United States Native Races Part 3 - What Records Can I Search?Edit This Page
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An overview of the types of records available in researching American Indians. This article is a part of a series entitled Indians of North America - A Beginner's Guide.
This section is a description of each major source used in family history research for Native Americans. The sources are organized according to their value for genealogical research, the most important records being listed first. For strategies for the use of these different records during different periods of time, again refer to the section on How Do I Find Records About My Ancestors?
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 Census Wiki article.
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 Wiki articles 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 Canada Census Wiki article and the census article for each province.
Land and Property Records
Land records often are the most accurate and dependable records available to prove Native American relationships. You are more likely to find an Native American ancestor in land records than most other records. They are public records and generally are not restricted, especially to tribal members.
Early colonial deeds were the beginning of land records. Most of the early records were kept by local governments. In nearly all of the early sales, Native Americans reserved all that was of value to them: the right to fish and hunt on the premises. When one tract was sold, they simply moved to new territory, which in turn they sold and moved further west.
Land allotment records were created when the federal government extinguished title to reservations and allotted land to individual members of tribes in 1887. This was part of a new policy in which the individual Native Americans would supposedly become independent of government supervision. An Native American head of family residing on a reservation was entitled to 160 acres; each unmarried person over the age of eighteen was entitled to eighty acres; and every other person under eighteen years of age was entitled to forty acres. After twenty-five years, the individual would then be issued a patent by the federal government for that parcel of land. Not all reservations allotted their lands, so not every tribe has these records.
When an allottee died, his or her right to an allotment passed to the heirs according to the degree of relationship. The acreage was not divided among the heirs with each receiving a full title to a portion of the acreage, but each heir received a portion of the right of the allotment to the entire parcel of land. The General Allotment Act also included a means of passing the rights to that allotment to heirs. It also allowed some sales of the allotments, under specific conditions. Generally all parties holding any fractional rights to an allotment had to agree to the sale of those rights.
To keep the degree of relationships straight, a record was kept called the register of families. See United States Probate Records for details. This register showed family relationships in the immediate family plus aunts, uncles and cousins.
Allotment records include plats, tract books and allotment schedules. These records are arranged by tribe and enrollment number. The content of the records varies from tribe to tribe but usually includes applications for allotment, plat maps designating the allotted land, registers of names of allottees and description of their allotments, and information about contested allotments and improvements made to the land before selection.
Tract Books are records of the status of land and land transactions arranged geographically by subdivision. Tract Books can provide the following information: name of the allotted individual, patent number, rate of land, property description, and the assignee of the property.
Township plat maps can show allotments obtained by family members located next to each other. Identification of an ancestor may help associate him or her with a specific band within a tribe. Some village plats show an entire region, with names filled in for each individual plat. Most were performed by the Bureau of Land Management, then turned over to the Bureau of Indian Affairs.
Allotment schedules record individual allotments to Native Americans. They usually include:
- Plats of the land being allotted,
- Affidavits of eligibility as an Native American and identity of the tribe,
- Testimonies of claimant or witnesses,
- Marital status,
- Assignee of the allotment,
- Information on the twenty-five-year moratorium and any releases from the moratorium
Allotment schedules also may contain:
- Homestead entries by certain tribes, records of surveys,
- Scrip stubs that have been redeemed for land,
- Trust information
They are arranged by allotment number.
Patents. Once the individual Native American proved his competency to manage his allotment, a patent was issued to him by the U.S. government. The percentage of Native Americans who actually received a patent for an allotted piece of land was fairly low, but once a person obtained a patent, he had the right to sell his property to anyone. In order to find information in these records, the name of the allottee and tribal affiliation must be known. Usually there is an index to the allotment register.
Other Types of Land Records
The Land Division of the BIA was established in 1846. There are records for surveying and allotting of land and the sale and leasing of it. Most of the surveys of Indian lands and reservations use metes and bounds. The records also show claims and the enrollment of Indians, a process that entitled them to land.
A large portion of the records are papers and correspondence. There are registers of correspondence and other important sources from 1855 through 1906 concerning land matters and the enrollment of the Five Civilized Tribes.
Sales and Leases
Leases of Indian Allotments were frequently made by the 1890's. Reservation land could not be sold without the consent of Congress, though leasing to outsiders was permitted. Leases were usually made for a term of ninety-nine years and are often found recorded among land deeds for each particular county or town. These records will document that the property was being leased, from whom, and the length of lease.
Customarily, before Indian land was sold, it was appraised, usually by commissions established for that purpose. Appraisal records consist of schedules of valuations, which give the location, area (usually in acres), and appraised value of tracts or lots of reservation lands, trust lands, town sites, and other lands.
Direct sale of Native American lands could take place once the right to patent was obtained or the actual patent was issued. If a fee patent had not yet been issued, the resale of Native American allotments was usually documented in federal records.
