Historical Truth Found in My Family
“You look Choctaw” was what I friend told me. She is a singer and musician who travels widely in Indian Country, and she meets a lot of Indigenous folks as part of her occupation. Being Choctaw was not that farfetched, as my mother’s family had come from a part of Mississippi that had been taken from the Choctaw people by the Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek, but our family history had always said we were Creek.
So I looked again on my Ancestry account, which was about to expire, and finally located an ancestral household for which I had been searching for years. It was the family of origin of one of my great-great grandparents, and its composition was almost exactly as my grandmother had described it. My family is very good at preserving our history. So far, so good.
Then came the disappointing part, the parents’ birthplaces were not Mississippi, which would have come closer to confirming my new hunch that we were Choctaw. And their reported birthplaces of Tennessee and North Carolina did not confirm that we were Creek – or so I thought.
This same 1880 census reported the father’s parents as having been born in Virginia and Maryland, which even pushed our Creek identity even further into the unlikelihood. I mulled over this for months, and then remembered that the Creek confederacy included large communities of Yuchi, who lived in a wide swath of Tennessee; and Shawnee, who, like the Yuchi, also resided in the Creek confederacy but who lived as far north as Ohio. Perhaps, then, we were actually Shawnee who had entered the Creek Confederacy via the Appalachian Mountains. Our nomadic, mobile ways certainly fit in with Shawnee tradition. I still spoke the main Creek language, Muskogee, and felt pretty much Creek, but the family history was not matching up with the available documentation.
Changes started to come. More old maps of the eastern United States started to appear online and in articles. These newly-available maps showed the Creek peoples having a much larger territory than the rather limited pieces of central Georgia and Alabama. Among these were the works of Richard Thornton, who stated with all certitude that Creek Indians lived well into the Appalachia, and were later pushed into the southern portion of their territory. I saw a map showing most of Georgia being dominated by Apalache Indians, from which the mountain range got its name. Prior to that, I had read that the Appalachians got their name, inexplicably, from one village on the gulf coast, hundreds of miles from those same mountains. That the whole region of Georgia was Apalache controlled made a far more likely explanation for the mountain range, which are partly in Georgia, being named for them. “Apalache” is of course, an earlier name for the communities that would form the Creek Confederacy.
I also started seeing fleeting references to Creek Indians who still managed to survive in the Cherokee-dominated portions of North Carolina, up until the removal period of the 1830s. The official historical record was starting to catch up to our family history in acknowledging the Creek presence in Appalachia.
In 2012, I took a DNA test with DNA Tribes, which revealed my deep ancestry in Mexico. Even more present were genetic matches for Athabaskan ancestry, which is common in the US southwest. The Mexican and Athabaskan genetic connection matched the several Creek communities’ oral histories of having migrated from the west, and also credible archaeological evidence of Maya colonization of the US southeast.
So my family histories, both the oral and the genetic, are now being confirmed by the official sciences of genetics and archaeology. It’s nice to see the sciences finally catching up to us.