Ask-the-Pros — Question & Answer — The Miller Roll Application: A Source for Cherokee & Southern Family History
By Billy D. Edgington
What is the Guion Miller Roll and How Valuable is it for Native American Research?
The Guion Miller Roll is one of the most important sources for Cherokee genealogical research. It was created as a result of a successful lawsuit by three separate groups of Cherokees who had not been paid all the money due them as a result of the Treaty of New Echota (1835). This treaty resulted directly in the “Trail of Tears” – the forced migration of the bulk of the Eastern Cherokee Nation from their homeland in the Southeastern United States to “Indian Territory,” in what is now Arkansas, Oklahoma and Kansas. These three groups represented the Cherokee Nation west, The Eastern Cherokee Band and a group of what were probably assimilated Cherokees from all over the US, Canada and Mexico, included military personnel stationed around the world.
Special Commissioner Guion Miller was appointed to oversee the applications and research necessary to prove or disprove the claims. Between 27 August, 1906, and 18 May 1909, 45,940 applications were completed. Each qualifying applicant received a warrant worth $133.18. In order to fulfill the major requirement for admission, which consisted of an ancestral connection to someone who had signed the 1835 treaty, extensive genealogical information was required. At least two generations of family information was included, one application was found that extended back nine generations. There were no geographic restrictions, as there had been in the Dawes Commission enrollment. Therefore, non-reservation Cherokees could apply.
These applications are a mother lode of family history, as each applicant listed, spouses, children, parents, brothers, sisters, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, and great-grandparents. Sometimes there are photographs, often there are handwritten letters and official affidavits and sworn testimony about the applications.
Since this roll was to establish a right to government money, many people with a family tradition of Cherokee ancestors filed claims. Creek citizens, Choctaws, Seminoles and other tribal members are among the applicants.
Former Cherokee slaves and their descendants also filed. The applications filed by former slaves have been extracted in “African Cherokee Connections” (Edgington: CD: Heritage Books, MD). Each family has been connected to other applications where possible, with transcriptions of letters and other documents.
Only about a third of the applicants were approved. Some because they did not have enough proof. Some wonder if they were Cherokee at all, but instead might have been interested only in the money. Many were rejected because they were Old Settler Cherokees who moved west before the Trail of Tears, or because they were part-blood Choctaw or Creek, or any other tribal group. Others were rejected because their ancestor left the tribe before 1835 or because they lived outside the “normal” Cherokee lands.
Approved, or rejected, the information in the claims is extensive and detailed. Those that were approved can many times be traced to the Dawes Roll, and other earlier records.
Many applicants who were rejected were definitely of Cherokee blood. Among those Cherokee living in Oklahoma, a little less than two-thirds of the applicants were “admitted.” Those whose ancestors
were classified as “Old Settler” were rejected. These “Old Settlers” were estimated by Emett Starr to constitute one third of the Cherokee Tribe about the turn of the twentieth century.
Those who applied after the “final” application date of 31 August 1907 were only admitted if they were filing for a minor child or could prove extenuating circumstances. Illegitimate children were rejected even when their legitimate brothers and sisters were admitted. Dual Indian citizens (Cherokee/Choctaw for example) were also rejected, even though dual Cherokee/white citizens were admitted. Cherokee/African citizens were rejected if any connections to a slave were indicated. Others were rejected because of inadequate proof of relationship to the tribe.
The only complete index to the applicants is “Vital Information from the Guion Miller Roll”. (Edgington & Buswell, on CD: Heritage Books, MD). Extracted from films of the original applications with maiden names. All children applied for by a guardian, birth year and birth places and residences for all applicants including modern county in U.S.
Surnames were taken from the signature page of each application and may be spelled several different ways, especially when dealing with “Indian” rather than “English” names.
Also from Heritage Books are nine volumes from Jerry Wright Jordan which gather the information on each single application – Applicant’s name, residence, decision and reason. Transcriptions of testimony and Exception Cases is included and roll information for those admitted. Where indicated Jordan has listed the Dawes Roll number. At this time the set of nine volumes includes applications from 1 to 27,800 – or slightly over half way through.
“Guion Miller Roll “Plus”” by Bob Blankenship (A Cherokee Roots Publication, Cherokee, NC) lists alphabetically those accepted by surname, then by roll number rather than given name. The “Plus” feature is the addition of the Dawes Roll number where applicable.
Once you have a name and roll number that seems to match your relative, you can get copies of the original application from NARA, through FamilySearch at the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, on loan to your local Family History Center, or any repository that has copies.
The application is where the genealogy is. Remember you are looking for people who were alive and applying during the years 1906-1909. Check for collateral lines – cousins, siblings, etc.
We don’t know how many Cherokees bothered to apply. It’s possible that your ancestors avoided the whole process. So, once more, look for other relations outside the direct line.
Many of the applications refer back to someone on the Drennen Roll of 1851, which was prepared to facilitate payments to the emigrant Cherokees. The best introduction is “Cherokee Drennen Roll of 1851,” transcribed and edited by Marybelle W. Chase.
Blankenship has also transcribed the Drennen and other rolls in a two volume set: “Cherokee Roots” (Cherokee Roots Publishing, Cherokee, NC).
Billy D. Edgington has a BA in History from University of California Irvine, after two years at San Jose State, and three years at Antioch College, Ohio. Billy has more than 40 year’s experience in historical and genealogical research. She is the co-author of Vital Information from the Guion Miller Roll and author of African-Cherokee Connections. Billy often teaches about the Miller Roll Application in great detail at the Expos. Her class focuses on detailed examination of one or more actual applications and the information they contain, don’t miss it if you have Native American research to work on. If you have further questions you can contact Billy directly at email@example.com.