americans by way of trade guidelines, treaties and other documents. These are valuable tools to use with your research and may guide you to amazing discoveries.
Also, keep in mind the religious missionary groups who frequently traveled to various tribes all throughout the colonies and later into the western territories. These groups also recorded daily journals, diaries and more which have been preserved for our use. Their main goal was set to share their religious practices and beliefs by encouraging new habits to emerge among the tribe members. The Native Americans were indeed beginning to change their traditions and customs by the mid 1700s. By the end of the century, many were using new marriage customs, adding surnames and establishing a self worth by way of inheritance and more. I urge you all to keep in mind the way these documents were recorded. This is second hand information that is available during this particular time period and this is due to the fact that Native Americans held no written word or documents of their own. In other words, these materials were first given to a person who decided to write it down using their words, their opinions, their details. You have to ask yourself, What was left out? What was added? What was missed?
Getting back to Grandpa and his story, I believe that he was reciting a story that was told to him as a child. His grandfather, Daniel Fox Noah may have recited the story in order to explain his middle name to his grandson. (Just a thought) Nevertheless, Grandpa recited the same story to his sons and shared it with me as well. Even though, I have yet to determine the original source of the story or why it was fabricated, if it was fabricated, the story is part of my family history. It doesn’t belong on the branch of the tree, but it does belong in the scenery. By the way, my grandmother’s version of her family and the Cherokee, will have to wait for now. I will make sure to share it with you all at a later time.
The journals I mentioned above are all a great read, both historically and for family relations. Needham & Arthur’s accounts dating to 1764 are a great resource. They are some of the earliest records through Virginia, the Carolinas and into parts of the western frontier. Sir Alexander Cuming and his journal is another great find as is the journal of John Lawson and his explorations into North & South Carolina during 1700. The Moravians are another great resource as they embarked from their first southern settlement in present day Georgia during 1747 and traveled back and forth along the Great Wagon Road during the 18th century.
Fact #1, yes there is very little paper trail that will associate your ancestor to Native American genealogy during the 18th century. Fact #2, yes, it can be achieved by using various different resources as given in the examples above. Fact #3, regardless if your family story is true or not, it matters! The story is part of you and your family and it offers a little spice and personality with your tree. I encourage everyone to separate the fact from the fiction in order to comprise the best of the best with your family research. Our Ancestor Left An Amazing Trail To Follow !! Enjoy Your Journey !!