Scrip was given to Native American tribes, such as Choctaws and Chippewas. Scrip allowed the recipient to select public lands rather than be assigned to specifically defined allotments. It was also distributed to “half-breeds,” some of whom were not necessarily living on tribal lands when the treaty was signed. Scrip selections were restricted to designated areas, depending on the treaty. These lands had to be located and defined by the recipient before the rights to that property could be resold.
Heads of households and individuals with mixed blood over the age of 21 could qualify. Most of these applications were made after removal to new areas. This means the records show current residence as well as previous residences, and several cases identify family members who remained in the area.
Records of the Bureau of Land Management that pertain to scrip are housed at the National Archives. Some are recorded among individual land office records such as the Sioux Half-Breed Scrip congressional acts of 1854 and 1858. These provide scrip for “half-breeds” or mixed bloods of the Dakotah or Sioux Nation of Indians in exchange for their right to reservation land. There are also similar records for Choctaw Scrip for 1842 and 1845. Scrip records are also available for Chippewa Half Breeds of the Lake Superior, Pembina, and Red Lake bands.
Military Bounty Lands
The Veterans Administration has several thousand bounty land warrant applications based on the service of Indian scouts, Indian soldiers, and other soldiers in Indian wars, and other wars of the United States.
A pension or bounty land warrant applications file may contain one or more applications of a veteran or his dependents or heirs, documents supporting the identity, service or character of the claimant, and evidence of the action taken on the claim. A veteran’s application was a sworn statement and included:
- Date of application,
- Date of birth of the veteran,
- Date and place of enlistment and discharge,
- Company and commanding officer,
- Physical description,
- Date and circumstances of any disability resulting from his service and medical treatment received,
- Names and date and place of marriage of the veteran’s parents,
- Date and place of marriage and divorce,
- Names and dates of birth of children,
- His addresses since leaving the service,
- His signature or mark, and
- Sometimes date and place of death.
Claimants often submitted evidence to support their applications, such as marriage certificates, wills, commission, discharges, or miscellaneous correspondence.
An Indian Claims Commission was created to hear, investigate, and determine the validity of claims against the United States filed prior to August 13, 1846 by a tribe or any other group of Native Americans. In 1978 it stopped taking cases, and all remaining cases were transferred back to the U.S. Court of Claims.
The records of the Indian Claims Commission are grouped into several collections. One set presents the cases heard by the Commission dating from a treaty signed in 1785 to the closing of the Commission’s office in 1978. A second set of records covers the decisions reached by the Indian Claims Commission from 1948 to 1981, and another set of records covers the expert testimony before the Indian Claims Commission.
Land Entry Papers
Land entry papers are the documents accumulated to determine the entitlement of individuals to patents for title to tracts of land in the public domain. Through 1908 most of the land entry papers are arranged by state and land office and thereunder by type of entry.
Most of the land entry papers are in case files. There are two major categories for Indian lands: allotments of land to individual Indians and sales of tribal land. The files for allotments usually are numbered sets for individual land offices with no tribal breakdown. Most of these files were for allotments of public domain land to Indians who were not living on a reservation.
Patents and Deeds
A patent is a document by which the United States transfers title to land to another party. Usually the original patent is sent to the new owner, and the Bureau of Land Management keeps a copy. There are Seminole homestead deeds, called deeds rather than patents, because they were to be issued by the Seminole Nation rather than the United States. Other records concerning patents and deeds include schedules of unpatented Creek lands (1878), lists of Choctaw and Chickasaw homestead patents (1906), an index to non-reservation land deeds and deeds to the United States in trust from 1933 to 1948, and a record of fee patents from 1943 to 1952.
Enrolling individuals as members of a tribe was done for several reasons. Native Americans were enrolled for the purposes of allotment, to provide a base for tribal membership, to determine eligibility for payments from claims cases, and to establish the descendants of recognized adult tribal members.
Enrollment records usually include personal information about the individual being enrolled, such as name, age, sex, degree of Indian blood, agency where enrolled, and other data. Names of relatives and their relationship may also be indicated on the enrollment records.
Guion Miller Rolls
An extensive enrollment of the Cherokees was made from 1907 to 1908. In 1902 the Cherokee filed three suits in the U.S. Court of Claims to press their claims for funds due them under their treaties of 1835, 1836, and 1845 with the United States. The court awarded more than $1 million to be distributed to all Eastern Cherokees alive on 28 May 1906, who could prove they were members of the eastern Cherokee tribe at the time of the treaties or were descended from members who had not been subsequently affiliated with any other tribe.
