Evaluating a Family Tradition

As I wrote about yesterday, the first assignment in Lesson Two of the NGS Home Study Course is to record and evaluate a family tradition.

My family story is that of the ubiquitous “Cherokee princess.”  My paternal grandmother has always told the story that her grandmother was a Cherokee descendant.  The family lived in northwest Georgia, in the area that was cleared of Indians via the Trail of Tears.  My grandmother’s grandmother, Mary Elizabeth (Patterson) and her husband, William Whitener, moved from North Georgia to Oklahoma in the early 1900’s.  Family legend says that they moved to be near Mary’s people, who lived in “Indian Territory.”  Mary died in Oklahoma and soon after, William moved back to Georgia.  The story was given additional credence by the fact that Mary’s daughter, Maud, my grandmother’s mother, had “Native American” features and skin tone.  Furthermore, according to my grandmother, our Cherokee ancestor is supposed to be only a few generations back, such that I am at least 1/8 Cherokee.


I have never believed the statement that I am 1/8 Cherokee; in order for that to be true my great-grandmother, Maud, would have had to be full-blooded Cherokee and the family legend never included such a claim.  I think that Mary likely had relatives in Oklahoma, for why else would she and William have moved there?  Whether those relatives were Native American remains to be seen.

My first step in researching this tradition was to determine if Mary did, in fact, die in Oklahoma.  Research on Find-a-Grave yielded an entry for “Mary Patterson Whitener” in Ward’s Grove Cemetery in Foyil, Oklahoma, which is outside Tulsa.  A request for a tombstone photo was fulfilled by a volunteer.

I then requested Mary’s death certificate from Oklahoma Vital Records.  The birth and death dates on the death certificate matched those on the tombstone and confirmed that her husband was William Whitener and that both were born in Georgia.

I also looked at census data to determine when Mary and William moved from Georgia to Oklahoma, and if William had, in fact, returned to Georgia after Mary’s death.  They are found in Murray County, Georgia in 1900, then in Rogers County, Oklahoma in both 1910 and 1920.  Mary died in 1920 and William was back in Murray County, Georgia in 1930.

Research in collateral lines yielded an Eastern Cherokee application filed by Mary’s brother, William H. Patterson.  The application was denied; however, this does indicate that the legend of a Cherokee ancestor goes back to at least Mary’s generation.  According to William’s application, his Native American ancestor was his great-great-grandmother, whose maiden name was Tucker and whose given name was unknown.

Future Research:

  1. Look for more Eastern Cherokee Applications that may have been filed by Mary’s collateral lines.
  2. Analyze Mary and William’s neighbors on the 1910 and 1920 censuses (when they lived in Oklahoma) to look for potential relatives.
  3. Review the Indian population schedules of the 1900 and 1910 federal censuses for surnames found in Mary’s ancestry (particularly Tucker).
  4. Search for Mary’s ancestral surnames and census neighbors in the various Native American rolls; i.e. Dawes Roll, Guion Miller Roll, etc.

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    • Tonia Kendrick says

      Mavis, I suspect DNA will be the only way to solve this to my satisfaction. I haven’t done autosomal tests yet, though.


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