Moral of the story: Be careful with family legends, which can cause real anguish or even offense for recognized tribal groups. There may be some truth to the legends, including distant ancestry from the 1800s or earlier. But there may also be incorrect assumptions or exaggerations. Research is needed to separate fact from fiction.
When racial or ethnic or tribal identities are involved, the reaction can be intense, as members of recognized Cherokee nations will attest:
Dubbed the “Cherokee Syndrome,” it is a growing trend in America: More than 819,000 Americans self-identified as Cherokee on the 2010 federal census, alone or mixed-race. By comparison, the combined population of the three federally recognized Cherokee tribes — the Cherokee Nation and United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee in Oklahoma, and the Eastern Band of Cherokee in North Carolina — amounts to fewer than 400,000.