The Cherokee Claims Commission, headed by Guion Miller, began its work in 1906. In his report of 1909, he stated there were 45,847 separate applications filed, representing some 90,000 individuals. Out of this number, 3,436 Cherokee east of the Mississippi and 27,284 Cherokee west of the Mississippi were certified as being eligible to participate in the award. Each applicant who wished to participate was asked for his or her full English and Indian name, place of birth, name of husband or wife, names of children, place of birth and date of death of parents and grandparents, names and ages of brothers and sisters, and names of uncles and aunts.
Those who were rejected fell into several groups: those who left the Cherokee Nation in the East before 1835, those who filed after the final application date of 31 August 1907, illegitimate children were rejected even when their brothers and sisters were admitted, those who had dual tribal ancestry, and those who failed to prove the required relationship. The index to the 1909 Guion Miller Roll is found in:
Blankenship, Bob. Guion Miller Roll Plus of Eastern Cherokee, East and West of the Mississippi, 1909, North Carolina: Cherokee Roots, 1994. (FHL book 970.3 C424gm.) This index includes first name, last name, Miller Roll number, Miller Application number, age in 1906, degree of Indian blood, address, town and state.
The two-volume index and claim files are available at the Family History Library. They can be found in:
United States. Court of Claims Eastern Cherokee Applications, August 29, 1906-May 26, 1909. National Archives Microfilm Publications, M1104. Washington, DC: National Archives, 1981. (On 348 FHL films beginning with 378594.)
When the Guion Miller Commission was terminated, the federal government printed a list:
United States. Bureau of Indian Affairs. Roll of Eastern Cherokees Entitled to articipate in the Fund Arising from the Judgement of the Court of Claims of May 28, 1906. Washington, D.C.: Not published, [19–?] (FHL film 547137.)
To locate an ancestor in the Cherokee tribe, first search the index in Eastern Cherokee Applications. The index is on film 378594 item 2, and find the name in the general index which is arranged alphabetically by surname. Record the application number, which is listed in the first column.
The records of the application numbers begin on FHL film 378595 and are listed numerically by number. When the application number is found, it will indicate the film number which contains the record of the ancestor.
Dawes Commission Enrollment Records
When to Use the Records. Use the Dawes Commission enrollment records if your ancestor was:
Origin of the Records. In 1893 Congress established a commission to exchange Indian tribal lands in the southeastern United States for new land allotments to individuals in Oklahoma. The Commission to the Five Civilized Tribes was also called the Dawes Commission after its chairman, Senator Dawes. More than 250,000 people applied to this commission for enrollment and land. Just over 100,000 were approved.
Content of the Records.
- Enrollment cards (also called census cards) include residence, roll numbers, names of family members, relationships, ages, sex, degree of Indian blood, enrollment date, place and number, parents and their enrollment date or place, spouses, divorces, children or grandchildren.
- Applications for enrollment include affidavits, vital records, letters, questionnaires, and decisions mentioning relatives, dates, and places.
- Letter logs include name, address, date of letter, file number, date received, subject, and action taken. Letters are with the applications.
Five Steps to Using the Dawes Commission Records
Step 1. Use the Index to Find an Ancestor’s Roll Number.
Find the index in book, microfilm, or microfiche format:
United States. Commission to the Five Civilized Tribes. Index to the Final Rolls of the Citizens and Freedmen of the Five Civilized Tribes in Indian Territory. Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, . (FHL book 970.1 Un3c index; film 962366; fiche 6051501 [set of 8].) The fiche is clearer than the film.
Search for an ancestor’s name in the index. The index is arranged in tribal groups. You may need to search for the name in roughly alphabetical order in each of 29 tribal groups listed in this table of contents:
Index Tribal Group Page
|Choctaws by Blood||1|
|Newborn Choctaws by Blood||91|
|Minor Choctaws by Blood||101|
|Choctaws by Marriage||107|
|Minor Choctaw Freedmen||151|
|New Born Mississippi Choctaws||164|
|Minor Mississippi Choctaws||165|
|Chickasaws by Blood||167|
|New Born Chickasaws by Blood||197|
|Minor Chickasaws by Blood||201|
|Chickasaws by Marriage||204|
|Cherokees by Blood||238|
|Minor Cherokees by Blood||428|
|Cherokees by Marriage||462|
|Minor Cherokee Freedmen||492|
|Creeks by Blood||497|
|Newborn Creeks by Blood||559|
|Minor Creeks by Blood||568|
|Newborn Creek Freedmen||607|
|Minor Creek Freedmen||613|
|Seminoles by Blood and Freedmen||616|
|Newborn Seminoles by Blood||633|
|Newborn Seminole Freedmen||635|
- By Blood were people who were born members of the tribe.
- Newborns were children born after 1902.
Minors were children who were added to the rolls in 1906.
- By Marriage were non-citizens or “whites” who married into the tribe. Freedmen, Freedmen Minors, and Freedmen Newborns were former slaves of tribal members, or descendants of former slaves.
