A Genealogist Who Spent His Life Building a Cherokee Archive Retires

When Tom Mooney started working as a genealogist and archivist for Cherokee Heritage Center in 1976, he had one filing cabinet of items.
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When Tom Mooney started working as a genealogist and archivist for Cherokee Heritage Center on December 6, 1976, he had one filing cabinet to store items.

After 38 years, Mooney has retired from the Cherokee Heritage Center, leaving behind a vast collection of more than 400,000 historical documents and items that fill hundreds of square feet of space at the museum.

After nearly four decades of work at the premier Cherokee cultural center in Park Hill, Oklahoma, Mooney said it still has not sunk in that he no longer has to work at the museum.

“It’s been a long, happy ride. I’m still making plans to come here next week and looking ahead to what’s to come next month. Mentally, I’m not there yet,” Mooney said. “Although, it will be really nice to sleep in some mornings.”

Hundreds of well-wishers celebrated the conclusion of Mooney’s career with a retirement party Friday afternoon at Cherokee Heritage Center. The Cherokee Heritage Center staff presented Mooney with a framed “Unbroken Friendship" mat.

Dr. Candessa Tehee, executive director of the Cherokee Heritage Center, applauded Mooney’s efforts during his tenure, citing his dedication and hard work for helping build the extensive archive collection with very little budget and very little conservation support.

“He has a real passion for Cherokee history and culture. During his time here, he’s done pretty much every job there is to do at Cherokee Heritage Center,” said Tehee. “He’s been a shining beacon for Cherokee culture during his tenure. Although he is moving on to retirement, he’s not going to leave us. He’ll continue to spend some time here and help out when he wants. We’re happy to have him as long as he wants to help.”

Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Bill John Baker also had high remarks for Mooney as he presented him with a “One Fire” Pendleton blanket in recognition of his efforts.

“Tom is synonymous with the Cherokee Heritage Center, and we have all greatly benefited from his hard work throughout the last 38 years,” Baker said. “He has built an extensive collection of documents and artifacts that allows us to better share Cherokee history.”

In 1987, Mooney authored “Exploring Your Cherokee Ancestry,” an award-winning basic genealogical research guide that is still in print today and can be purchased at the Cherokee Heritage Center gift shop.

In 2012, Mooney was awarded the Stalwart Award by the Cherokee National Historical Society. The award is given to a Cherokee Heritage Center supporter who has served as a longtime member, volunteer, employee, board member or associate and has significantly contributed to the center’s success.

Mooney said that while he will not be on hand to do archival work full-time, the collection is in good hands with Jerry Thompson taking over the archivist role. Thompson has worked alongside Mooney for more than a year.

“Jerry’s got a love for it. That’s what you’ve got to have,” Mooney said. “You’ve got to love and respect the documents. If you don’t do that, you’re in the wrong business. He understands that you have to serve the Cherokee people because it is their collection.”