American Indian Records for genealogy research vary with tribe, time period, and region. Each American Indian Tribe has its own unique history and may have its own unique records. The United States Government created most American Indian records. The National Archives (NARA) holds the records of the US Federal Census and the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), but some of those record sets are also available online at Ancestry.com or Fold3.com. States, Territories and individual Tribes also created American Indian records that can be useful for genealogy and family history.
If you are not sure which tribe your Native American Indian ancestor came from, click here for tips on how to find your ancestor’s tribe.
American Indian Records from the US Government
A few US Federal records apply to all American Indian Tribes. Some exist within a national record set that applies to all Americans like the 1910 US Federal Census. Other records are unique American Indian records like the Indian Census Rolls of 1885-1940.
Unique Tribal Records?
Some records apply to several tribes, like the Dawes Rolls for those eligible for tribal membership in the “Five Civilized Tribes”: Cherokees, Creeks, Choctaws, Chickasaws, and Seminoles.
Guion Miller Roll
Other records apply to a group within a specific tribe like the Guion Miller Roll records for disbursement of the settlement due to those Eastern Cherokee who descended from Indians forced to travel the “Trail of Tears”. Because of these applications required applicants to prove descent from someone on the “Trail of Tears”, both the accepted and rejected applications containing rich and valuable family history information for many American Indian families from several tribes.
“Accepted applications” for the “Guion Miller Roll” traced and documented the lineage of descendants of Eastern Cherokee people who traveled the “Trail of Tears” and settled in Oklahoma.
The “Rejected Applications” for the “Guion Miller Roll” include some applicants who were:
- Western Cherokee whose ancestors migrated to Oklahoma before the “Trail of Tears”
- Eastern Cherokee whose ancestors remained in the east and did not travel the “Trail of Tears”
- Eastern Cherokee whose application was incomplete or not strong enough for acceptance
- Applicants descended from other Indian Tribes
- Applicants unable to prove Indian ancestry in 1906
American Indian Records from the US Government affecting ALL Tribes
Indian Census Rolls (1885-1940)
If your ancestor lived on a reservation or in predominantly Indian Communities during the period 1885-1940, the American Indian Census Rolls may include them. We can use these annual Indian Census records to trace an enrolled tribal member through time showing birth, family members, marriage or divorce, children’s births, and death.
The annual Indian Census records are most useful for those who stayed on reservations or within nearby mostly Indian communities. Those who migrated to cities, married outside the tribe, or moved to non-Indian communities were often omitted from the census.
1910 US Census “Indian Schedules”
The 1910 US Census contained special forms “Indian Schedules” that were used to record Indians for the 1910 Census. While Indian ancestors may have resented being singled out, modern genealogists are glad to have the additional information supplied by these records. However, not all Indians were recorded on this schedule. The enumerator had to produce the proper form and especially in communities where American Indians were not a large part of the population, the census enumerator might not have the forms or remember to use them.
In future posts, we will talk about American Indian Records that from specific states or tribal goverments that provide valuable genealogy or family history information for Native American Indian families and their descendants.
Questions? Contact professional Genealogist Anna Hopkins-Arnold of Rootfinders Genealogy Research for more help locating records for your American Indian ancestors or call me at 970-946-4876.
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text © Anna Hopkins-Arnold 2017 - all rights reserved photo public domain: Hocking Bros. (photographers), "U.S. Census taking--Wisconsin Indians" (Winnebago tribe), Library of Congress Online Catalog, Prints and Photographs Division, (www.loc.gov/resource/cph.3c24436 ; accessed Feb 2017), originally published by Hocking Bros., Waupaca, WI, 1911 , Digital Id: cph 3c24436 (www.hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/cph.3c24436 accessed Feb 2017)