Genealogy websites are swarming with people whose oral history describes the Native Americans in their family tree. When the government relocated the Indians, families were scrambling to both hold on to their land and hide that they were part Indian. Imagine, standing in the shadows of the trees that graced your land and looking at the color of the skin on the back of your hand wondering, “Will they take us away?”
If our vulnerable ancestors were clever (and lucky) they blended in with European settlers who were so busy surviving, they didn’t have time to pry. Or were kind and kept their mouths shut.
Picture the ancestors throwing documents into the fire, or beloved keepsakes, anything that would expose them as Indian. Fast forward to today. We would give anything to see a document that proves that our ancestors were Indian as the family oral history professes. But there comes a time when we must accept that those documents may never be found, because they do not exist. Maybe they never did.
Some families are fortunate to have photos of their ancestors. Many of us do not, especially since photography didn’t hit mainstream America until the Civil War era. By that time, Grandpa was only one-quarter Indian. Wouldn’t we love to see a photograph of his parents or his grandparents, one of whom was entirely Indian? DNA may tell us more about our family genetics but in the end, sometimes all we have are old photos to stare at, as the oral history plays in our mind. Suellen Ocean is the author of Secret Genealogy IV – Native Americans Hidden in Our Family Trees. Available here: