By: Janine Cloud

Explore Janine’s paternal line, a tangled history of Cherokee ancestry, the Trail of Tears, and the quest to unravel ancestry mysteries through DNA testing.

Mary Jane Cloud, nee Horn, gave birth to my grandfather, Joel Bryant Cloud, on May 10, 1888, in what would later become Stilwell, Oklahoma.

Joel Bryant Cloud in his World War I Army uniform.
Joel Bryant Cloud in his World War I Army uniform.

At the time he was born, the area was simply the location of a disbandment depot, one of the end points of the Cherokee removal half a century earlier. It wasn’t until the Kansas City Southern Railway, founded by Arthur Stilwell, built a line nearby that the town of Stilwell developed and was incorporated January 2, 1897, just about a decade before Oklahoma was admitted to the United States in 1907. (Side note: Arthur Stilwell also founded Port Arthur, Texas, which was named after him, of course.)

The Cherokee Removal, also known as the Trail of Tears, shaped my family’s history and that of all Cherokees for generations to come.

My great-grandmother, born in 1850 in Indian Territory, was three-quarters Cherokee, and my great-grandfather, Charles Clifton Cloud, born in 1860, was one-sixteenth Cherokee. Charles, known as either C.C. or Charley, was the son of Martha Catherine Ward (born in 1840 in Cherokee Nation East) and James Monroe Cloud (born in 1838 in Murray County, Georgia).

Martha’s parents, Charles Jackson Ward (born around 1800 in Georgia) and Mary Elvira Hensley (born around 1808 in North Carolina), were part of the removal. They headed West in 1834 with a party led by Lt. Joseph Harris, which departed in March. Their group arrived in what would become the Cherokee Nation West on May 16, 1834. Harris kept a journal, which is available through the Arkansas History Commission. I have not read all of its contents, but what I have read is nothing less than horrifying. A summary of the contents can be found in this document.

May is the cruelest month

May, not April, was the cruelest month for the Cherokees. While researching this piece, I found it remarkable how many milestones occurred in May. In addition to the arrival mentioned above, the following happened in the not-so-merry month:

  • May 28, 1830: President Andrew Jackson signed the Indian Removal Act into law, setting in motion a chain of events that culminated in the forcible removal of numerous tribes from their homelands east of the Mississippi, essentially herding them to designated land in Indian Territory, which is now the state of Oklahoma.
  • May 18, 1836: Congress approved the Treaty of New Echota—by a single vote—despite the protests of Principal Chief John Ross and the Cherokee National Council’s wholesale rejection of the treaty. President Martin Van Buren followed through on the removal initiatives Jackson set in motion.
  • May 10, 1838: Gen. Winfield Scott, by order of the president, issued a proclamation to the Eastern Cherokees to evacuate their homelands.
  • May 17, 1838: Scott gave his troops the order to begin the removal.
  • May 26, 1838: Soldiers rounded up Georgia tribal citizens and removed them to the first of several temporary holding areas. Most Cherokees from North Carolina, Tennessee, and northern Alabama were subsequently gathered into internment camps to begin the trip west.

The tragedy that became known as the Trail of Tears was but one part of a repugnant and brutal government policy, one that shaped the futures of generations of Cherokees and other tribes, leaving a scar on the face of a young nation.

For reference, the removal of 1838 was only 62 years after the Declaration of Independence, and 55 years after the end of the Revolutionary War.

Some went back

Many of my ancestors were what became known as “old settlers,” those tribal members who relocated prior to the forced removal. As I mentioned earlier, my great-great-grandmother Martha’s parents, Charles Jackson and Mary Elvira (nee Hensley) Ward, who were old settlers, returned to Georgia for a time before settling in North Carolina, where they remained until their deaths.

James and Martha married in 1859 and, at some point, headed West. The 1860 Census has them in White Plains, Howell, Missouri, along with James’ mother, Matilda Officer, and her second husband. Or at least it’s assumed he’s her second husband. James’ father, Isaac, is quite the mystery and as of yet I have found no documentation of Isaac and Matilda’s marriage, only that they had a son.

While James and Martha were in Missouri, my great-grandfather Charles Clifton Cloud was born. They moved into Tennessee by 1867, then on to Indian Territory by 1871, where they were again married, this time under Cherokee law.

James M. Cloud's testimony Daws Commission

Will the real Isaac Cloud please stand up?

I’ve spent hours trying to find details on James’s father, Isaac Cloud. Not enough hours, though, because the only things I know about him are:

    • He was James’ father.
    • Isaac may have been born in Spartanville, South Carolina, or not.
    • He may have remarried—or married for the first time—and had more children…or not.
    • He may have never been married to Matilda, despite her name being listed as Matilda Cloud on his family cards for the Dawes Rolls.

Matilda Mattox, who married Thomas Officer in 1843, is another mystery for another day.

What does all this have to do with DNA testing?

All that genealogical research, all the hours digging and sorting through various Isaac Clouds, makes DNA testing that much more important. There are many Isaac Clouds, but none I can conclusively say is James’ father. Thanks to DNA, though, there are some I can say were not. I can also say, based on the number of Cloud Y-DNA matches and their proximity on the Y haplotree, that regardless of the marital state of his parents, James M. Cloud was genetically descended from the Cloud lineage.