Copy the tribal group and roll number from Index to Final Rolls.
When you find your ancestor’s name, copy (1) the name of his or her tribal group, and (2) the roll number in the right column of the index.
Can’t Find a Name in the Dawes Commission Index?
Before concluding your ancestor’s name is not in the index, consider:
- The name may be spelled differently, for example, Anne instead of Ann, or Thos. instead of Thomas. Search for variant spellings.
- Look for your ancestor by his or her English name, Indian name, middle name, nickname, initials, married name, or maiden name.
- Maybe he or she was listed under a different tribe or category than you expected. Look in each of the 29 sections of the index.
- If your ancestor was a Cherokee by Blood you could also search:
Blankenship, Bob. Dawes Roll “Plus” of Cherokee Nation 1898. [North Carolina]: Cherokee Roots Pub., [19—]. (FHL Q book 970.1 B611d.) This index lists name, roll and census card number, Miller roll and application number, age, and sex.
Rejected Applications. Your ancestor’s application may have been rejected. The Dawes Commission finally rejected about 60 percent of the applications. Only a few rejected applications are in previous indexes.
An index to most of the rejected applications is on the National Archives Internet site at http://www.archives.gov/. Select the NAIL Standard Search and type your ancestor’s given name, surname, or both in the Enter Keywords field, then click Submit Search. If the Total Hits Retrieved: is one or more, you can click Display Results and eventually see a digital image of the census card on the computer screen.
The “Field No.” in the upper-right corner of the card is the census card number to use to find the application for enrollment in Step 4 below.
If your ancestor does not seem to be on the Internet, you could write for help from:
Step 2. Use the Rolls to Find and Copy the Census Card Number
Find the final rolls in book or microfilm format.
United States. Commission to the Five Civilized Tribes. Final Rolls of Citizens and Freedmen of the Five Civilized Tribes in Indian Territory. Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, . (FHL book 970.1 Un3c; film 908371 item 2.)
Search the final rolls and copy the census card number.
Look for the tribal group and roll number copied during Step 1. When you find the roll number and your ancestor’s name, write down the census card number.
Step 3. Find the Census Card on Film, and Copy It
Determine the microfilm number of the census card.
Find the following entry in the Family History Library Catalog:
United States. Commission to the Five Civilized Tribes. Enrollment Cards for the Five Civilized Tribes, 1898-1914. National Archives Microfilm Publications, M1186. Washington, D.C.: National Archives, 1981. (FHL film 1490262353.)
Look up the tribal group and census card number to determine which of the 93 films has the census card (also known as the enrollment card). Write the film number of the census card on your research log.
Retrieve the film, search for the census card in numerical order, and photocopy the card.
Can’t Find a Card on the Film?
There are three groups of cards:
“Straight” is for approved applications.
“R” is for rejected applications.
“D” is for doubtful applications.
Your ancestor’s card may have a “D” or an “R” number. The catalog lists the “D” and “R” numbers after the “straight” numbers.
Step 4. Find the Application for Enrollment on Film, and Copy It
Determine the film number of the application for enrollment.
Look again at the catalog to find the following entry:
United States. Commission to the Five Civilized Tribes. Applications for Enrollment of the Commission to the Five Civilized Tribes, 1898-1914. National Archives Microfilm Publications, M1301. Washington, DC: National Archives, 1981. (On 468 FHL films starting with 1439798.)
Look for your ancestor’s tribal group and census card number to determine the film number of the application packet. Write the film number of the application packet on your research log.
Retrieve the film, and find and copy the application packet.
Step 5. Look for Your Ancestor’s Name in the Letter Logs
There are 21 letter logs which are in order alphabetically by the first two letters of the surname. Look for spillover names at the end of each letter of the alphabet. Your ancestor’s name probably appears in only a few of them, but take a few minutes to search each log anyway. Logs list name, address, date of letter, file number, date received, subject, and action taken:
United States. Bureau of Indian Affairs. Index to Letters Received by Commission to the Five Civilized Tribes, 1897-1913. National Archives Microfilm Publications, M1314. Washington, D.C.: National Archives, 1983. (FHL film 1694814-36.)
Hone, E. Wade, Land & Property Research in the United States. Salt Lake City, Utah, Ancestry, 1997. (FHL book 97 R27h.) This is a thoroughly detailed book about all land records in the United States, with a special section 5 (pages 199-212) dealing with Native American lands. It includes charts, plats and maps.
Canadian Land Records
The system of land allocation on Canadian Indian Reserves is complicated. Indian lands could only be surrendered to the Crown, and the government would then allocate land to the Indians. Before the Indian Act of 1951, Indians obtained the right to occupy, use, and pass on to their heirs parcels of reserve lands. They were given “location tickets” which showed their right to occupy the land. These tickets were replaced by certificates of possession, certificates of occupation, and notices of entitlement. Some of these records date to the 1800's. The more recent records include the name and tribe of the person receiving the land, the date of the transaction, and a description of the parcel of land on the reserve.
