Connecting Generations: Proving a Cherokee Connection

I was chatting with a couple of ladies who also work on lineage research for the DAR, sharing war stories. After a while we all agreed that every time we start a project it’s the same thing: free-floating anxiety and that feeling that we have probably forgotten everything we ever learned. We feel a lot of self-generated pressure to do a good job and find a clear line to that DAR Patriot Ancestor! We decided that if you aren’t feeling at least some level of anxiety about the work, at some point, you’re probably not doing it right! Maybe you’ve felt that way too?

My most recent high anxiety task was finding a clear line to Cherokee ancestors and a wonderful Patriot Ancestor and a Beloved Woman of her people (which means that she was allowed to sit in councils and to make decisions, along with the chiefs and other Beloved Women) and revered by many people, Nancy Ward or Nanyehi. After I found out a little about the amazing life of Nanyehi, I was very excited to begin, even though I’d never researched Native American lineage. This has got to be the ideal family historian challenge: things to learn and a line that leads to an historical figure who is a strong fascinating woman! Love it!

The applicant’s line was solid up to Jesse Bushyhead, son of Charles Bushyhead, and then it was solid from Charles’ wife, Pauline Starr up to Nancy Ward. We needed to work out proof that Jesse was the son of Charles and Pauline Starr. Problem was that there was a first wife, Ti-ya-ne, also known by her English name of Sally McCoy. We needed  to document Jesse’s mother.

While not critical to our goal of connecting Jesse Bushyhead to his mother, this came up. It’s included here because it’s typical of what we see when dealing with two men of the same name and because our applicant mentioned it right away. Jesse’s father Charles served in the Civil War but there were two Charles Bushyheads to be found in the records. The applicant knew about the two men but thought they were the same person and that her ancestor also went by another name, Charles Walker, and was also called Buck. Take a look.



Unbelievably, these two men served in the same unit! The thing that struck us right away is that Buck died in Kansas in 1877. We knew that our Charles Bushyhead lived in Saline District, Michigan and died in Pennsylvania in 1863, more than a decade earlier. That was the first tip-off that we might be looking at two men of the same or similar name and not simply one man with two different names in the records.

But look closer and see what the records are telling us. The first one says that the individual’s name is Charles Bushy-head, he’s a Sgt. and a minor applied for a pension 29 Aug 1881. There is no death date or place.

The second Veteran’s card records the man’s name as Buck Bushy-head who used an alias of Charles Walker. He died 28 June 1877 at Fort Scott, Kansas. A widow and minor applied for his pension, with dates given.

Because they are in the same company and one is a sergeant and the other a captain, we can surmise that they are most likely two different men. As a practicality, the records would want to indicate a difference and record it accordingly so as not to get them mixed up. If they had been in different companies or served at different times, the names might present a bigger problem.

Let’s back up and review which records sets might be consulted in this case. Because I’d not researched in Cherokee records before, my first stop was the FamilySearch Wiki which was very informative. It gives an overview and a timeline, along with sources on their FamilySearch web site and other sites too. By reading the History and Timeline section, a starting place was found.

There was the 1851 census of Cherokees who had survived the Trail of Tears called the Drennen Roll. Here’s what the FamilySearch Wiki on the Cherokee has to say about it in the time line.

1851: Drennen Roll, Is a roll of the Cherokee Emigrants who were forced to remove from the Cherokee Nation and the Old Settlers who moved voluntarily before the forced removal. 

After that, there was a Cherokee National Census in 1880 that might be helpful in finding ancestors. Then the time line showed that this happened:

  • 1887: General Allotment Act passed. This act required individual ownership of lands once held in common by the Cherokee people.
  • 1889: Unassigned lands in Indian Territory were opened to white settlers. (Oklahoma Land Rush)
  • 1893: Cherokee Outlet was opened for white settlers.
  • 1898: The Curtis Act dismantled tribal governments.
  • 1906: A final agreement was reached between the federal government and the Cherokee people. The Dawes Commission (all Five Civilized Tribes: Cherokee, Choctaw, Chickasaw, Cree and Seminole) created the enrollment records.

By looking at this time line, it can be seen that the Dawes Commission records would be our first stop.

Fold3 has a brief overview of available records too. You can click on the title in he left column and information pops up to the right. For Cherokee people, click on the two Dawes entries. The Native American records are free.

