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The Navajo (Naabeeho, Navaho, and other variants) are the largest federally recognized tribes in the United States, or known among kinsmen as Dine'. The Navajo Nation is an independent government body, which manages the Navajo Indian reservation.
Like most groups, the Navajos relate their history to major events which influenced their people and family history information will usually relate to these events.
- Spanish Era (1492-1820)
- Mexican Era (1821-1847)
- Navajo Wars (1848-1868)
- Reservation Era (1868-1927)
- Stock-Reduction (1928-1940)
- Coming Out (1941-1969)
- Self-Determination (1970-Present)
Just like any other civilization, precautionary steps were taken to limit intermarriages among immediate family members. The Navajo established family clans, with the maternal line being the predominate line. When introducing one self, a Navajo will provide their parent's clan and typically their maternal grandfather and paternal grandfather's clan, establishing their place in the world. Knowing one's clans is just as important as knowing the names of past ancestors and goes hand-in-hand with genealogical research. For a more detailed list of clans, a short history and a brief introduction, click here, clans.
U.S. - Native Relations
When dealing with Native American records, you will come into contact with a number of governmental offices that have dealt with American Indian tribes. The three main level of offices included are, Indian agents, Superintendents, and Commissioner of Indian Affairs. The following is a very brief explanation of what these offices entailed.
United States and American Indian relations began with the first acts of the Continental Congress in 1775 which passed several ordinances dealing with American Indians. The first was to divide administrative responsibility into three geographical districts (northern, central, and southern) with the creation of a superintendent to govern the affairs between Congress and the Native peoples.1 It was often the case that ex officio superintendent of Indian affairs was usually held by Territorial governors who would help negotiate treaties and obtain titles to Indian lands.
Since multiple tribes lived in territorial boundaries, agents were created to govern one or more tribes or geographical areas. Indian agents were appointed by the President with the approval of the Senate. Agents were to report to the Superintendent, but at times records were sent directly to Washington D.C.
The Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) was then created in 1824 as part of the War Department, to govern the affairs between settlers and Native peoples.Originally called, Heads of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, this title was later changed to Commissioner of Indian Affairs and has since been changed to Assistant Secretary of the Interior of Indian Affairs. When Natives were no longer considered to be a threat, the BIA was then transferred to the Department of the Interior in 1849, and continues to this day.
The Navajo Nation's reservation boundaries has been changing since the original reservation boundaries were established in 1868. At the same time, governmental guardianship over these lands has changed. Currently, the Navajo Nation is divided into five agencies (Chinle Agency, Eastern Navajo Agency (AZ), Eastern Navajo Agency (NM), Western Navajo Agency, Fort Defiance Agency, and Shiprock Agency) governing a specific geographical area, with the seat of government located in Window Rock, Arizona. Each of these agencies are further divided into smaller political units called Chapters, the number of Chapters have fluctuated over the years, but there are roughly 110 Chapters. Typically, Chapters do not carry documents containing family history information, and most will refer you to the Navajo Nation offices. In addition to this, many of the documents held at the agencies have also been transferred to National and Regional archives throughout the United States.
Contact information for the Navajo Nation:
The Navajo Nation
P.O. Box 9000
Window Rock, Arizona 86515
Like most civilizations throughout the world, geography plays a crucial role in Navajo life, mythology, religion, and history. In more modern times, reservation boundaries have been established by the United States of America on behalf of the Navajo Indians and over time those boundaries have changed. Learning local history can also help with understanding family history. Current boundaries for the Navajo Reservation is about 24,078,127 square miles, making it the largest Indian reservation in the United States. It covers parts of Arizona, New Mexico and Utah. There are also three separate entities which are also under Navajo jurisdiction: the Ramah Navajo Indian Reservation, the Alamo Navajo Indian Reservation, and the Tohajiilee Indian Reservation.
Tribal lands are trust lands and as a result there are no private land owners, and all Tribal Trust land is owned in common and administered by the Nation's government. There are also BIA Indian Allotment lands which are privately owned by the heirs and generations of the original BIA Indian Allotee to whom it was issued. Tribal Trust lands are leased to both customary land users (may include homesites, grazing, and other uses) and organizations (may include BIA and other federal agencies, churches, and other religious organizations, as well as private or commercial businesses).