Beginning in 1951, the Indian Land Registry kept a register of the disposition of Indian lands. The staff of the DIA has made an effort to review historical records before 1951 and has gathered original deeds and other land documents to include in the Registry. These documents include land sales books, leases, and patents to Indian lands. Indian land documents are also scattered throughout the correspondence files of the DIA. The Red and Black series and the DIA’s Central Registry Files (CRF) include documents relating to the individual purchases and the issuing of patents for Indian lands.
The Family History Library has very few records dealing with Indian lands in Canada. Many of the records of the DIA, including the Indian Land Registry and the CRF, are now in the custody of the National Archives of Canada in Record Group 10. For an explanation of these records, see the book Records of the Federal Department of Indian Affairs at the National Archives cited in United States Archives and Libraries.
Probate records are court records that describe the distribution of a person’s estate after he dies. These records are helpful because authorities often began recording probate actions before birth and death records. Probate records often identify additional children or relationships that may have been missed or unreadable in other records. Native Americans were allowed to make wills starting in 1910.
In general the probate process produces court records created after an individual’s death that relate to a court’s decisions regarding the distribution of his estate to his heirs or creditors and care of his dependents, land allotment, registers of families, heirship and wills are all types of records that may be involved in an Native American’s probate process.
Traditionally the Indian groups distributed personal belongings after death in customs unique to their group. Some burials included not only the deceased but his or her personal belongings as well. You will want to study a tribal history to learn its customs.
== Register of Families: (1890-1900) These registers were compiled by agents of the BIA to determine relationships for the purposes of heirship finding in allotment cases. The records contain the Indian and English names of the individual, marital status, his age or birth date, names, ages, relationships, and allotment information regarding his parents, brothers, sisters, children, uncles, aunts, and at many times other living relatives as well. After many years the Register of Families became too bulky and awkward to use, so many agencies began keeping an “Heirship.”
== Heirship: (1908-1923) In 1908 the BIA began determining the heirs of a deceased Indian allottee. The property, especially land, owned by Indians could be passed on to the heirs of the deceased. A number of records, called heirship records, were created to determine the heirs of the Indian and the percentage of the property they should receive. Types of heirship records include: Affidavit as to Lawful Heirs, Report of Heirship, Data for Heirship Finding, Departmental Findings Determining the Heirs of Deceased Indians, Inherited Interests in Estates, Index and Heirship Card-Enrollee, Estate Files, and Heirship Cases.
These records usually contain the name of the deceased, the birth and death date, the allotment, patent or probate number, a description of the allotment, number of acres of land, and the names of his heirs, including the percentage of their share of the estate. These records may also include the names of the parents, spouse, grandparents, aunts, uncles, brothers, sisters, children, and other relatives with their ages or birth dates, marital status, address, and tribe or band affiliation.
Heirship records can be found in the offices of the different BIA agencies. Some records are available at the Family History Library, such as:
United States. Bureau of Indian Affairs. Grand Ronde-Siletz Agency. Heirship Records, 1887-1930. Salt Lake City, Utah: Filmed by the Genealogical Society of Utah, 1978. (FHL films 1025306-8.) Included in these records are allotment heirship cards, allotment of estate record cards, estate record sheets, and inherited interests in estates cards. These records contain the name of the deceased and his birth and death dates, parents’ and spouse’s names, the allotment, patent, probate and file numbers, a description of the allotment, the names of the heirs, and their percentage of the share.
After 1910 Indians could make a will with the approval of the Commissioner of Indian Affairs in Washington DC. Wills contain the testator’s name, residence, legatees or names of heirs, relationships, description of land and property (allotment number), date of will and probate, the tribe, date of death, age at death, signatures, witnesses, and date of approval by BIA.
For Native American wills in the National Archives, see:
Bowen, Jeff. Native American Wills and Probate Records 1911-1921. Signal Mountain, Tennessee: Mountain Press, 1997. (FHL book 970.1 B675n.) Includes will transcripts and an index.
These files were collected by various levels of the Bureau of Indian Affairs consist of wills, reports on heirship. They usually include such information as name, tribe, agency, allotment number, description of allotment, place of residence, date of death, age at death, names of heirs, and their share of the estate.</nowiki>
Inheritance Examiners Report
These reports include applications, decisions of the tribal commissioner, and notices to applicants. They are arranged alphabetically by name of an applicant. Carbon copies of letters sent arranged by surname.
Probate records are available at the National Archives, National Archives regional offices, local offices of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, and Family History Library.
