History - Where we came from
Genealogy and Anthropology
Photograph by Florence Randle, 1930s. From the Phyllis Sheffield Collection, Department of Anthropology & Genealogy, Seminole Tribe of Florida
Among Native American tribes, few if any have taken the positive step taken recently by the Seminole Tribe of Florida in the preservation of their own social history. In 1995, the Tribe, one of only two federally recognized tribes in the state of Florida, created the Department of Anthropology & Genealogy. The departmental staff consists of the director, Dr. Patricia R. Wickman, a professional Ethnohistorian; Tribal Genealogist Ms. Geneva Shore (pictured right), who is a Maskókî (Creek) Seminole; a Language Specialist, Mr. David Jumper, who is a Miccosukee Seminole; Administrative Assistant, Ms. Lisa Mullennix; and one volunteer, Mrs. Catherine Lowis.
The department exists primarily to serve an internal audience -- the members of the Seminole Tribe, and to enhance cultural preservation. Its core work is the reconstruction of families and Clans, that is, extended families bound by blood and fictive kinship, from throughout Seminole history. Theoretically, that means researching Seminole ancestors into the earliest generations available, the people who met the Spaniards in the 16th century!
In the process of putting together a Seminole genealogy, the first source of information is the treasured memories of the people themselves. By conducting oral history interviews with members, and especially with Tribal Elders, it is possible to reconstruct some families as far back as the Seminole Wars of Removal, waged by the US government in the first half of the 19th century (the period when over 3,000 Seminoles were removed to Oklahoma, where their descendants remain as the Seminole Nation of Oklahoma). Even though none of the Maskókî languages of the Southeast were ever written, orally transmitted societies foster excellent memories. Then, using United States, English, French, and Spanish documents, some of the latter dating to the 16th century, staff members painstakingly piece together people and places to reconstruct the dynamic and complex genealogies of the ancestors in earlier years.
The long-range objective of the project is to build a digitized database of names, kinship systems, biographies, and images, which will be available to Tribal members and will preserve, for time to come, the proud and unique heritage of the Seminole people in North America. This is a very exciting prospect to traditional Seminoles, who have never had the opportunity to view their family histories in a visual format. Although such a database can never be complete or definitive, it will undoubtedly contain at least 20,000 names. To date, about 4,000 have been assembled on hard-copy charts and the work of assigning an alpha-numeric code base and transferring data to the computer is just beginning. In addition, a research library of published materials, manuscripts, microfilm materials, and a burgeoning photographic archive, currently containing about 2,500 images, supports the genealogical research.
As natural adjuncts to this unique and important work, there are a number of other projects undertaken by the Department. In conjunction with the Seminole Broadcasting Department and the award-winning Tribal newspaper, the Seminole Tribune, A&G staff produce audio and video programs, educational resource materials, and newspaper articles that reinforce culture and language. The Department sponsors "Time Travel Tours" for Tribal members, to reintroduce them to sites and events of special significance to Seminole history. In cooperative projects, undertaken in conjunction with almost every other department and program area of the Seminole Tribe, A&G staff provide research, consultations, and educational programs and materials to support cultural awareness within the Tribe. Publications of scholarly books and journal articles disseminate information to the non-Seminole world, reminding them of the long and exciting story of the Seminole people.
The primary focus of the A&G Department, however, remains the members of the Seminole Tribe of Florida. Documenting the family relationships that have sustained the Seminoles for thousands of years is an exciting task and one in which the Seminole Tribe has, once again, taken charge of its own destiny.