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In colonial times, many tribes were torn apart. Some bands migrated to new locations. Others stayed in their homelands but were overwhelmed by white and black newcomers. Some lost their lands and their identity as tribes but stayed together as communities. Others dispersed, and some were absorbed into African American communities.

Finding Native ancestry is often a difficult and uncertain path. Genealogical searches for Native roots often begin with clues in oral accounts passed down through generations. Research into census records, archives, deeds, wills, and church documents can take years. Even when a Native ancestor is identified, tribal enrollment does not always follow, since each Native nation has its own specific rules for membership.

Chappaquiddick Wampanoag—annual reunion

Chappaquiddick Wampanoag—annual reunion

Members of the Chappaquiddick Wampanoag Tribe have not lived on their ancestral island in Massachusetts for nearly a century. Yet families maintained their homeland in their hearts, passing on the heritage to new generations. Every year, tribal members travel from their current residences across the country to ceremonially gather in honor of their ancestors in Chappaquiddick. Penny Gamble-Williams stands next to the gravestone of William A. Martin—the first documented African American whaling captain on Martha's Vineyard—and Sarah Brown Martin (Chappaquiddick Wampanoag), her great-great-grandmother's sister.

Photo by W. Thunder Williams. Courtesy Penny Gamble-Williams