Whatever may be their origins in antiquity, the Cherokees are generally thought to be a Southeastern tribe, with roots in Georgia, North Carolina, and Tennesee, among other states, though many Cherokees are identified today with Oklahoma, to which they had been forceably removed by treaty in the 1830s, or with the lands of the Eastern Band of Cherokees in western North Carolina. The largest of the so-called Five Civilized Tribes, which also included Choctaws, Chickasaws, Creeks, and Seminoles, the Cherokees were the first tribe to have a written language, and by 1820 they had even adopted a form of government resembling that of the United States.
It is a lesser known fact that there was considerably more intermarriage between Cherokees and Whites than any other tribe, so they have a genealogical significance far out of proportion to their historical numbers. There is also a great deal of genealogical data on the Cherokees, mostly in the form of census records and enrollment records. All of which is to point out the abundance of sources available to Emmet Starr when he came to pen his classic History of the Cherokee Indians and Their Legends and Folklore.
Not to diminish Mr. Starr’s contribution in writing about the early Cherokees, their constitution, treaties with the federal government, land transactions, school system, migration and resettlement, committees, councils, and officials, religion, language, and culture, and a host of other topics upon which he writes eloquently, but his stated purpose in writing the History was “to make it as near a personal history and biography of as many Cherokees as possible.” And in fact more than half the book is devoted to genealogies and biographies, of which there are several hundred. The biographies in particular, each averaging a paragraph or more, are noteworthy for their focus on the genealogical events of birth, marriage, and death over a period of several generations, naming thousands of related individuals in a classic roll-call of family members.
Although written in 1921, Starr’s pioneering work has never been superseded, and we are delighted to make it available to a new generation of researchers.