Below is a Navajo Nation Public Service Map
For a different and more detailed map with locations in Navajo, click: Navajo Reservation Map
As stated previously, the superintendent of Indian affairs oversaw Indian agents. As for the Navajo Indians, at times superintendents were at odds as to whom held authority over areas occupied by the Navajos. Neighboring superitendents also assisted governing superintendents over the Navajos.Over time territorial boundaries also shifted and changed.The New Mexico and Arizona Superitendency are the main record holders for Navajo information.
- Arizona Superintendency (1863 - 1873)
- New Mexico Superintenedency (1850-1874)
- Utah Superintendency (1849-1880)
- Colorado Superintendency (1861-1870)
Bureau of Indian Affairs
The Bureau of Indian Affairs is commonly known as the BIA, and is part of the U.S. Department of Interior since they hold in trust American Indian lands. The BIA also serves 566 federally recognized tribes in the United States. For those that are searching BIA records, three main National Archives and Record Administrations are used:
- Record Group Number 29: Records of the Bureau of the Census
- Record Group Number 48: Records of the Office of the Secretary of the Interior
- Record Group Number 75: Records of the Bureau of Indian Affairs
The BIA also has listed a publication by the Office of Public Affairs-Indian Affairs called, "A Guide to Tracing American Indian & Alaska Native Ancestry" which can help guide your research.
There are two types of census records available for people searching American Indian records. The first is the U.S. decennial census records and Indian Census Rolls, both have identical information and some differences. Indian Census records were usually taken each year by agents or superintendents in charge of Indian reservations, then sent to the Commissioner of Indian Affairs, as required by an act of July 4, 1884. By 1940, many areas covered under the Indian Census Rolls were soon incorporated into U.S. decennial census records.
As the result of a number of issues surrounding land, the federal government and especially with the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934 (a.k.a Wheeler-Howard Act) which encouraged Natives to determining their membership and enrollment. The question set before Natives was, "Who is an Indian?" To help move the issue along, Blood Quantum was introduced as a requirement for tribal membership, allowing tribes to select the degree of ancestry for an individual to be considered part of a specific tribe. As for the Navajos, 1/4 degree of blood for membership was selected.
For those that were enrolled into a federally recognized tribe are given a Certificate Degree of Indian Blood or CIB and are assigned an Indian Census Number unique to each individual. Knowing your relatives' Indian Census Number can be quite helpful when searching the Indian Census Rolls and can help eliminate confusion, but not all Indian Census Roll takers included censuses. At times the U.S. decennial census taker would include Census Numbers in their records.
For those interested in becoming an enrolled member of the Navajo Nation, contact:
Navajo Office of Vital Records
P.O. Box 9000
Window Rock, Arizona 86515
(928) 871-6386 or (928) 729-4020
Indian Census Rolls, 1885-1940
The National Archives Microfilm Publication M595 has copies of the the Indian Census Rolls, containing about 692 rolls dealing with a large number of tribes in the United States. It is during this time that Indian Census Roll takers were given instructions to include an individual's Indian and English name. By 1902 instruction was given that families should be given the same surname and that they should translate Indian names into English if they were too difficult to pronounce or remember. If names were too "foolish, cumbersome or uncouth translations which would handicap a self-respecting person should not be tolerated," or derogatory nicknames were dropped and changed.
When searching Indian Census Rolls, be mindful that they are divided into one of four main agencies (Eastern, Southern, Western, Northern, and some smaller ones), others can be found in other surrounding tribal census records (Apache, Hopi, Ute, Paiute, and etc).
Online verses Microfilm. Online Indian Census Rolls can be found at Ancestry.com (a pay site), this has all the benefits of searching records from the comfort of home. At this point in time they only have a few Indian Census Rolls available for Navajo records. Searching microfilm at LDS Family History Libraries (free) can be more time consuming, but can provide more information which is left out by on-line sites. On-line sites only include the names of individuals and leave out a wealth of information at the beginning of the census rolls; which includes special instructions and procedures by the census taker and even census maps.