Emigration and Immigration Records
As early as 1803 the United States encouraged Native Americans to move from their lands in the East to Indian territories west of the Mississippi River. In 1830 President Andrew Jackson supported a law allowing Indian land in the Southeast to be exchanged for land in the West. Under this law the U.S. military was in charge of removing many Indians from the east. Conditions during this removal were sometimes harsh, including what some tribes call the “trail of tears.” Some Indians who were willing to give up their tribal affiliations and rights were legally allowed to remain in the East. Some Indians avoided authorities and remained behind illegally.
The removal records created during this time help to identify many Native American ancestors and give information about their migration. For a more detailed discussion of Indian removal records, see Curt B. Witcher’s and George J. Nixon’s Tracking How do I find my Cherokee ancestor : A Case Study. [FHL book 970.3 C424ng.]
Native American migration records include censuses, muster lists, removal records, correspondence, reservation records, and a few passports.
Registers were made of those who wished to remain in the East. Census rolls were usually taken to determine how many tribal members were to be moved. Muster rolls were often kept by the military unit assigned to remove the tribe. These muster rolls included the names of those being removed. They were usually recorded prior to the removal, but sometimes were taken after the arrival to the new residence. Both need to be checked to see if the ancestor made it to the new location. There are many reasons an ancestor may not have arrived: intermarriage with a non-Indian, death on the march, escape from the march, permission to settle in another area before the destination was reached. Contents include name, sometimes number of persons in each family by age group and sex, and original residence of each head of family. Some muster rolls can be found interfiled with the Correspondence files of the Office of Indian Affairs:
United States. Office of Indian Affairs. Letters Received, 1824-1881 Registers of Letters Received, 1824-1880. National Archives Microfilm Publications, M0018 and M0234. Washington, D.C.: The National Archives, 1942, 1956. (On 1088 microfilms beginning with film 1638620.) This source includes correspondence from all sources concerning Indian lands, emigration, treaty negotiations, conflicts, claims, licenses, population, education, health, employees, supplies, and many other subjects relating to Indians and the operation of the Office of Indian Affairs. The letters are arranged alphabetically by the name of the field jurisdiction or subject heading, then by year and by the first letter of the surname of the writer. Each register volume is divided into alphabetical sections and includes a cross-reference to other letters.
Other records deal with emigration agents (a BIA record) who assisted in the removal of the Indians from one area to another. These records can be found in the Office of the Commissary General of Subsistence, which from 1830 to 1836 directed the transportation and subsistence of emigrating Indians.
Reservations sometimes took a roll of the residents and new arrivals, depending on the agent in charge. Agency records also contain a record of new arrivals, once again depending on the agent in charge.
In general, Indians were not considered citizens before 1924 and were not normally given U.S. passports for visits to foreign countries. However, Indians were often required by Indian agents to get permission to visit another tribe or part of the United States. These permits were often called passports. You may be able to find such tribal passports among agency or tribal records or correspondence.
The following is a listing of some of the records that are available:
Watson, Larry S. Names and Claims of Creek Indians Who Moved at Their Own Expense, 1830-1840. [Lawton, Oklahoma]: Histree, 1980. (FHL book 970.3 C861ws.) This is a list of Creek Indians who moved from the state of Alabama to Oklahoma between 1830 and 1840.
Foreman, Grant Ulysses. Indian Removal: The Emigration of the Five Civilized Tribes of Indians. Norman, Oklahoma: University of Oklahoma Press, 1972. (FHL book 970.1 F761i; fiche 6088736.) This includes the removal of the Choctaw, Creek, Chickasaw, Cherokee, and Seminole.
Court records contain the names of individuals involved in confrontations, thefts, and destruction of property. They may give a person’s age, residence, occupation, or family relationships. Friends and neighbors may be listed as witnesses. Indian court records, where they exist, may also give the citizenship of non-Indians, adopted non-Indians, intermarriage with non-Indians, or unauthorized non-Indian settlers (intruders).
Though court records contain helpful genealogical information, they are time consuming and difficult to use. For this reason you should not use them until you have used other records first. Many different courts exist on the national, state, and county level. Most court records are arranged by date only and are not well indexed. Separate court records were seldom kept for Indians.
Government Court Records
From the beginning of British rule in the United States and Canada, the government created agencies, laws, and treaties for dealing with the Indians. As the government made treaties and agreements with the Indians that the government subsequently broke, the Indians began seeking justice through the Indian Department and the United States Court of Claims.
Treaties that resulted in the relocation of Indians were especially troublesome. Some treaties designated blocks of land as Indian lands, and Indians were moved from their homes to those lands. Some treaties created reservations (or reserves in Canada) where the Indians had to move. Indians who live on reservations are subject to tribal laws, but they are also subject to treaties made between their tribes and the federal government. At first the governments tried to force Indians to live on reservations or reserves. In recent years, living on a reservation or reserve has become optional. Indians not living on a reservation are not subject to the terms of the treaties.