We’ll look at two different documents for our Bushyhead family members and that’s the Enrollment Cards and the Enrollment Packet. The card shows family members and their relationship to each other while the packet contains records from the enrollment interview and documentation. Both are family history gold. Now let’s look at the Bushyhead family records.


The above is the Dawes Enrollment card for Jesse Bushyhead and his immediate family and descendants. Take a moment and drink in all of the data point on this one document! If this was your ancestor, how happy would you be to see this? Now let’s see what the Dawes Enrollment Packet contains.



The above are just a couple of pages from Jesse Bushyhead’s file. The top image is only part of the transcription of the extensive interview and the image below is one page of a questionnaire. More genealogy gold!

Now for some specifics records from Jesse’s interview as regards his parents.



These documents show that Jesse’s father was Charles Bushyhead, also seen here as “Bird Bushyhead.” While Cherokee is the tribe name, Bird is the clan name. I knew this because I’d spent some time looking at “History of the Cherokee Indians and their legends and folk lore,” by Emmet Starr, Warden Company, 1922, and you can download it on Google Books.

Jesse’s mother was Deyanna in the top record and Ti-yane in the bottom record. Remembering that these were white men doing the interviewing who might not be as familiar with tribe and clan names, you can see the similarities. Say both aloud and it’s not too big a stretch to think that they are probably the same name. But if we’re looking for clarity from the enrollment card up top, we’ll not get it because Jesse’s mother is listed there as Da-aua. We can sort of hear the similarity when said out loud. Don’t you wish you could have been in the rooms to hear what Jesse actually said?

So, circling back, we can see that on more than one important occasion we have Jesse stating in official circumstances that his mother was Ti-ya-ne, who was also known and elsewhere recorded by her English name, Sally McCoy. No where does he mention Pauline Starr, Charles’ second wife.

Now this is sad to realize. Our applicant’s family had invested many years in believing that their line went to the most noble and Beloved Woman, Nancy Ward. But it was my responsibility to tell her about our findings. I called her on a particularly hot day as she and her husband were leaving for a cooling center. We chatted about the weather and then I got around to telling her that we could find no records that proved that Jesse’s mother was Pauline Starr. In fact, Jesse said in two sworn statements that his mother was, using her Indian name, Sally McCoy. Plus, Jesse was born before Sally died and before Pauline and Charles married. (Whole other post.) I added as I always do, that perhaps another researcher would be able to find other records.  “Let’s talk later,” she said so I suggested she call when she had time. And that was that. She never called.

I printed out the documents, marked them up and underlined the relevant parts in red. Included the source citations and wrote up an analysis too. The packet was mailed to her.

We continued to work on her tree and found another Patriot Ancestor for her. She was happy with that.

Take away:

  1. Fear no genealogy! So what if you’ve not worked on records like this before. Think of all that you’ll learn. Go bravely forward!
  2. The first place to go when working in a set of records new to you is to get an overview of what’s available. I start with FamilySearch Wiki. Enter the place name and go read up. Consider it a crash course.
  3. Be ready to go against the “common knowledge.” When you’re chugging along and you aren’t seeing what you should be seeing then it’s time to test the “common knowledge,” in this case, that he used the alias Charles Walker. Or whatever you’ve been told.
  4. When it’s time to deliver the bad news, just say it. Be gentle but don’t sound like you’re not sure. Tell them what you’re going to tell them, lay out the particulars, and then conclude by telling them what you just told then. It’s a tried and true method. Finish by offering an idea about what they could do next. I always suggest that one of the things they could do is consult another researcher who might be able to find other records, especially a local one. I’d love it if someone else could connect this woman’s lineage to the famed Nancy Ward. For that, I’d welcome being proven wrong.

The grave of Cherokee “Beloved Woman” Nancy Ward (right, with the plaque) and her son, Fivekiller (left), and her brother, Longfellow (middle) near Benton, Tennessee, in the Southeastern United States. This small cemetery is situated along US-411 on a small hill overlooking the Ocoee River. The plaque reads: IN MEMORY OF NANCY WARD PRINCESS AND PROPHETESS OF THE CHEROKEE NATION THE POCAHONTAS OF TENNESSEE THE CONSTANT FRIEND OF THE AMERICAN PIONEER BORN 1738 – DIED 1822 ERECTED BY THE NANCY WARD CHAPTER DAUGHTERS OF THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION 1923. (Wikipedia Commons.)


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