Sunday, June 30, 2013

Native American Ancestry

I am a bit surprised that I have not talked about this before now.  I might have some Native American (NA)blood in my veins so the topic is of interest to me.  So how do you go about learning more about your NA heritage?

You need to start with a little background information before you try and piece together your NA ancestors.  Here are some good resources.

If you are researching connections between African Americans and Native Americans then these resources will help you.

One thing I will warn you about, many families have the tradition that they are descendant from a “Cherokee princess” or similar such tale.  Please don’t get too excited when you hear something like this.  This is one of the most common myths passed down in families.  Here is a good article for you to read on "All Things Cherokee" and another one, "The Cherokee Princess Myth." 


So now I will tell you a little bit about my story. Silas Simmons (abt. 1794 - abt. 1856) supposedly married a Choctaw Indian named Janet. There is precious little information about her. The only information we have comes from the 1850 census where she is listed as Janet Simmons, age 55, born in South Carolina, living in the household of Silas Simmons, age 56.[1] She is assumed to be his wife. The biggest problem I have is that the Perry County, MS courthouse burned in 1877 and the Greene County courthouse burned in 1875.[2] These two courthouses would have been where any possible records would have been. A marriage record for Silas and Janet would have been nice but… So what do I have besides family tradition? In Houston Simmons’ family Bible there is an entry for “Silas Simmons married Indian girl” and on another page the notation “Indian (Choctaw)” is written.[3] Apparently the belief that Janet was an Indian was considered common knowledge to Silas and Janet’s descendants. In 1951, three of Silas and Janet’s descendants wrote letters to the Mississippi Band of Choctaws to prove their lineage to Janet in order to benefit from the 1830 Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek. In the 1947, the Choctaw Nation sued the state of Mississippi saying they had been cheated out of their land and they wanted compensation.[4] Stuart Simmons (2nd great-grandson), Hazel Pearl (Entrekin) Hart (2nd great-granddaughter) and Lydia Mae (Graham) Blackburn (great-granddaughter), wrote letters to the Choctaw Nation in hopes of proving their lineage to Janet so that they would benefit from the monies dispersed in the settlement.[5]

What is interesting about these letters is that they are written as though it was a known fact that Janet was a Choctaw Indian and that they only needed to prove their lineage to her. Unfortunately for those involved, the Choctaw Nation lost their lawsuit against the United States government and no monies were paid out.[6] Several attempts have been made to contact the Mississippi Band of Choctaws in search of possible records relating to this claim and to Janet Simmons specifically. All requests for information have been denied.

I have one more bit of totally unsubstantiated information. Elizabeth (Simmons) Grimes (3rd great-granddaughter) states that Demaris (Simmons) Dearman (granddaughter) and her son George Dearman were receiving a monthly government check because of their relation to Janet. This is per Demaris' grandson (unknown which one) “who used to go to the bank in Hattiesburg with his Uncle George to deposit his grandmother's and uncle's checks.” Demaris died in 1968 and George died in 1997.[7]

That should give you some idea of just how fun this is.  To make matters even worse, family tradition and these letters also state that Janet’s surname was Freeman, McCarter or McCardle and she was adopted by a family named Brown. There were Freemans, McCarters, McCardles and Browns in Perry County during this time period (of course there were!), and don’t forget that the census states she was born in South Carolina which even complicates matters further. And this is only ONE of the supposed Indian ancestors. I have several.


[1] 1850 U.S. census, Perry County, Mississippi, population schedule, p. 384 [stamped], dwelling 185, family 185, Silas Simmons household; digital images, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 10 Feb 2009); citing National Archives and Records Administration microfilm M432, roll 379.

[2] Martha F. Clark, Circuit Court Clerk, Perry County, Mississippi [E-MAIL FOR PRIVATE USE,] to Michele Simmons Lewis, e-mail,10 January 2012, “Courthouse Records,” E-Mail Folder, Lewis Research Files; privately held by Lewis, [(E-ADDRESS), & STREET ADDRESS FOR PRIVATE USE, Harlem, Georgia, 2012; Cecelia Bounds, Circuit Court Clerk, Greene County, Mississippi [E-MAIL FOR PRIVATE USE,] to Michele Simmons Lewis, e-mail,10 January 2012, “Courthouse Records,” E-Mail Folder, Lewis Research Files; privately held by Lewis, [(E-ADDRESS), & STREET ADDRESS FOR PRIVATE USE,] Harlem, Georgia, 2012.

[3] William Houston Simmons Family Bible Records, 1815[?]-1976, Holy Bible (Chicago: The John A. Hertel Co., 1951), “Important Events in Our Family’s History”; privately held by Michele Simmons Lewis, [ADDRESS FOR PRIVATE USE,] Harlem, Georgia, 1978. All entries in the Bible were made by Houston Simmons. The earlier entries were based on information that was told to him by his father, James Elexander Simmons who was Silas Simmons’ grandson.

[4] “Choctaws Claim U.S. Did Not Abide By Its Treaties, Ask Millions,” clipping, Jackson Daily News, 06 August 1947, privately held by Michele (Simmons) Lewis [ADDRESS FOR PRIVATE USE,] Harlem, Georgia, 1995.  Clipping part of a collection of papers obtained from Marie (Knight) Simmons. Her husband, Stuart Simmons, great-grandson of Silas and Janet Simmons, was pursuing the Indian claim. After his death, Ms. Simmons turned over all of her husband’s papers.

[5] Stuart S. Simmons to “The Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians” letter, 27 March 1951; privately held by Michele (Simmons) Lewis [ADDRESS FOR PRIVATE USE,] Harlem, Georgia, 1995. This is a draft. Stuart’s wife Marie copied it in her better penmanship to be mailed. After Stuart’s death, Ms. Simmons turned over all of her husband’s papers; Pearl Hart to “The Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians” letter, April 1951; privately held by Elizabeth (Simmons) Grimes [ADDRESS FOR PRIVATE USE,] Jonesboro, Georgia, 1995. Ms. Grimes has a draft of the letter that was sent; Lydia Blackburn to “The Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians” letter, April 1951; privately held by Elizabeth (Simmons) Grimes [ADDRESS FOR PRIVATE USE,] Jonesboro, Georgia, 1995. Ms. Grimes has a draft of the letter that was sent.

[6] “U.S. Rehearing in Big Choctaw Claim is Denied,” clipping, Jackson Daily News, 27 January 1955, privately held by Michele (Simmons) Lewis [ADDRESS FOR PRIVATE USE,] Harlem, Georgia, 1995.

[7] Simmons Family Cemetery (Forrest County, Mississippi; On AB Simmons Road, off of Rock Hill to Brooklyn Road), Demarious Dearman and George Y. Dearman markers, personally read, 1999.


Copyright © 2013 Michele Simmons Lewis

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