For years, I tried to connect him to William Cloude, born in 1621 in Calne, England, who obtained land from William Penn and immigrated to the Penn Colony. William had five sons who lived to adulthood, giving plenty of potential connections.

Headshot of uncle Jimmy
Uncle Jimmy

My uncle, Thomas James Cloud, aka Uncle Jimmy, did the Genographic Project test for me as my dad, Jack Griffin Cloud, passed away in 2011, not long after I started at FamilyTreeDNA. I transferred the results over to FamilyTreeDNA and then upgraded as I could afford it. He had plenty of matches with the surname Cloud, some of whom listed William “the immigrant” as their earliest known ancestor.

Many of them didn’t have the same surname, though, and most of them were quite confused to have a bunch of Cloud matches. Especially the exact match at 111 markers with the surname “Rhinehart.” That was confusing for everyone, but exciting, too, because it was an exact match, so that meant a close relationship, right?

When I finally upgraded to Big Y, some questions were answered, but more arose, such as why was that exact match not on the same branch?

I was still left with the challenge of how to get from James Monroe Cloud’s 1838 Georgia to William Cloud’s Pennsylvania in the late 1600s. A more than 200-year gap that might as well have been a millennium.

The Block Tree, the Time Tree, and the Group Time Tree

I got impatient and tired of waiting for someone to come along and match my uncle’s Big Y private variants to get them on the tree. Cloud is not all that common of a surname, so I got my brother to test. Half-brother, really, but my father’s son nonetheless. That took care of the variants and put the two of them on their own branch.

FamilyTreeDNA Block Tree R-BY39278
FamilyTreeDNA Block Tree under R-BY39278.

In the Block Tree image above, Mr. Rhinehart (the exact match at Y-111) is all the way to the right and several branches up the haplotree from my uncle and brother.

Last year, FamilyTreeDNA Discover™ launched and provided the Time Tree as a tool, which gave a great view of the clusters of testers.

I must have just not looked closely enough at the report, though, because nothing really jumped out at me other than the German flag representing Mr. Rhinehart (the exact 111-marker match) being four branches up from my testers, represented by the pair of U.S. flags below the orange icon at R-BY177080.

FamilyTreeDNA Time Tree R-BY39278

It wasn’t until the Group Time Tree came out that things clicked for me. I added the estimated mean time to most recent common ancestor (TMRCA) for each SNP and took a closer look.

Notice in the image below that BY177080 has the earliest known ancestor James Monroe Cloud. That’s Uncle Jimmy’s results, paired with my brother’s, have a TMRCA of 1888, which, if you recall from the beginning of this post, is the exact year my grandfather was born.

Cloud DNA Group Project Time Tree R-BY39278
Cloud DNA Group Project Time Tree under R-BY39278.

Then the real “eureka!” moment hit. See next to the 1614 estimate, SNP BY106858? That’s pretty close to 1620, and given how many of the testers downstream who list William Cloude as their EKA, I think we can be pretty confident that SNP represents William, the immigrant.

Look even more closely. See the line going up from BY177080 to BY39278? Notice how those two lines do not intersect below that? That means my line does not go through William at all. No wonder I couldn’t ever connect to him. We don’t descend from him! We share a common ancestor in about 1493, meaning I could have spent the rest of my life trying to connect to William and would never have been able to do it. I would never have known that without Big Y.

You don’t know what you don’t know

If you don’t read anything else in this post, I hope you read that line. You don’t know what you don’t know. Until you test, that is, then you get a much clearer picture of what you don’t know. DNA testing, even at the Big Y level, is like every other genealogical tool. You will almost certainly need more than one to solve any puzzle. You will almost certainly have to dig into genealogical records. While one might provide a “eureka” moment, you need all the other details to fill in the picture.

While I still don’t know who Isaac Cloud was and have not connected him to any immigrant ancestor, I will no longer be wasting time and effort trying to connect to the wrong one. This information allows me to review everything I’ve gone over in the past with a new perspective, one in which I am careful about drawing conclusions based on partial information that seems like it should fit together.

If your last name is Cloud and you are a male or have a male Cloud who would be willing to test, please contact the Cloud DNA Group Project Administrators.

For more information on Y-DNA testing, check the FamilyTreeDNA Help Center.


This post is dedicated to the memory of Uncle Jimmy, who died on November 25, 2023, (his mother’s birthday) at the age of 83. His younger brother, Uncle Henry, tested, too, and several other relatives have over the years, but Uncle Jimmy was the first, and I’ll always be grateful to him for indulging his niece by taking a DNA test. By doing so, he left a legacy of information behind. I have used his Y and autosomal results in countless presentations over the past eight or so years, and I will continue to do so as I work to solve the mystery of Isaac Cloud and try to discover our common ancestor with William Cloude. I will also be using his mitochondrial results once the Mitotree and Mito Discover are released.

Thanks, Uncle Jimmy. Tell Grandma and Daddy hi for me.

Janine cloud headshot

About the Author

Janine Cloud

Group Projects Manager

Janine Cloud became interested in genealogy when a grade school assignment to complete a pedigree chart prompted her to begin questioning family members about her ancestors. She began working at FamilyTreeDNA in 2011, where she created the Group Projects team to assist Group Project Administrators and group project members. Janine is also the event coordinator, handling arrangements for all the events and conferences that FamilyTreeDNA supports. She is a fifth-generation Texan, and a registered member of the Cherokee Nation.