Tag Archives: genealogy research

Tracing my Cherokee Roots – Getting Started

My Cherokee roots pass down from my grandmother, Eliza Jane Crittenden West. My grandmother did not share her family history or her childhood with us. As I research her life and the history of the times, I have a better understanding of why she found it hard to discuss.

I decided in the 1990s, many years after my grandmother had passed away, that I would trace my grandmother’s roots and the story of her and her family.

While visiting Cherokee, North Carolina during that period I purchased a book, “Cherokee Roots, Volume 2: Western Cherokee Rolls” by Bob Blankenship, that listed my grandmother’s Dawes number and a Dawes number for my mother’s eldest brother James West.

This was before the days of digital files on the internet. I wrote to a few places trying to find more information about my grandmother and the Dawes Rolls and did not receive any responses.

In 2009 I made a promise to myself that I would finally commit to doing the research needed to learn more about my grandmother and her family. Although there was not as much information online as there is now, there were many more resources available than in the 1990s.

My first search for information led me to the web site for the Museum of the Cherokee Indian in Cherokee, North Carolina, where I had found my one piece of information many years before. Based on recommendations in their genealogy section I purchased a book from their online book store, “History of the Cherokee Indians” by Emmet Starr.

Emmet Starr’s book has a section titled, Old Families and Their Genealogy. In that section I found many Crittendens listed as descendants of the Downing family. Once I determined that my great grandfather was Moses Crittenden, this genealogy section allowed me to trace his lineage back to Major Downing.

Eliza Jane Crittenden

Eliza Jane Crittenden

I then started looking for more information on Moses Crittenden in my original book, “Cherokee Roots, Volume 2: Western Cherokee Rolls”. In addition to listing the names on the Dawes Rolls, the book includes the 1851 Old Settler Roll, 1852 Drennen Roll and the 1909 Guion Miller West Roll.

I found my great grandfather and his family listed in the 1851 Old Settler Roll. This gave me the first bit of information about my family’s migration from North Carolina. This roll lists the names of Cherokees who were already residing in Oklahoma when the main body of the Cherokees arrived in the winter of 1839 as a result of the 1835 Treaty of New Echota. So now I knew that my Crittenden ancestors migrated some time before 1839.

These pieces of information were the first roots for building my Ancestry family tree.

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Find a Grave Discovery

Find a Grave has provided me with information, photos and leads for every branch of my family tree. The Find a Grave website was created by Jim Tipton in 1995 because he could not find an existing site focused on his hobby of visiting the graves of famous people. Jim soon found a whole community of people who shared his passion. The site is largely filled with information and photos from volunteers. Every day, contributors from around the world enter new records. It has grown from a site to find out where famous people are buried to an invaluable tool for family history research.

While I have found many facts and dates on Find a Grave, the most emotional find for me was a listing for my Aunt Trixy. Aunt Trixy is my mother’s sibling. She was born and died in New Mexico many years before my mother was born. As a child I was always aware of this aunt whom I had never met.  I knew that she died very young and that my other aunts and uncles had memories of her. My mother’s family moved to Roswell, New Mexico in the early 1900s and then back to Oklahoma before my mother was born in 1920.

The 1910 census in New Mexico lists Trixy’s name as Della B and shows her age as three years old. Based on that I guessed her birth year to be 1907 . My mother thought she had died at about two years of age. So I thought she must have died shortly after this census. I looked for a listing on Find a Grave hoping to be able to fill in some details about dates of birth and death and her full name. Nothing came up in my search.

Aunt Trixy

Aunt Trixy

I am fortunate to have photos of each of mother’s siblings when they were young. One day, about a year after first searching for Trixie (how I thought her name was spelled at the time) on Find a Grave, I was scanning and entering a photo for each of my mother’s siblings on my Ancestry family tree. When I added Trixy’s photo a hint came up for Find a Grave. A memorial had been added for her nine months earlier that had not been there when I conducted my initial search. The listing had her full name which I had never known, Della Beatrix West. There were no photos with the listing. There was a year of death but no birth date listed. It appeared that the person adding this info had added it based on cemetery records and not headstone photos.

This brings me to how Find a Grave is administered. Hundreds of volunteers worldwide access cemetery records where they live and add information to the Find a Grave site. Some volunteers take a photo of each headstone and the entrance to the cemetery and add those photos and any information that can be found on the headstone. Anyone accessing the site can put in a request for a volunteer to go to a cemetery, take a photo of a headstone for a particular listing and add it to the listing.