By 1946, there were so many court cases pending against the United States government, mainly as a result of the removals, that the Indian Claims Commission was created to handle the claims. The Commission only heard cases for problems that arose before August 13, 1946. They expected to have all their cases resolved within five years. However, there were so many claims that the Commission was operated until April 10, 1977. On that date the remaining cases were transferred to the United States Court of Claims. To this date some of the cases are not resolved. Cases heard by the Indians Claims Commission are found in:
United States. Indian Claims Commission. Decisions [Cases Decided] by the Indian Claims Commission. Frederick, Maryland: University Publications of America, 1975-1979. (On 346 FHL fiche beginning with 6076301.) An index to the decisions is on microfiche 6076301. This does not circulate to family history centers.
Jordan, Jerry Wright. Cherokee by Blood: Records of Eastern Cherokee Ancestry in the U.S. Court of Claims, 1906-1910. Nine Volumes. Bowie, Maryland: Heritage Books,1987-1997. (FHL book 970.3 C424j.) This is a listing of eastern Cherokee mentioned in the U.S. Court of Claims records.
Many records regarding the Five Civilized Tribes have been collected by the Oklahoma Historical Society, Indian Archives Division. Some of them are court records from the circuit, district, and supreme courts.
As a result of the court cases brought against the government, various types of records were created that are unique to the Indians. They include land allotments, tribal enrollment records, special censuses, the Guion Miller Rolls, records of the Dawes Commission, heirship records, and claims. For more information on these records, see United States Land and Property, United States Probate Records, and United States Census.
Court Records Created by Indians
No equivalent court records have been found among the Indians before they were relocated to reservations and reserves. After the relocations, tribes were given power to regulate their own affairs on the reservation. The tribal councils were responsible for creating and executing laws and resolving disputes within the tribe. Most of these court records are in the custody of the tribal council of the respective tribes. Any access to these records must be obtained through them. The library has few Indian court records but many government court records about Indians. These are usually found in the subject search of the Family History Library Catalog under the name of the tribe.
Before 1880, religious societies and missions usually directed the education of Indians. Many of the Indian school records can be found in the records of the churches. See United States Church Records for help in finding church records.
In 1885, the Bureau of Indian Affairs established an Education Division to oversee the education of Indian children. There were several types of schools which Indians attended.
Types of Schools
These schools were established by the Federal government and could either be reservation schools (located on the reservation) or non-reservation schools (those not on the reservation but which accepted students from various tribes and localities). The student lived away from home and with other Indian students. Indian families and the government tried to place students close to their homes. When placement was not possible due to overcrowding, children were sent to schools in other states.
These government schools were attended by children who lived at home.
Church or Mission Schools.
These schools were maintained by a religious order, although some schools changed ownership between the government and churches. Some tribes used tribal funds to pay the student’s tuition.
Most students attended public schools instead of private schools. Around the mid-1900's the government-sponsored schools were dissolved and the education of all Indian students became the responsibility of the public schools.
Local agencies had boarding schools on or near the reservations. These schools maintained files on the individual students. The records included the student’s name, age, sex, tribe, degree of Indian blood, name of parent or guardian, name of reservation or agency, attendance, subjects taken, grades, health history, and name and location of the school. The records can be found in the school or at the agency which maintained the school.
Some examples of school records include:
Haskell Institute. School Records, 1884-1953. Fort Worth, Texas: National Archives, 1978. (On 7 FHL films beginning with 1205530.) The Haskell Institute was a special advanced school for Indian students. These records include annual school census reports, enrollment books, student records, matriculation records, pupil rosters, and records of Haskell Institute Indians in twentieth century wars.
United States Indian School (Carlisle, Pennsylvania). Catalogue, 1912. Salt Lake City, Utah: Genealogical Society of Utah, 1979. (FHL film 1032846 item 9.) This includes a list of graduates between 1889 and 1910.
School Census Records
School censuses were taken by the agents of the Bureau of Indian Affairs and were reports of children of school age, whether or not they were enrolled in school. They generally included the student’s name, residence, age, and name of the parent or guardian. They also may have included the sex, tribe, degree of Indian blood of the student and parents, address, name of the reservation or agency, attendance information, and condition of health.
The National Archives has a large collection of school census records sent in from the different agencies from 1912 to 1939. Local Bureau of Indian Affairs agencies have earlier school census records. The Family History Library has many of the school census records from the agencies and the National Archives, such as: United States. Bureau of Indian Affairs. Standing Rock Agency. School Records, 1886-1941. Kansas City, Missouri: Federal Archives and Records Center, 1977. (FHL film 1204879 item five and 1204880.) This school census indicates the child’s name, age, sex, date of birth, degree of Indian blood, attendance, name of the school, grade level, and name of the parent or guardian.