Here is a sample of what is available for Indian census records:
- Eastern Navajo -- 1929-1935 FHL films 575790-575795
- Eastern Navajo Reservation -- 1937 FHL film 579685
- Hopi and Navajo Indians -- 1930-1936
- Leupp Agency -- 1915-1917, 1920-1925, 1927, 1929-1935 FHL films 576939-576940
- Leupp Reservation -- 1937 FHL film 579685
- Navajo -- 1915, 1936, 1938-1939 FHL films 579683-579691
- Navajo: (Moqui Pueblo or Hopi, and Navajo) -- 1885 FHL film 579682
- Northern Navajo -- 1930-1935 FHL films 579713-579717
- Northern Navajo Reservation -- 1937
- Pueblo Bonito (Navajo Indians) -- 1909-1912, 1914-1924, 1926 FHL films 581395-581397
- Pueblo Day Schools (Pueblo and Navajo) -- 1912-1919 FHL films 581398-581400
- San Juan (Navajo) -- 1916 FHL film 581481
- Southern Navajo -- 1929-1935 FHL films 581893-581906
- Southern Navajo Reservation -- 1937
- Western Navajo -- 1905, 1915-1920, 1922-1927, 1929 FHL films 583099-583104
- Western Navajo: (Hopi Indians and Navajo and Paiute Indians for 1929) -- 1937
1932 Hopi and Navajo Native American Census. By Jeff Bowen. FHL book 970.1 B675h vol. 1 and 2 (# 825913)
When searching for individuals, your search should also include surrounding tribal records of the Apaches, Hopis (or Moqui), Paiutes, Pueblos, and Utes.
U.S. Population Census
The United States Federal Population Census records in regards to Navajo Indians varies by area. Since about 1885 until 1930, Natives were required to be placed on Indian Census Rolls, by 1940 they were incorporated into U.S. federal population census records. In some areas Navajos were placed on U.S. federal population census records as early as 1900, and are usually limited to Natives living in or around boarder towns. As most know, U.S. federal population census records are recorded every ten years and at times can also include Indian Census Numbers and can be helpful in tracking down ancestors.
One major issue when dealing with these records is that many of the Census takers were not Navajo speakers and some relied on translators for information. in addition, Navajo at the time these censuses were taken was still in the process of becoming an official written language and so many Census takers phonetically wrote names. Census takers often wrote generic names for people using Navajo terms such as; "At'eed," (girl); "Ashkii," (boy); and "Asdzaan" (woman) or Hastiin (mister or man).
When searching U.S. Federal Indian Census records their records are divided into reservation boundaries which include:
- Eastern Navajo Reservation
- Luepp (located around Luepp, AZ)
- Navajo (location and areas covered change over time)
- Navajo Springs (located around Holbrook, AZ)
- Northern Navajo Reservation
- Pueblo Bonito (located around Chaco Canyon, NM)
- San Juan (located around northern San Juan County, NM)
- Southern Navajo Reservation
- Western Navajo Reservation
Historically, Navajo children have attended Bureau of Indian Affair schools (boarding schools), public schools, and contract schools (mission schools). Each of these have their own sets of records, some of which have found their way into archives and historical societies. The Office of Indian Affairs (now Bureau of Indian Affairs) was charged with providing educational opportunities for Navajo pupils and identifying them through school census records and other means. Some of the schools attended by Navajo pupils include, but are not limited to:
- Albuquerque Indian School (Albuquerque, NM)
- Carlisle Indian Industrial School (Carlisle, PA)
- Charles H. Burke School (Fort Wingate, NM) *forerunner of Fort Wingate Vocational High School
- Chilocco Indian Agricultural School (Cilocco, OK)
- Chinle Boarding School (Many Farms, AZ)
- Fort Lewis Indian Boarding School (Fort Lewis, CO)
- Fort Wingate Vocational High School (Fort Wingate, NM)
- Haskell Indian Industrial Training School (Lawrence, KS)
- Holbrook Indian School (Holbrook, AZ)
- Intermountain Indian School (Brigham City, UT)
- Leupp School (Leupp, AZ)
- Nenannezed Boarding School (Fruitland, NM)
- Phoenix Indian School (Phoenix, AZ)
- Pinon Boarding School (Pinon, AZ)
- Pueblo Day School (NM)
- San Juan Boarding School (NM)
- Santa Fe Indian School (Santa Fe, NM)
- Sherman Institute (Riverside, CA)
- Shiprock Boarding School (Shiprock, NM)
- Southwestern Indian Polytechnic Institute (Albuquerque, NM)
- Western Navajo Boarding School (Tuba City, AZ)
- Martin M. Martinez, comp.School Census of Navajo Indians in McKinley and Valencia Counties, New Mexico, 1957, 1961. This is arranged alphabetically by surname. FHL item.
