The Cherokee Conundrum

The other day, I read an article on Slate: Why Do So Many Americans Think They Have Cherokee Ancestry?

It caught my attention, due to an old bit of family folklore: long ago, my mother told me that my brother & I were “1/32 Cherokee”. She didn’t say from which of our thirty-two great-great-great-grandparents we received this curious heritage. Perhaps she didn’t know, and was just passing on something her mother had said.

Well, that’s interesting, thought I, but really it didn’t mean all that much to me. It didn’t change what I thought of myself; I took no particular pride or shame in it. Being 1/32 anything is just too diluted to matter.

When I started doing genealogy, I kept an eye out for this elusive, alleged Cherokee ancestor; but in fifteen years of research I have yet to find him. I have mapped out my mother’s side of the family tree, going back at least five generations (further, on some lines), and it’s Northern Europeans all the way down.

The gist of the Slate article is that far more people think they have Cherokee ancestry than actually do. Apparently, I’m one of them.

(I don’t know nearly as much about my father’s ancestors. Perhaps the rumored Cherokee is lurking in there, somewhere. But somehow I doubt it.)