Researching African American Families
Among the Mississippi Choctaws
(See Case Study Below)
Though seldom mentioned, the records of the Mississippi Choctaw are very valuable in that they provide rich genealogical data for many researchers, of multiple backgrounds. Thousands of families applied for enrollment as Mississippi Choctaws. Most were rejected, and they come from white, black as well as Indian families. They also resided in the east and the west. In order to successfully understand the records of the Mississippi Choctaws, and to successfully find blended families among them, one has to understand the components of the Dawes Records.
Many Choctaws as well as Chickasaws emigrated to Indian Territory in the 1830s, but many also remained in Mississippi. The Curtis Act required the Dawes Commission to created rolls of Choctaws both in Indian Territory as well as one for the Mississippi Choctaws. This was a challenge because prior to that time there had not been a record made in Mississippi of the Choctaws. So prior to 1898, it should be understood that the regular Federal Census records will be needed to follow a family back in time.
When the Dawes Commission began to interview Choctaws in Indian Territory they had a special challenge, because the entire community of Choctaw people were not confined to the Territory–there were many who were still in Mississippi. The Treaty of Dancing Rabbit made provisions for removal to the west, however, Article 14 of the same treaty offered those remaining in the Territory 160 acres of land and US citizenship. As a result, hearings began some 70 years after the signing of the treaty–-in 1899 to interview and identify those remaining in Mississippi, and living among the Choctaw people as Choctaws
The interviews began in Hattiesburg, Mississippi with the charge to “identify” Choctaws who met the requirements and who could go to Indian Territory and obtain land Allotments there. (1)* The process of “identification” relied heavily on the observance of the Dawes inquirers, who made many generalizations base on appearance. (2)* Basically, if the person “looked” Choctaw or spoke the language he or she was listed. (3) * People applied for listing as Choctaw, by the thousands. The response from people identified as blacks came from several thousand applicants as well.
The records of the Mississippi Choctaws themselves have the same classification as the records of other tribes in Indian Territory. There are the Enrollment Cards, the Application Jackets and the Final Rolls. The interviews are intriguing to read, and are of tremendous genealogical value. A majority of those applicants from black families, were rejected, but the genealogical value of these records cannot be overlooked.
What makes these records particularly unique is that family trees were drawn up for many of the families making applications, and they are often multi-generational charts. These are often found in the application jackets alongside lenghthy interviews.
Though the applicants were not “approved”, the value today of the genealogy of those families is outstanding.
The records are located in the same record group of the Five Tribes and have the same National Archives Publication Number. There are literally hundreds of black applications among the Mississippi Choctaws, many of whom were truly mixed with Choctaw ancestry. Their applications were rejected, but this political rejection should not prevent the tenacious genealogist from exploring this valuable record set.
*(1) Carter, Kent, “The Dawes Commission and the Allotment of the Five Civilized Tribes”. Orem Utah, 1999