Friday, November 27, 2009

The "real" story of Thanksgiving -- reaching mind share

As genealogists we know there are two (or more) sides to every story. We also know that history is often romanticized to favor one version or another, depending on who is doing the telling -- history textbooks are no exception. As the poet Emily Dickinson wrote, "Tell all the truth but tell it slant." The story of Thanksgiving is, perhaps, one of the most controversial of all holidays in what it celebrates and how the story is told. Although racial discrimination and bigotry still exists in the this country and in the world, most non-Native Americans are aware of and respect the plight of Native Americans. So much so, in fact, that one of the most popular yet elusive of all genealogical quests in tracking down one's legendary Native American ancestry. That said, the pain of that heritage lingers in the modern generation, as illustrated in the recent article on entitled, "Thanks? Giving? A History of Civil Rights." The PBS special, "We Shall Remain," is an attempt to tell the whole story of the Native American up to the present time, in what producers call "an unprecedented collaboration between Native and non-Native filmmakers." Episode 1, After the Mayflower explores that first Thanksgiving and its consequences. Old traditions die hard -- it may be awhile yet before the "real" story of Thanksgiving reaches mind share.

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Saturday, September 26, 2009

Genealogy of Communities: Indian Reservations

In the field of genealogy, we always have to be ready to adjust our preconceived notions. Who would think to check the Indian reservation census records for their white ancestry? In her most recent article, "Genealogy of Communities: Indian Reservations," Judy Rosella Edwards illustrates the fact that Indian reservations were not exclusively Native American.

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Friday, July 31, 2009

Getting Past the Native Ancestry Block: Can DNA Testing Break Through the Wall?

Proving native ancestry in North America is more than a little challenging, for a great many reasons. Today, DNA testing can help address some of the questions, but not as completely as one might hope. In her article, "Getting Past the Native Ancestry Block: Can DNA Testing Break Through the Wall?," Rita Marshall explores the various DNA tests, what they can and cannot tell us about our native ancestry, and how to proceed with what we learn.

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Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Native American Heritage Month

November is Native American Heritage Month, a time to remember not only our own heritage but the heritage . . . and history . . . of a nation. Many events are scheduled during the month, sponsored by the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian and others. For an historical overview, Wikipedia offers Native Americans in the United States, and for up to date information and resources visit the American Indian Heritage Foundation. Also, check the GenWeekly archive for articles of interest on Native American research.

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Thursday, June 5, 2008

Black Cherokee

The Black Cherokee is an Indian sect whose story is little known. The ancestry of this group is a mixture of African American and Cherokee Indian. In her article, "Black Cherokee," Melissa Slate provides the background of this group and suggests an avenue for further research.

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Saturday, November 24, 2007

Extensive account of Native American tribes reprinted

An article in the Tribune Star, "Genealogy: 'Indian Tribes of North America' quite an undertaking," notes this year’s reprinting by the Genealogical Publishing Co. of “Indian Tribes of North America” by John R. Swanson. This "extensive volume" originally published in 1952 by the Smithsonian Institution's Bureau of American Ethnology, the report says, encompasses every known tribe in North America from upper Canada, Greenland and Alaska, through the lower 48 states, and culminating in Mexico, Central America and the islands of the Caribbean. It focuses on the time period of 1650 in order to document the tribes that existed before being relocated by the encroaching Europeans. This book seeks to fill in the huge gap in our knowledge of Native American tribes before the period of removal to Indian Territory (what later became Oklahoma), when record keeping was established. This 726-page authoritative volume with its four, large fold-out maps is priced at $75 and can be ordered from the Genealogy Publishing Co.

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Saturday, November 10, 2007

Special research day at Family History Library, Nov 17

If you are in the Salt Lake area on November 17 and are struggling with research on American Indian ancestry, you will have an opportunity to learn from experts from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Family History Library, 35 N. West Temple, with free classes, according to an article in the Deseret Morning News. The topics include "Searching for Southwest Indians," "Records at the National Archives" and more. Also that day, the Family History Library is offering an all-day series of classes, 9:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., that can help you research your military ancestry. Additionally on Nov. 17, the Family History Library will sponsor free classes on the new FamilySearch Indexing program, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. For more information on any of the classes, go to

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Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Who are the Mohawk Dutch?

We often hear terms to describe a segment of the population, but may not know exactly what those terms represent; for example, Acadian, Cajun, Scots-Irish. In her article, "Mohawk Dutch," Judy Rosella Edwards introduces the Mohawk Dutch, explains where the name derives, reveals interesting details of their culture, and suggests where to look for additional information.

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Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Ancestry launches Native American census collection

In a press release today, announced the launch of its U.S. Indian Census Schedules, 1885-1940, containing more than 7.5 million names in U.S. Indian Censuses, the largest online collection of Native American family history records. Taken by the Bureau of Indian affairs, the censuses document some 150 years of Native American family history. These censuses create an intimate portrait of individuals living on all registered Indian reservations between 1885 and the 1940s.

The U.S. Indian Censuses are among the most important documents for tracing Native American family history -- as well as the place to for anyone with Native American ancestry to begin searching for their heritage. Representing more than 250 tribes from some 275 reservations, schools and hospitals across the United States, the censuses typically recorded names, including Indian names, ages, birthdates, tribe, reservation and more.

"The stories contained in these censuses will help Native Americans preserve their tradition-rich personal and cultural identity," says Megan Smolenyak, chief family historian for "Crossing tribal and reservation boundaries, these censuses tell personal stories of Native Americans living on reservations across the United States. In them we find influential Native Americans who led their people along side those whose stories are still waiting to be told."

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Saturday, January 27, 2007

Kiss me I'm Irish

A recent article entitled, "Ethnic Fraud?" reports on a new trend toward claiming and/or inventing Native American ancestry, spurred on by a increased interest in genealogy. The article cites a quote suggesting the sudden spike in citizens claiming tribal heritage is a symptom of "ethnic shopping." The term, it says, "refers to individuals who wish to change identities and simply don new ethnicities that are more personally comfortable or interesting."

The situation as reported in this article has serious implications, and without trivializing the issue, as St. Patrick's Day peeks around the corner, we are reminded that at one time the Irish were a highly reviled and persecuted group in America, but after the Civil War, the Irish culture was embraced and today Irish descent is claimed with pride and many, with great admiration, simply adopt Irish descent. There may be a similar romanticized view attached to our images of hailing from the Emerald Isle and the struggle of Irish immigrants and to our retrospective appreciation for the heroic struggle of Native Americans.

While imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, rather than inventing ancestry, why not investigate your own -- It may be more interesting than you think!


Sunday, January 7, 2007

Jewish War Veterans urge passing of Native American Veterans Cemetery Act

An article on the Jewish War Veterans web site, JWV Supports Native American Veterans Cemetery Act, highlights legislation that would authorize states to provide grants financed by the Department of Veterans Affairs for the development or improvement of veterans’ cemeteries on tribal land. The group is urging Congress to reconcile bills passed in the Senate and the House, in order to get the bill passed and signed by the President. "Until now tribal governments have not been eligible for grants from the VA that would allow for the development of veterans’ cemeteries on tribal land. The bill would rectify this situation."

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