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This material has come from an earlier American Indian page on this Research Wiki entitled "United States Native Races Part 3 - What Records Can I Search?" and needs to be reworked and incorporated into the "American Indian Census Rolls" page.
A census is a count and description of the population. Censuses have been taken by the government primarily for population studies and taxation purposes. Census records are especially valuable because they list a large portion of the population. They can provide information where all or portions of other records are missing. Generally, you will find more complete family information in more recent censuses. Use the information with caution since some information may be incorrect.
Searching Census Records. When searching census records, it is important to remember the following:
- Accept the ages with caution.
- Women are usually are not listed by their maiden names.
- Information may be incorrect.
- Spelling of names and places may vary from modern standard spellings or from how they may be listed in other sources.
- Search the surrounding area if you do not find a family at the expected address.
- When you find your family in one census, search that same location in the earlier and later census records for additional family members.
- Because the handwriting can be difficult to read, it may be helpful to figure the age that a hard-to-find person should have been in a particular census, scan the age column for that approximate age, and then look for the name.
What information is given in census records?
Census records can provide personal information about:
- Family relationships
- Year of birth
- Value of real and personal property
There were many different kinds of Indian censuses taken. They were taken on prescribed forms, and the forms were changed periodically. In searching for Indian ancestry in census records, it would be helpful to learn the history of the census to understand the importance of these records.
One of the earliest Indian censuses available is the 1832 Parson’s and Abbot’s census of the Creek Indians. This was an attempt to record the number of Creek Indians living in Alabama. It is important that a person using these books read the introduction to understand the importance of this roll in Creek history. This census identifies the names of the principal chiefs and heads of the household, where they resided, the number of people living in the household, and whether they owned slaves:
Abbott, Thomas J. Creek Census of 1832 (Lower Creeks). Laguna Hills, California: Histree, 1987. (FHL book 970.3 C861a.) It is indexed by name.
Parsons, Benjamin S. Creek Census of 1832 (Upper Creeks). Laguna Hills, California: Histree, 1987. (FHL book 970.3 C861pa.) It is indexed by name.
Agency Census Rolls
Congress required Indian agencies to take an annual census of Indian reservations starting in 1884. The census forms contained different information, depending on the year the census was taken.
1885-1912: The census forms contained the individual’s Indian name, English name, sex, age, relationship, tribe, and reservation. After 1885, the roll would most likely have two numbers assigned: one is the order number in which the name appeared on the current census; the other is the order number in which the name appeared on the last census. A few of the censuses show the names of persons who were born or died during the year, along with date of birth and death. The information on the form could be either typed or hand-written.
1913-1928: This includes the census roll numbers (both past and present), the English and Indian name, relationship to family, date of birth, sex, reservation, and tribe.
1929: These forms included the name of the tribe, reservation, past and present census roll numbers, Indian and English names, annuity or allotment number, sex, date of birth, degree of blood, marital status, and relationships in the family. In this census, if a man had a plural wife, the oldest wife was listed first, with her unmarried children. The other wives and their children are listed in order of their ages.
1930-1940: This census contained the roll number, surname, given name, sex, age at last birthday, tribe, degree of blood, marital status, relationship to head of the family, jurisdiction where enrolled, name of the post office, county, state, ward of the state, and allotment or annuity identification number. In the later censuses, the form also contains information on how many live or still births a woman had.
Many of these census returns were deposited in the National Archives and condensed under the title Indian Census Rolls. The Family History Library has these census rolls, such as:
United States. Bureau of Indian Affairs. Indian Census Rolls, Blackfeet Agency, 1890-1939. National Archives Microfilm Publications, M0595. Washington, DC: National Archives, 1965. (FHL film 573849-57.) These census records include the Blackfeet, Kainah, Siksika, Piegan and Ojibwa Indians. The births and deaths for some later years are also included.
Several tribes were exempt from annual census taking. For example, the Five Civilized Tribes and states like New York, which had state reservations, had no censuses taken under this act. Some tribes that were selected to have an annual census didn’t have one because the agent failed to take the census. The Navajo tribe had a census taken in 1885 but did not have another taken until 1915.
To use these censuses you must know the tribe, the name of the head of the household, and the agency. The census rolls are arranged alphabetically by the name of the Indian agency, name of the tribe, and then by year. A particular tribe may have been under the authority of many Indian agencies, so the right Indian agency must be found in order to find an ancestor on these rolls.
There are problems in using these records. The person could be listed by an Indian name, his English or Christian names, or any number of different spellings of the name. The names used may have differed with each census. Many Indians did not have a surname and given name and only used one name. The census takers often didn’t speak the native language so the names and the spelling may have been written incorrectly. Most Indian names could be used by either males or females. In some tribes, the mother’s surname was used. Often Indians did not live close to others, so the census taker may have missed them.
Another problem is the definition of relationships in an Indian family. The term brother or sister may not have the same meaning to the Indians as is recognized by the white culture. The Cherokee and other tribes took in children or other non-relatives and called them brother and sister, aunt and uncle, or grandparents without them having a blood relationship.
With all these concerns, census rolls still give a location and a family clan and will add to the understanding of the ancestor.
Federal census enumerators often did not count Indians that either lived on reservations or roamed on unsettled land. When doing Native American research before 1880, Indians were often identified on the census forms as “Mulatto” or “Black,” especially in the southern states. It was left to the discretion of the census taker whether to identify them as Native American.
The federal census before 1870 included names of Native Americans who had cut off tribal affiliations, but it is difficult to identify them as Native Americans. There are four volumes of schedules for a special 1880 enumeration of Indians living near military installations in California, Washington, and the Dakota Territories. There was no census taken in the Indian Territory (now Oklahoma) in 1880, but there is a census taken by the Cherokee government.
The most important federal censuses for Native Americans were taken in 1900 and 1910, since they include separate “Indian Population” schedule sheets usually found at the end of the population schedule for a county. Indians who had incorporated themselves in the general population were enumerated there. The 1900 and 1910 census may provide the individual’s Indian and English name, their tribal affiliation and that of their parents, degree of Indian blood in themselves and their parents, education, and land allotment information. After 1910, the federal census offered no separate Indian schedule.
For more information on the United States federal censuses and indexes and the information they contain, see the United States Research Outline.
State census records may also be helpful in New York, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota and South Dakota. These censuses often have an enumeration of the reservations. See the research outlines of the individual states for information on state census records.
When searching for Canadian native races in the census, Eskimo, Inuit, and mixed blood groups such as the Metis could be included. Native Americans and 20 Inuit groups are called “First Nations.” More than half of the 410,000 Canadians who claimed descent from native races in the 1981 census were “status Indians,” affiliated with bands living on reservations or otherwise registered with the federal government.
Canadian federal censuses are only available from 1851 to 1901. If the Indians were not living on a Reserve, they may have been included in the census with the general population. However, the census forms do not indicate that they are Indian. In 1901 the census enumerators of the older provinces of Canada were instructed to include the Indian population, so the censuses for the earlier and more populated areas include more Indians in the census.
Census returns for the territories and provinces established after 1870 are incomplete.
From 1871 to 1917 the Department of Indian Affairs (DIA) took its own Indian census annually. In 1917 the DIA decided to take a census every five years. These censuses were not taken until 1923 because of the delay caused by World War I. From 1924 to 1959 these tribal censuses were taken and published. Unfortunately, many of these census records were lost or have not been transferred to the National Archives of Canada.
For other clues in finding an ancestor in Canadian census records, see the Canadian Research Outline and the research outlines for each province.
- This page was last modified on 25 March 2010, at 00:14.
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