See also: Agencies for school records
The Navajo have a complex polythesis belief system which dictates how to treat oneself, others, and one's environment. This belief system has helped them deal with numerous groups of people entering into Navajo country. As the Spanish penetrated present-day New Mexico and Arizona, they introduced Spanish Christianity to the Navajos. The Navajos called Catholic priests and missionaries Bi’ee’dahninnezi (Catholic: the one with long clothes). There are some documentations from Spanish sources which include Navajo names, but usually the names are too generic to pinpoint ancestors. Mexican documentation also has this shortcoming.
By the late 1800's, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons) began moving into and settling southern Utah, Arizona and western New Mexico. The Navajos called these people, Gaamalii (Mormons: the fat ones that are coming). Mission records, missionaries and settlers wrote a number of journals and diaries that can include Navajo family names.Baptismal records and Church membership records are harder to come by and are usually limited to Church members only. But, baptismal and Church membership records in earlier times are very limited as to the fact that when Navajos were incorporated into the Church, the Church did not have plans of establishing or maintaining religious contact with the Navajos unless there was a dire need.
As the United States gained control over present-day New Mexico and Arizona, they began assigning religious groups to the different tribes. Mainly the Bi’ee’adaałts’isi (Presbyterian or Protestants) were assigned to the Navajo reservation.
- Bi’ee’adaałts’isi (Presbyterian or Protestants)
- Bi’ee’dahninnezi (Catholic: the one with long clothes)
- Daachaaigii (Pentecostal or Baptist)
- Gaamalii (Mormons: the fat ones)
As stated before, the Navajo Reservation is located in three different states, covering a number of counties.Each of these areas have resources available to the public to search for ancestors.
- Arizona Department of Health:Birth and Death Certificates
- Arizona Digital Newspaper Program
- Arizona Historical Society
- Arizona State University: Charles Trumbull Hayden Library
- Northern Arizona University: Cline Library
- University of Arizona: Main Library
- Historical Society of New Mexico
- New Mexico Newspaper Database
- University of New Mexico: Zimmerman Library
- Brigham Young University:Harold B. Lee Library
- Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints:Family History Library
- University of Utah: J. Willard Marriott Library
- Utah Department of Administrative Services:Division of Archives Records Services Utah Death Certificate Index, 1904-1961
- Utah Department of Heritage and Arts:Utah State Historical Society
- Utah State University: Merrill-Cazier Library
ReferencesSome of these references will include LDS Family History Library call numbers starting with FHL.
- Brugge, David M. Navajo Bibliography with Subject Index FHL Book 970.3 N227be
- Bruchas, Joseph. Code Talker: A Novel About the Navajo Marines of World War Two.
- McClain, Sally. Navajo Weapon: The Navajo Code Talkers. FHL 970.3 N227ms
- Paul, Doris. The Navajo Code Talkers.
- They Talked Navajo: "diné bi-zaad choź-iid"; the United States Marine Corps Navajo Code Talkers of World War II; a record of their reunion, July 9-10, 1971, Window Rock, Arizona FHL book 970.3 N227ti
- McCarty, Teresa L. A Place to Be Navajo:Rough Rock and the Struggle for Self-Determination in Indigenous Schooling.
- Roessel, Robert.Navajo Education, 1948-1978:Its Progress and Its Problems.
- Roessel, Robert.Navajo Education in Action:The Rough Rock Demonstration School.
- Thompson, Hildegard.The Navajos Long Walk for Education a History of Navajo Education.
- Acrey, Bill. Navajo History: The Land and the People.
- Bailey, Garrick and Roberta G. Bailey. A History of the Navajos: The Reservation Years.
