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In Search of Family History

We began seven years ago with the assumption that any person was capable of making major discoveries, if they stayed observant of their environs. One never knows what experience in the past will have relevance to the future.

Yesterday, a British architect contacted me out of the blue with a strange request. I almost deleted it without reading the message, because I generally get well over a hundred emails a day, and this one came via LinkedIn. Superficially, the subject line looked like a LinkedIn promotion.

Her Cherokee father had married her English mother, while stationed in England with the US Air Force. The couple had eventually divorced and he has long disappeared from the daughter’s life. She has very little information about her Cherokee relatives in Oklahoma. She looks more Native American than most Cherokees, but has no knowledge of her heritage. She was seeking her roots. However, it is obvious that she knows very little about the United States or Native American culture.

Apparently, she saw me on a History Channel re-run in the UK. Seeing that I lived in the Appalachians, she assumed that I might help her become enrolled in the Cherokee Nation, which is 750 miles from where I live. Superficially, that might seem very silly since I am not even Cherokee, but as I said, she apparently knows very little about the realities of contemporary Native American culture.

Strangers are constantly writing me for help in finding a Native American ancestor. I write back that I am NOT the genealogist for all the Southeastern tribes or even the Creeks. I was about to write her an apology for not being able to help her, when I recognized one of the few ancestral names that she remembered.

OMG! During the first decade of the 21st century I lived in Talking Rock, GA. The Saunders, who founded Talking Rock, were one of the most influential families in the old Cherokee Nation, before they went on the Trail of Tears. I had lived on land that her ancestors had lived on!

By Googling her ancestor’s name, I was able to instantly find online her complete family genealogy going back to Mitchell Saunders, who was forced to leave Scotland during the Closures of 1755. That’s when my Scottish ancestor left Scotland too. These Scots were Rangers in the British Army in the guerrilla warfare against the French and their Indian allies. Afterward, they were given land in the Southern Colonies. Many ended up marrying Native American women. Their descendants typically married other Native Americans.

Life is indeed a box of chocolates. Bet the architect in the UK is at this moment also saying OMG!

Have a blessed day.

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Richard Thornton is a professional architect, city planner, author and museum exhibit designer-builder. He is today considered one of the nation’s leading experts on the Southeastern Indians. However, that was not always the case. While at Georgia Tech Richard was the first winner of the Barrett Fellowship, which enabled him to study Mesoamerican architecture and culture in Mexico under the auspices of the Institutio Nacional de Antropoligia e Historia. Dr. Roman Piňa-Chan, the famous archaeologist and director of the Museo Nacional de Antropologia, was his fellowship coordinator. For decades afterward, he lectured at universities and professional societies around the Southeast on Mesoamerican architecture, while knowing very little about his own Creek heritage. Then he was hired to carry out projects for the Muscogee-Creek Nation in Oklahoma. The rest is history. Richard is the Tribal Historic Preservation Officer for the KVWETV (Coweta) Creek Tribe and a member of the Perdido Bay Creek Tribe. In 2009 he was the architect for Oklahoma’s Trail of Tears Memorial at Council Oak Park in Tulsa. He is the president of the Apalache Foundation, which is sponsoring research into the advanced indigenous societies of the Lower Southeast.

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