Ethnic Groups of North Carolina

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This entry was originally written by Johni Cerny and Gareth L. Mark for Red Book: American State, County, and Town Sources.

This article is part of
the North Carolina Family History Research series.
History of North Carolina
North Carolina Vital Records
Census Records for North Carolina
Background Sources for North Carolina
North Carolina Maps
North Carolina Land Records
North Carolina Probate Records
North Carolina Court Records
North Carolina Tax Records
North Carolina Cemetery Records
North Carolina Church Records
North Carolina Military Records
North Carolina Periodicals, Newspapers, and Manuscript Collections
North Carolina Archives, Libraries, and Societies
Ethnic Groups of North Carolina
North Carolina County Resources
Map of North Carolina


African American

Duke University Library in Durham and the University of North Carolina Library at Chapel Hill have excellent collections of materials relating to African Americans in North Carolina, in addition to that available through the National Archives. The North Carolina Department of Archives and History and the Moravian Archives in Winston-Salem also have sources in their collections pertaining to African Americans and slavery. See Thornton W. Mitchell, comp., Preliminary Guide to Records Relating to Blacks in the North Carolina State Archives, Archives Information Circular, No. 17 (1980; revised, Raleigh, N.C.: State Department of Archives and History, 2001).

A basic guide to African American research in North Carolina is Ransom McBride, “Searching for the Past of the North Carolina Black Family in Local, Regional, and Federal Record Resources,” The North Carolina Genealogical Society Journal 9 (May 1983): 66-77. See also Minnie K. Peebles, “Black Genealogy,” North Carolina Historical Review, 55 (April 1978): 164-173.

Native American

By 1838 the majority of North Carolina’s Native American population had been destroyed or relocated to other areas. The Tuscarora moved up to New York after the Tuscarora War (1711–15), and most of the remaining Cherokee were removed farther west between 1825 and 1842 to what would become Oklahoma. A significant number of tribal members who did not want to move hid out in the mountains of North Carolina and became the Eastern Band of Cherokee. Another group of Cherokees remained in the state by petitioning to become citizens. Certificates allowing them to stay were issued if they proved they could care for themselves.

Most Cherokee records were created and are presently maintained by the federal government. The National Archives has a register of Cherokees who petitioned to remain in the East, registers of Indians who decided to migrate to the West between 1817 and 1838, and the Cherokee census of 1835 (called the Henderson Roll). The census includes a list of members of the Cherokee Nation in North Carolina, Tennessee, Alabama, and Georgia. Consult also the Eastern Cherokee Reservation Census Rolls, 1898 to 1939, and other removal records available at the National Archives.

An Act of Congress approved on 1 July 1902 gave the U.S. Court of Claims jurisdiction over any claim arising from treaty stipulations that the Cherokees had against the United States and vice versa. Three suits were brought before the court and each was decided in favor of the Cherokees. The Secretary of the Interior was instructed to identify those persons of Cherokee descent entitled to a portion of the more than one million dollars appropriated by Congress for use in payment of claims.

The court established that payment was to be made to all Eastern and Western Cherokees who were alive on 28 May 1906 and who could establish that they were members or descendants of members of the Eastern Cherokee Tribe at the time the treaties were made before 1845. Claims were to be filed with the claims agent on or before 31 August 1907. By that deadline nearly 46,000 applications were on file, representing about 90,000 individual claimants. Roughly one-third of these were entitled to a share. Census lists and rolls compiled by other special agents between 1835 and 1884 were used to determine eligibility and create a new 1910 Eastern Cherokee Enrollment.

Congress authorized the allotment of land to the Five Civilized Tribes on 3 March 1893 and appointed a commission to determine who was eligible to receive land. Over 200,000 applications for land selection were received. Cherokee allotments began in 1903. Applicants were required to submit documents and affidavits as proof of Cherokee citizenship.

Some records pertaining to the Cherokees from North Carolina are housed at the Indian Archives in the Oklahoma Historical Society, Oklahoma City. The collection, which covers the Five Civilized Tribes, contains approximately three million pages of manuscripts and 6,000 bound volumes—the largest collection of Native American documents outside of the National Archives. (See Oklahoma Archives, Libraries, and Societies.)

In addition to the sources described in the Introduction (see pages 15-16), Native American records are available at the North Carolina State Archives as detailed on their website at www.ah.dcr.state.nc.us.

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