Like many of my cousins, I grew up hearing the story that in generations past, we had a grandmother who was a full blooded Cherokee Indian and an herbal medicine woman. (I think that's the correct term.) The stories were vague and no one seemed to know exactly who she was. As I began my search into our genealogical history, this was one mystery I definitely wanted to solve. And, in truth, most of my cousins have asked about her at some point. Who was she? What side of the family was she on? Can we join the Cherokee rolls and be eligible for some of the tribe's casino revenue?
In short, I haven't found evidence of a Cherokee grandmother in our lines and frankly, I am doubtful she exists. Below are some of my thoughts on why I cannot find her in our history.
I know that both Grandaddy (Lester) and Big Grandaddy (Connie) both told this story. Lester truly believed in it. Often the dark hair and high cheekbones of the various relatives were sited as some of the evidence of Indian heritage. These features in the Howard siblings may well have come from the Maddox side of the family. As I've seen more pictures of the Maddoxes, I see the dark hair and high cheekbones in the line. The Maddoxes are of Welsh descent.
I asked other Howard cousins (children of Whitey Howard and descendants of James Robert Howard) and they have never heard of this story. In fact, they looked completely puzzled that I would even ask.
Oral history is a wonderful thing, however, I was looking for factual evidence. I searched basic genealogical records to no avail. The Howard/Harward line is solidly established and no ancestor of Indian descent is found. I then began to look at Emma Thomas Howard's family line. As discussed in an earlier post, her father is widely believed to have been Dr. James Lamar Sheppard. Oral history vaguely indicates that the Cherokee grandmother was from the Sheppard side of the family. I did research the basic line of descent for James Lamar Sheppard. His mother was Mary Dalrymple who was born in Scotland. Dr Sheppard's grandmother was Elizabeth Sheppard (unknown maiden name). She along with her husband John Sheppard left NC at some point and moved to Georgia. According to the LDS records, she died in Chattahoochee Co, GA in 1862. Unconfirmed information shows her burial at a primitive Baptist church. It's possible she could be the Cherokee grandmother, though it appears she was no longer in NC at about the time that Emma was born.
I did learn a few interesting tidbits along the way. If our Cherokee grandmother does exist, she likely may have been a Lumbee Indian. Back during late 1800's and early 1900's, "Cherokee" was sometimes used as a generic term for any native American. Also, in the sandhills of NC, the Lumbees were more prevalent while the Cherokees were in the western part of the state.
One other possible reason for the difficulty in finding our Cherokee grandmother may simply be the fact that at this time in history, celebrating one's native American heritage was not a popular thing to do. In fact, by some this would have been considered an interracial marriage and the heritage hidden and not discussed.
As I've posted about Emma Thomas Howard and our "Cherokee grandmother" I see the need to explore the Sheppard connection more thoroughly. I'd like to see if any of our oral history matches up their oral history. Talking with Sheppard descendants could provide some interesting information. As always, it seems I have more questions and mysteries than I had when I started out!