The Quest for the Blue Card

May 22, 2024

Over the weekend, after a LONG 5-year paper chase, my mom and I were finally confirmed as enrolled members of the Cherokee tribe and we each received our tribal citizenship cards — the Blue card.

With my daughter’s high school graduation celebrations behind me, I took some time to reflect before sharing this journey. For those curious about the process, strap in! Regardless of whether you’re researching tribal citizenship or just want to know more about how you got here: hopefully, your search for ancestry and genealogy will not be as daunting. Everyone’s mileage is different.

My Grandfather was a quarter Cherokee and enrolled on the Dawes Rolls as an infant. Tragically, he and my Great-Grandfather passed away within five days of each other when my mother was just five years old. My Great-Grandfather had contracted spinal meningitis, and in an attempt to save him, my Grandfather donated his spinal fluid. Unfortunately, it was the early ’30s, and cross-contamination occurred.

Sidebar: due to the highly infectious nature of spinal meningitis, my Grandfather’s coffin was fitted with a glass lid for the funeral viewing. This detail has always intrigued me, and I believe my passion for tinkering comes from him. His general store/garage in Keefeton, OK, had electric lights even before electrical utility service was available, powered by a generator connected to an automobile engine! I wish I could have known him.

I often pondered why my Grandfather didn’t register my mother with the tribe. Perhaps as a young couple busy with their business and a toddler, there were more pressing daily priorities. He likely never anticipated his life would be cut so short. My Grandmother, suddenly a young widow with a child, leaned heavily on her family for support. As time passed, the connection to our Cherokee heritage weakened, and the documentation trail grew cold.

Fast-forward 41 years. My father was sent to Australia for work, which turned into an incredible family vacation, necessitating passports. It was then that my mother discovered her birth certificate bore an incorrect surname. Apparently, her country doctor delayed filling out the certificates for six months and mistakenly wrote the surname of a nearby family.

Years later, the 1920s house and gas station in Keefeton, owned by my great-uncle, were destroyed by an F4 tornado. We suspect that my grandfather’s birth certificate was lost to that storm, and since he was born before Oklahoma’s statehood, there was no copy at the Oklahoma Department of Vital Records. This detail becomes significant later.

Let’s jump now to 2019. The time is way overdue, I say, to get my mother’s birth certificate corrected. If not for her, then for me. Which meant:

  • Searching through boxes for every “official” document—school records, diplomas from school and college—that listed her maiden name.
  • Scanning and submitting all this to her lawyer, who petitions the court in Muskogee for a birth certificate correction.
  • With court order in hand, mom and I drive to OKC to spend most of the day at OK Vital Records, submitting papers and being interviewed about these attestations. Eventually, she gets a corrected birth certificate.

So now we begin filling out the Cherokee Registration form, recording family members back as far as my Mother’s Great-Great-Grandmother Annie, our latest full-blood Cherokee ancestor. Everything is signed and submitted, and now the “fun” begins as we begin correspondence with the Cherokee Nation. I’ll spare you all the play-by-play, but here are the high points:

  • Lots of confusion regarding “repeating names” in the family. In the 1800s, MANY of the males were given the first name Henry, and in the 1870-1920 period, the first name Frank. This meant they mostly went by their middle names instead of their official, legal name.
  • The Nation requested an affidavit from someone who has known my mother throughout her life. At 91 years old, only one person qualified, and she resided in a nursing home…
  • In search of alternatives, we visited the Bureau of Indian Affairs office south of Muskogee, which provided certified copies of my grandfather’s land allotment. My mother sold this land to finance her college education and purchase a car for daily travel to Tahlequah. Informative, yet unhelpful for our purpose.
  • I go down to the Muskogee courthouse several times to get copies of fascinating documents detailing family legal transactions, but nothing we could use to further our case.
  • Pioneer Abstract Company in Muskogee is my next stop: getting copies of the sale of the allotment, showing the transfer from my Grandmother as Executor to my mom. No Good, they say.
  • Next tack: find official government documents that list my Mother’s Father as her Father. Easy, you think? Her new, corrected birth certificate was one, but we needed another. The only remaining possibility is her original Social Security Application when she turned 16 and was employed at the Boston Store in downtown Muskogee.
  • So we request a Social Security Numident Record: a certified copy of that original application, from their archives in Baltimore. Forms downloaded, and money paid.
  • ALMOST A YEAR LATER; a letter saying, “No, sorry — you paid the wrong amount, on an old form. Fill out this new form.”
  • ALMOST ANOTHER YEAR LATER: “Hi, we’re moving our records to a new department. Please submit your request (on this new form) to them.”
  • (there may have been more back-and-forth, but I’ve blocked it out)
  • In early April 2024: Social Security finally sent not one, but two copies of the output we need, with official gold seals and ribbons affixed. My mother misplaced the first one, but the second one…
  • …was submitted along with fresh, updated Cherokee Registration forms for both myself and my mother in late April, 2024.


If nothing else, I have learned a great deal about the groundwork involved in genealogy research and the general helpfulness of people in the court clerk’s office.

However, my day-to-day life remains largely unchanged. Knowing my personal history has always been important to me, and it serves as a reassuring affirmation, possibly even a “healthcare Plan B” should the need arise.

Since joining the Indian Health Care Resource Center of Tulsa in late 2022, I’ve relished being part of a team that delivers first-class healthcare to the Indian community. Our patients have always been “our people” to me, but now there’s an even deeper connection.

I lament the circumstances that separated my family from the tribe for so long. The process of uncovering our history has prompted my mother to share stories about relatives that might have otherwise remained untold, preserving information that could have been lost. This research, and the act of piecing together our past, reveals the trauma that fragmented families—the Trail of Tears is a prime example, but also the stark reality of how perilous childbirth was for women in the early days. I discovered male ancestors who, having lost their first wives, remarried and had two sets of children. With the relatively recent rise of the nuclear family, it’s not unsurprising that many of us are unaware of our extended family history, which may explain the success of companies like—they provide the means for us, in modern times, to explore and connect with our individual historical threads.

Oh, and Wado for reading…

8 comments on “The Quest for the Blue Card

Mari Masterson says:

Wonderful that you were able to jump all the wild and crazy hoops! I envy you, in having the Native spirit. My daughters do. Choctaw.. Continue to use it well.

Steve Gregg says:

Great read, thanks so much for sharing.

Archie Boyd says:

I love your journey! It reminds me so much of my own family history and how we’re involved in the territory. I would love to share it, so many stories passed down. I can say the Cherokee in my family have had some interesting trials. Are there places to share?

JRB says:

Wow! What an ordeal. I commend your tenacity for documenting it- let alone surviving it! See you at Park Hill for the National Holiday!

Susan says:

Hi. My name is Susan Connor Dobis. Your family visited us in Saratoga Springs, NY when you were traveling to the Winter Olympics. Fast forward to Muskogee when the Connor girls ( Ruth Schoonover Connor’s daughters) had a reunion. You and your Mother visited with us at that time! I remember talking to your Mother regarding the ordeal of tracking down her birth certificate and the error in names etc. Therefore, I am so happy to hear you have had a successful conclusion to this dilemma!
My best regards to your Mother and to your family.

Thanks very much, Susan — great to hear from you! I will definitely pass your regards to Mom!

Earlier this year we were doing the final lap of the college touring, and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute was on her list. I told her stories of how cold the water was in upstate NY in the Summer…it didn’t dissuade her, but in the end, Michigan is the chosen school. Take care!

Steve Clem says:

Thanks for sharing your story, or at least part of it.

Dana Waters says:

This would make a terrific short story for that show they have. Great work. Bravo!

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