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Barbara Benge, Native American children genealogy specialist

Genealogy is popular these days and Barbara Benge specialises in researching the genealogy of Native American children. I asked Barbara Benge about her research and her reading.

READERSVOICE.COM: What’s your favorite sort of research you’ve done for people who have contacted the Native American genealogy website?

BARBARA BENGE: I think my favorite research is when I am contacted by one of the many Native American children that were adopted out to white families prior to the 1978 American Indian Children’s Welfare Act. It is very rewarding to reconnect them if not with their families, then at least reconnect them with their tribes and their heritage.

RV: I read on the Native American genealogy website that you have a special interest in the Plains Tribes especially the Blackfeet. Is this where your own ancestors come from?

BB: No, my ancestors that were Indian come from Oklahoma and Texas. My interest in the Blackfeet stem from my best friend being Blackfeet and helping her with her research.

RV: Do you have many living relatives that have told you about your family, and if so what did they say?

BB: Actually when it comes to my Native American research, no, not really. I do talk with many of my relatives about my Irish, Swedish and Bohemian family history and this has helped quite a bit. Unfortunately most of my family that were on the Allen side have already passed but I do occasionally find some information from distant cousins.

RV: Your website said that you became interested in genealogy while watching How the West Was Lost, part 2, and there was a mention of the Benge Trail. Did there turn out to be a family connection there?

BB: Yes, that is my husband’s family; he is the Benge descendant.

John Benge the wagon master was his first cousin five times removed and his second wife, Carnalugi McLemore was his great, great, great, great grandmother. Her first husband was Colonel John Lowery, brother to Assisant Principal Chief George Lowrey. Carnalugi and John’s daughters Jennie and Eliza Lowrey married Robert and Martin Benge.

RV: You have two books on the 1880 and 1890 Cherokee Nation Census. What information do these censuses have that motivated you to publish books about them?

BB: The 1880 is a census record, but in additon to giving regular census information, in 1900 the Dawes census card numbers were added to the 1880. This is a way to verify who is who when they have the same names. The 1890 is a normal census, it also lists whether they were Indian or White. Not nearly as important a census as the 1880, but it does bridge the gap between 1880 to 1900, the time period when the Dawes roll was done.
Actually Sandi Garrett is usually the one who has pushed me into doing different census rolls.
Sandi Garrett is the author of a series of Cherokee books called Only the Names Remain which helps with my friend Jerry Wright Jordan’s series Cherokee by Blood.
My transcribing these rolls is an effort to include many tribal members that were not included on the Dawes roll, and make them more accessible to the general puplic.
Currently l am working on the 1867 Thompkin roll for the Cherokee Nation that Sandi wanted me to transcribe.
Right now I have been extremely lucky and have several great Cherokee researchers helping me: Jack Baker, David Keith Hampton, CJ Adair, Jim Hicks and Tressie Neely.

RV: If people are interested in starting research into their Native American background where should they look first?

BB: The biggest thing you need to do is start with yourself and the information you know. From there you use vital records and Federal census records to go further back into your ancestry.
One thing that is very important is to document your sources and do your research like a puzzle.
It takes a knowledge of history as well as geography.

RV: Does your reading mainly relate to Native American genealogy or do you like to read other stuff? What are some of your favourite books or authors regardless of whether they are about Native American genealogy?

BB: No, I am a very active reader. I read many different types of genealogy books. Often they can lead me to other ideas with Native American research.
It helps you how to understand other types of documents.
My favorite two books are Little Women and Gone with the Wind.
I have a great interest in the Civil War and its effect on the US.

RV: Can you tell me the title of a good book on Native American history or genealogy?

BB: When it comes to Native American research, anything by Angie Debo, The Cherokee by Joann Woodard, The Trail of Tears by John Erle.
Get a good book on general tribal history.
For good how-tos on the Cherokee: Cherokee Proud by Tony McClure, Cherokee Connections by Myra Ghormley, or How to Find Your Cherokee Ancestry by James Mooney.