Saturday, August 4, 2018

Back to Basics: Categories of Choctaw Freedmen Enrollment

I realize after numerous online posts as well as email queries, that the basic records used to document the history of Choctaw Freedmen should be reviewed. Many find themselves looking at the records but are not quite sure of the real meaning of the cards and what the records reveal. As a result, a review of the basics is shared here.

Many times people will say that their family was "recognized" because they found an ancestor on the Dawes Rolls. However, upon closer examination one might find that the family 1) Never lived in Indian Territory, 2) Had no ties to the Choctaw Nation, 3) Applied and were Denied. 4) Applied as Mississippi Choctaws and were not accepted at all.

As a researcher, I have also found that many who are just beginning their genealogical journey often misread the records from Indian Territory that they have found. I have also seen cases where some have found a record among Mississippi Choctaws among the MCR files and believe that they have "proven" that their family was recognized as Choctaws, unaware that they are looking at rejected files. In other cases, there are cases where people from Georgia, Tennessee, the Carolinas, Alabama and other states will search the Dawes Roll, find a name that matches a name in their family and then proclaim that they have ties to the Choctaw Nation.

The genealogical research process for Choctaw Freedmen ancestry, is a complicated one, therefore in order to make the process easier for researchers, I am outlining some basics.

Purpose of the Dawes Records: The purpose was to determine eligibility for land allotments. 
Eligibility as Choctaw Freedmen, meant that ones name would be placed on a roll of people who proved that they had ties to the nation for many decades. For Choctaw Freedmen, their enrollment depended upon the proof of having been, or a having a parent who had once been enslaved by a Choctaw Indian.

Were there Freedmen who were also part Choctaw? Yes there were Freedmen who also had Choctaw blood. Many did. But the policy enacted during the enrollment process was to make anyone who had a parent or grandparent who was enslaved, to be put on the Freedmen Roll. This policy was put in place even when an applicant had a Choctaw father. Was it fair? No. This was especially unfair, when if one's name was placed on the Freedmen roll, individuals received only 40 acres of land. If placed on the blood roll one receive 4 times the amount of land.

Nevertheless, in spite of the racially biased policy this practice has affected where the records are today and where they can be found among the many databases and collections.

Documents Among Dawes Records:
Standard records---reflecting the files of all who were admitted.
Doubtful Records---reflecting files of those for whom their application was doubted by officials
Rejected Records---reflecting the files of applicants whose cases were eventually denied.

Additional Categories:
Choctaw Freedmen Denied
Choctaw Freedmen Minor
Choctaw Freedman New Born
Choctaw Freedmen Rejected

Enrollment Card of Sam & Sallie Walton, Choctaw Freedmen
NARA Pubication M1186 Choctaw Freedman Card #777

Basic Standard Records
1) Enrollment Cards
2) Application Jackets
3) Land Allotment Records
4) Final Rolls

Additional Choctaw Freedmen Records:
1) Choctaw Freedmen 1896 Roll
2) Choctaw-Chickasaw Freedman Roll of 1885
3) 1867 Choctaw Census

Supplemental Resources 
1) Civil War Pension Files - US Colored Troops
2) US Serial Set - Congressional Records
3) Univ. of Oklahoma - Indian Pioneer Papers
4) Choctaw Colored Neighborhood Schools
5) Private Boarding Schools (Oak Hill Academy, Tushka Lusa)

Advice for Choctaw Freedmen Research:

1) Separate Genealogy from Quest for Enrollment
Many begin researching ancestors believed to be Choctaw, with the intention of enrolling in the nation and nothing more. This is not a good idea for many reasons. First the Freedmen have a wonderfully rich history of resistance, and resilience, and their story is still untold. Secondly, until there is a change in policy--descendants of Freedmen are not admitted to the Choctaw Nation, therefore much energy and emotion will be spent on a process that will end in rejection. The policy is to only admit those whose names are found on the rolls "by blood". The question is asked, whether Freedmen have Choctaw blood. Yes, many Choctaw Freedmen descendants have an ancestor on the blood roll, but the policy of discrimination towards Freedmen when the mother was once enslaved, prevails, "marking" descendants of Freedmen with a policy of exclusion that remains to this day unchallenged.

However---that does not mean that it cannot be addressed. But rejection does not require one to toss the research aside to never revisit. It is imperative that researchers study the lives of the Freedmen who lived in the Choctaw community, spoke the language, practiced the customs, ate the same food as those in the nation where they were once enslaved. The stories of how they lived and survived are found especially in those supplemental resources mentioned above.

There is still need for the stories of those who remained. there is the need to speak, to tell their stories, and to share their history and culture with the world. The story of Choctaw Freedmen, is one of the more overlooked stories of adaptation of African people immersed into a Native American Nation, and who until Oklahoma statehood in 1907, were a unique people thriving on the western frontier. To neglect their stories is an act of rejection being hurled again at those once enslaved, who courageously forged a life and rich history for themselves.

Unfortunately,  in many cases--rejection from enrollment often is so hurtful that many lose interest in their history and never study the records for the rich historical and genealogical data to be found. Tribal enrollment should not be the only reason to study the records of Choctaw Freedmen. Their history is extremely rich and one that has been sorely overlooked by many scholars.

2) Rely on standard genealogy methods in addition to Dawes Records
Although there was no Federal Census between 1866 (the year of the Treaty) and 1900, it is still important that individuals document the family in other critical records.
Census records, vital records (after statehood), land records, court records, military records are all records that will assist the researcher in framing the family narrative. They should not be overlooked.

3) Include Society and Institutional Records in the Research
 Numerous benevolent societies and fraternal organizations prevailed in Indian Territory from the 1870s onward. A good number of Freedmen were active in these societies. The Free and Associated Masons are among the well known but research has also noted that groups such as The Mosaic Templars of America, Knights and Twelve Daughters of Tabor, and many others were active in Indian Territory. Proceedings from some of these annual meetings often reveal aspects of the social lives and activities. Some of the early 20th century newspapers also reflect these groups that formed in the new state of Oklahoma.

It is hoped that many will make a commitment to studying the history of Choctaw as well as Chickasaw Freedmen. The stories deserve to be told, and it is hoped that there will be a commitment to call the names of the Freedmen, and to put their names back on the historical landscape where they belong.


  1. This should be a continuing class on Indian Territory research. It is necessary even after all of these years to remind people we have a history and it needs to be told "correctly!"

    1. Yes!!! I'm pretty deep into this research and this article is hopeful and encouraging. Running into road blocks, but thanks to you Terry, my family and I were able to see documents of my great-great-great grandmother, Julia Jackson, being denied the right of being Choctaw by blood. Been on a quest to find out who her father and grandfather is. If you find anything, please don't hesitate to email me!