Della Beatrix West Headstone

Della Beatrix West Headstone

People who use Find a Grave for research sign up as volunteers for the area in which they live and when a request is made they get an email asking if they can fulfill that request. I put in a request for a volunteer to take a photo of Trixy’s headstone for me. It was a very emotional moment for me to when I awakened the next morning to an email saying to check Trixy’s listing for an update. I found that a photo of her headstone had been added and a photo of the cemetery. The headstone showed her birth and death dates. The headstone was a loving tribute from her parents, sweetly inscribed and with a lamb resting at the bottom.

I could not help but think what it must have been like for my grandmother to leave New Mexico and her daughter’s grave behind when they moved back to Oklahoma. I also thought about that grave sitting there for all of those years, with no one ever visiting.

I uploaded the one photo of Trixy that I had to her Find a Grave memorial. Now anyone browsing her listing will see her adorable face. The memorials on Find a Grave have banner ads on the page. You can permanently remove the banner ads from an individual listing for a onetime fee of $5.00. I did that for Trixy’s page.  I hope one day to go to New Mexico to research more about my grandmother’s time there in the early years of her marriage. I now have a place to go and remember Trixy for my grandmother and all of her siblings who were not able to go to her gravesite after they moved in about 1915.

Since making this find I have signed up to be a volunteer for Find a Grave and have been able to fulfill two requests for photos from my local cemetery. I know from my personal experience how much it means to the person making the request.

The most important lesson in this story is to never give up on a lead. New material is being added to the internet every day. I had searched for Trixy in Find a Grave before and found nothing. Months later a volunteer had entered enough information for me to be able to discover the missing details about Trixy’s short life.

In a future article I will talk about how to use Find a Grave in your family research and how to make use of the information that you find there.

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Census Data Once Again Provides Answers

Today was one of those genealogy days where I ended up going down a trail that was not my original destination.  I was on Ancestry.com and got an alert that there was a military record associated with one of the people in my tree.  It was my great grandmother’s first husband, Pleasant Frank Johnson.

I was a few years into my research before I realized that my great grandmother, Sarah Johnson West, had a first husband.  I had information verifying that Sarah Johnson had married my great grandfather Benjamin Franklin West in 1865, at age 22, and they had four children together one of which was my maternal grandfather.

In spite of much searching I could never find any parents for my great grandmother Sarah.  There were several Sarah Johnsons to be found in the census records from the 1800s.  However, something always proved them not to be my Sarah Johnson.  Then one day I saw a record of a Sarah Ferguson marrying a Pleasant Frank Johnson at age 13 in 1856.  He died in 1862.  Looking over census records I found that living in the house with my great grandparents were the children Catherine Johnson and Frank Johnson.  These were the children from my great grandmother’s first marriage and at last I knew I was tracking the correct Sarah Johnson.  It was then easy to find her parents, who were Horatio Ferguson and Sarah Barton.

All of which brings me back to today and finding a military record for Pleasant Frank Johnson.  It got me thinking about not having parents listed for him in my tree. I hadn’t pursued looking for them as he was my great grandmother’s first husband and not related by blood.  However, as long as I was entering info for him I decided to look again.  The military record showed that he was born in Alabama and I went to http://www.familysearch.org to see if I could find census data for his earlier years before he married Sarah.  It is always worth rechecking previous research as new records are being added regularly.  Sure enough I located an 1840 census showing his mother and children on the same census page as Horatio Ferguson and his family.

The 1850 census has Pleasant Frank Johnson (16), his mother Hannah and his brother James (18) living in the same neighborhood as eight year old Sarah Ferguson and her family.  In 1860 Sarah and Frank Johnson are married and living next door to his mother Hannah Johnson and a few houses down from Sarah’s father, Horatio Ferguson, and his family.

I love it when finally all of the data you have triangulates and you are positive beyond doubt that you have connected the right people!  So many people with the same names, so much data, so many doubts as to whether you have made the right connections.  Having it all come together is always rewarding.

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Family Mystery Solved – What Happened to Uncle Frank? Coming August 5, 2014

Meanwhile read About Me to learn more about this blog and blogger.

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August 9, 2013 · 12:14 pm