- Collier, John. On the Gleaming Way: Navajos, Eastern Pueblos, Zunis, Hopis, Apaches, and their land, and their meaning to the world. FHL 970.1 C69o
- Forbes, Jack D. Apache, Navaho (sic) and Spaniard. FHL 970.1 F744a
- Goodman, James M. The Navajo Atlas: environments, resources, people, and history of the Diné Bikeyah. FHL 970.3 N227g
- Iverson, Peter and Monty Roessel. Dine': A History of the Navajos.
- James, George Wharton. The Indians of the Painted Desert Region: Hopis, Navahoes (sic) Wallapais, Havasupais. FHL 970.1 J233i
- Kelly, Lawrence C. The Navajo Indians and Federal Indian Policy, 1900-1935. FHL 970.3 N227k
- Kluckhohn, Clyde. And Dorothea Leighton. The Navaho. FHL 970.3 N227n
- Locke, Raymond Friday. The Book of the Navajos.
- Parman, Donald L. The Navajos and the New Deal. FHL 970.3 N227pa
- Sundberg, Lawrence. Dinetah: An Early History of the Navajo People.
- Underhill, Ruth. The Navajos.
- Thomas, Alfred Barnaby and Juan Bautista de Arza. Forgotten Frontiers: a study of the Spanish Indian policy of Con Juan Bautista de Arza, governor of New Mexico, 1777-1787. from the original documents in the archives of Spain, Mexico and New Mexico. FHL 970.1 T361f
- Underhill, Ruth. The Navajos. FHL 970.3 N227
- Wilkins, David E.The Navajo Political Experience
- Benally, Malcolm. Bitter Water: Dine' Oral Histories of the Navajo-Hopi Land Dispute Peoples.
- Benedek, Emily. The Wind Won't Know Me: A History of the Navajo-Hopi Dispute.
- Young, Robert W. and William Morgan. The Navajo Language: a Grammar and Colloquial Dictionary. FHL 497.2 Y86n
- Bailey, Lynn Robison. Long Walk: A History of the Navajo Wars, 1864-1868.
- Broderick, Johnson. Navajo Stories of the Long Walk Period.
- Denetdale, Jennifer. The Long Walk: The Forced Navajo Exile.
- Moqui and Navajo Reservations with Navajo extensions. National Archives: NA RG 75 no. 8782 tube no. 1243 FHL films 1665840 Index and FHL 1670769 item 22
Summer, R.C. Map of Navajo Reservation. National Archives: Denver FRG RG 75 FRC 753242. FHL 1665840 index and 1670769 item 27
- Moore, William Haas. Chief, Agents and Soldiers: Conflict on the Navajo Frontier 1868-1882. FHL 970.3 N227m
- Hughes, John T. Doniphan's expedition: containing an account of the conquest of New Mexico ; General Kearney's overland expedition to California ; Doniphan's campaign against the Navajos ; his unparalleled march upon Chihuahua and Durango ; and the operations of General Price at Santa Fe ; with a sketch of the life of Col. Doniphan.
- Thompson, Gerald. The Army and the Navajo. FHL 970.3 N227t
- Denetdale, Jennifer Nez. Reclaiming Dine' History: The Legacies of Navajo Chief Manuelito and Juanita.
- Frisbie, Charlotte and David P. McAllester. Navajo Blessingway Singer: The Autobiography of Frank Mitchell, 1881-1967.
- Hoffman, Virginia. Navajo Biographies.
- Leake, Harvey and Louisa Wade Wetherill. Wolfkiller: Wisdom From a Nineteenth-Century Navajo Shepherd.
- Lee, George P.Silent Courage: An Indian Story: The Autobiography of George P. Lee, a Navajo.
- McPherson, Robert S.A Navajo Legacy: The Life and Teachings of John Holiday.
- McPherson, Robert S.Journey of Navajo Oshley:An Autobiography and Life History.
- McPherson, Robert S.Navajo Tradition, Mormon Life:The Autobiography and Teaching of Jim Dandy.
- McPherson, Robert S. and Samuel Holiday. Under the Eagle:Samuel Holiday, Navajo Code Talker.
- Turner, Ann. The Girl Who Chased Away Sorrow: The Dairy of Sarah Nita, a Navajo Girl, New Mexico, 1864.
