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On the Genealogical Choctaw Trail

Choctaw Museum of the Southern Indian
Beauregard Favre

Okla (The People) : The Choctaws were one of the largest and most advanced tribes in all of North America. Yet, with all of their knowledge they left few if any written records. The first written treaty between the United States and the Choctaw Indians was January 3, 1786. Nine more treaties were agreed upon, the final being the infamous Dancing Rabbit Creek Treaty signed September 15, 1830. There were additional treaties made with the Choctaws who had removed to Indian Territory. Those who remained became the target of unscrupulous land speculators as the Federal Government made repeated efforts to remove them.

The Search: To construct a record or table of the descents of a family group is a very time consuming and tedious task. Extreme care must be taken to validate each and every entry.

A short or brief history of the tribe is essential to establish and maintain a valid document. There is no better place to start a family tree than with the writer himself, first entering your name, birthdate, and place of birth. This same entry may include your marriage date, wife's maiden name and place of marriage. Next enter your children and any other pertinent information. A similar entry should be made for all brothers and sisters. While working in this segment of the family you may find it convenient to include all aunts and uncles. Be sure to use the same format for all family members. It is advisable to enter death date and place of burial. Some people include cause of death in their history. Working back in time next enter your father's and mother's history. Continue back as far as possible. Many times you may find parents name and address listed in the application for marriage licenses. This will serve as an area for further investigation. Visit the neighbors and ask questions of the older residents. Make a note of all information given. Be sure to check for accuracy! Sometimes people are over zealous to help, and their information can be more than a little off mark.

Some of the most reliable sources of information are courthouses, archives, churches, and cemeteries. Courthouses contain many documents, including deeds, (these documents list both husbands and wives), marriages, (including date of marriage, name of person performing the rite place of marriage, parents of both bride and groom, their home at time of marriage, and in some cases occupation of the applicants). Wills are another good source of data. Court cases are very time consuming as each page must be carefully read for time, date, place, name of plaintiff, defendant, jury panel, witnesses, etc. Wills are also a source to validate entries.

There are many other sources of information that can be used in conjunction with the above records. Old Catholic church records date back to the Spanish regimen before the French and English occupied the area. The Cathedral of the Immaculate Cathedral, New Orleans, Louisiana contains records dating from 1718 to present. The entries in these resisters are hand written by the priest who administered the such acts as baptism, marriage, burial, etc. The original records are stored at Brokley Air Force Base, Mobile, Alabama. Copies of deeds, wills, marriage and other records are available at the Mobile Courthouse. Church records are available at the appropriate churches. A copy of records of the Catholic church in Mississippi can be obtained by contacting, Archivist of the Diocese of Natchez and Jackson, P.O. Box 2248, Jackson, Mississippi 39205. The State Archives of Mississippi contains records of Civil War Veterans, widows who applied for pensions after the Civil War, and Indian rolls up to and including 1939. The American State Papers are available on microfilm of newspapers, some from towns that no longer exist (ex. Gainsville, Napoleon, Gastonia, and Logtown). When using data from newspapers, be sure to validate every work. Newspapers sell ads not true information.

The United States National Archives at Suitland, Maryland, is a true treasure of early United States history. Record Group Number 123, records of the U.S. Court of Claims general jurisdiction case files 1855-1939 #12742, proved to be a very fruitful record group along with M.C.R.'s from the Dawes Commission. Without these documents I would think it impossible to put together some family histories of early Americans. Do not be mislead by the dates of the files 1855-1939. For example: Yearby also spelled Ye-ah-bee is appearing on behalf of his mother Ho-to-ney, alias Ho-tun-nee before Commissioners Gaines & Rush, 26 September 1844. These same court records give the approximate age and height of those people appearing before the court. Names of the wife and children are also given. Neighbors are often named by the witness. Colleges and University libraries contain many books of Native American history. This information is usually found in the early history of the state. Tillmans Law Library at Tulane University is an excellent source of Native American history, also the American State Papers-Indian Lands can be found here.

The Alabama State Archives located at Montgomery, Alabama is another great choice for researchers of Native American history and genealogy. This archive contains the Henry Halbert papers. Henry Halbert was an educator among the Choctaw. He wrote many articles about the Choctaw customs, faith, work ethics, and farming techniques. Mr. Halbert took a census of many Choctaw villages listing the inhabitants by their religious preference; namely Catholic, Baptist, and Presbyterian. He included some genealogy in his work.

Some state offices, such as vital statistics will only issue information to the person named in the document. County and city governments usually do not send requested data due to work load and shortage of personnel. It is best to seek out a qualified person in the local area where you are seeking the information and request their help. I have never met a certified genealogist nor do I know how to become certified.

The churches I have dealt with are very reliable and responsive to all inquiries. The fee charged for research varies from church to church. Native Americans had or used only one name until 1850 after which time they were required to use a family name.

Until 1900 Native Americans were reported on a separate census. See the 1900 United States Census for special information on the Choctaws. The early records of St. Louis Cathedral documented more than 200 assumptions of new names. Most were soldiers who assumed a new identity. Other name spellings were caused by erratic use of accent marks. Some could not spell their names giving rise to the spelling errors in names. The registers of Natchez and Yazoo churches were destroyed by the Indians in the 1729 struggle against the French. The Choctaw Museum of the Southern Indian has photocopies of some documents which visitors may peruse. However, the staff does not include research genealogical help.