- Bahr, Howard M.The Navajo as Seen by the Franciscans, 1898-1921.
- Bahr, Howard M. The Navajo as Seen by the Franciscans, 1920-1950.
- Brugge, David. Navajos in the Catholic Church Records of New Mexico, 1694-1875.
- Centennial Book Committee, eds. Rehoboth Christian School, 1903-2003: Celebrating 100 Years of God's Faith.
- De. Korne, John C.Navaho and Zuni for Christ:Fifty Years of Indian Missions.
- Reichard, Gladys A. Navaho Religion.
- Adams, William Y. Shonto: A Study of the Role of the Trader in a Modern Navaho Community.
- Blue, Martha. Indian Trader: The Life and Times of J.L. Hubbell.
- Berkowitz, Paul and Kevin Gilmartin. The Case of the Indian Trader: Billy Malone and the National Park Service Investigation at Hubbel Trading Post.
- Evans, Will. Along Navajo Trails: Recollections of a Trader, 1898-1948.
- Gillmor, Frances and Louisa Wade Wetherill.Traders to the Navajos:The Story of the Wetherills.FHL 929.273 W532g or fiche 6006789 (4 fiche)
- Graves, Laura. Thomas Varker Keam, Indian Trader.
- Kennedy, John D.A Good Trade: Three Generations of Life and Trading Around the Indian Capital Gallup, New Mexico.
- Kennedy, Mary Jeannette. Tales of a Trader's Wife: Life on the Navajo Indian Reservation, 1913-1938.
- James, H.L. Rugs and Posts:The Story of Navajo Weaving and the Role of the Indian Trader.
- Moon, Samuel. Tall Sheep:Harry Goulding, Monument Valley Trader.
- Richardson, Gladwell. Navajo Trader.
- Steckel, Carl F.Early Day Trader with the Navajos.
- Trafzer, Clifford. Navajos and Anglo Indian Traders.
- Wagner, Sallie and Mary Tate Engels. Tales from Wide Ruins: Jean and Bill Cousins, Traders.
- Wagner, Sallie and Edward T. Hall. Wide Ruins: Memories from a Navajo Trading Post.
- Bowen, Jeff. Western Navajo Reservation: Navajo, Hopi and Paiute Indians, birth and death rolls, 1925-1933 FHL 970.3 N227bj
- Bushman, Virgil and Nellie Bushman. Navajo Indian Cemetery Records and Some New Mexico Cemetery Records Online: and
- City of Winslow Historic Preservation Commission. Index of Winslow Indian Sanatorium Cemetery: from Navajo County death certificates published from 1933 through 1960.
- Guide to Federal Records in the National Archives; Record Group 75, Records of the Bureau of Indian Affairs.
- Navajo Stock Reduction Interviews of Dean Sundberg and Fern Charley OnLine: https://dcms.lds.org/delivery/DeliveryManagerServlet?dps_pid=IE1904602
- Smith, Edward D. Range riding and Navajo stock reduction, (Oral History) O.H. 1155 Online: https://dcms.lds.org/delivery/DeliveryManagerServlet?dps_pid=IE1114720
- Tietjen, Gary (Elder and Sister). Vital records of the Eastern Navajos. Contents: Crownpoint Cemetery -- The Grants Cemetery -- The Rehoboth Cemetery -- The Smith Lake Cemetery -- The Thoreau Cemetery -- Obituaries of Eastern Navajos -- McKinley County death register, 1941-1961 -- Social security death records. FHL 970.3 N227tg
- United States Selective Service System. Arizona, World War I Selective Service System Draft Registration Cards, 1917-1918. FHL film (20) first film 1473300
Family History: On-line examples
- Navajo Nation Official Web Site
- Navajo Code Talkers
- U.S. Department of the Interior
- U.S. National Archives and Records Administration
- List of Navajo Clans, and Show My Clan tool and Are We Related? tool.
- Questions and Answers about Navajo history, names, culture, bands, etc.,
- Navajo Clan and Extended Family Relationships: Cultural Differences site
- This page was last modified on 14 July 2014, at 20:44.
- This page has been accessed 12,047 times.
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