Bantin, Philip C. Guide to Catholic Indian Mission and School Records in Midwest Repositories.Milwaukee, Wisconsin: Marquette University, 1984. (FHL book 970.1 B228g.) This book contains the names and addresses of the Catholic missions, churches, and orders in the states of Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North and South Dakota, Oklahoma, and Wisconsin. The schools are listed by state and town and it includes a history of the church or mission, the dates the records were kept, and a description of the holdings. It is indexed.
The following section is a guide and explanation of the Native American records available in the United States and Canada that were kept by various religious denominations. Not all records will be helpful in your search for your ancestors. They will, however, give you an idea of what records were kept and how they were kept. Not all tribes were taught by missionaries, and not all missionaries kept a record of the Indian names in their records.
When researching your family, know your tribal affiliation if possible. Learn the history of your tribe, their customs, and the basic area in which they lived. Study the area(s) geography, politics, and religion to determine what denomination(s) took charge of the area(s) in which your people lived. When you determine that,study the denomination(s) to learn where the records are kept, what records were kept, how the records were kept, and the history of the church. Each church has its own policies on record keeping, and some records may be more complete than others depending on time period, availability of the materials to keep records, and other obstacles that may have occurred.
Church records are very important for family research because civil authorities in most states did not begin registering vital statistics until after 1900. They are excellent sources of names, dates, and places of births, marriages, and deaths. For addresses and phone numbers of different religious denominations and their archives, see the United States Church Records and the Canada Church Records Wiki articles.
United States Church Policy
During President Grant’s “Peace Policy,” Indian agencies were assigned to church bodies. The Quakers were the first to practice this in 1869, with other major denominations participating by 1872. By 1880 most of the churches had given up their responsibilities for agencies. The Jesuits, Quakers, Moravians, Presbyterians, Methodists, Lutherans, Dutch Reformed, Baptists, Catholics, and Latter-Day Saints were among the denominations that participated.
For further details see the following:
Keller, Robert H., Jr. American Protestantism and United States Indian Policy, 1869-1882. Lincoln, Nebraska: University of Nebraska Press, 1983.
Rahill, Peter James. The Catholic Indian Missions and Grant’s Peace Policy, 1870-1884. Washington DC: Catholic University of America Press, 1953. (FHL film 1009063 item 3.) This book includes an index.
Canadian Church Policy
Church records are important for pre-Confederation research. Since civil authorities did not begin registering vital statistics in most provinces until after 1867, church records are the major information source before this date. Church records continued after civil registration began in the 1860's or later, but often are not as accessible after that date. Some churches kept more detailed records than others, especially those that did not baptize infants or who did not keep church registers unless required by law. You can find a person’s religious affiliation listed in Canadian censuses beginning in 1851.
As Canada has no single repository of church records, the location of records depends on the religion and the location of the church. Some church records are stored in places decided by authorities of each denomination and sometimes by the individual congregation. Provincial archives have some copies of church registers. See Wiki articles of church records of each province for their addresses.
The following is a partial list of Native American resources generated by some religious denominations.
McCoy, Isaac. History of Baptist Indian Missions. A Series in American Studies. New York, New York: Johnson Reprint, 1970. (FHL book 970.1 M137h.) Includes Delaware, Potawatamie, Ottawa, Sauk, Five Civilized Tribes, Osage, Shawnee, Kickapoo, Otoes, Omaha, Ponca, and Pawnee tribes.
Keiser, Albert. Lutheran Mission Work among the American Indians. Ann Arbor, Michigan: Xerox University Microfilms, [197-?] (FHL film 989497 item 4.) This is not circulated to family history centers.
Moravian Church. Records of the Moravian Mission among the Indians of North America. New Haven, Connecticut: Research Publications, 1969. (On 40 FHL films beginning with 1017681.) Text in English and German, includes many language dictionaries and indexes for various tribes in New York, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, Kansas, Georgia, Oklahoma, and Ontario. May include diaries, autobiographical memoirs, year-end summaries, lists of members with biographical details, or parish registers.
Guide to the Records of the Moravian Mission Among the Indians of North America: From the Archives of the Moravian Church, Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.
New Haven Connecticut: Research Publications, 1970. (FHL book 970.1 M797g.) Includes writer, type of material, dates, and languages. Schwarze, Edmund. History of the Moravian Missions among Southern Indian Tribes of the United States. Salt Lake City, Utah: Genealogical Society of Utah, 1993. (FHL fiche number 6104001.)
Presbyterian Church in the United States. Indian Correspondence, 1830-1895; index, 1830-1895. Salt Lake City, Utah: Genealogical Society of Utah, 1972. (On FHL 57 films beginning with 906123.)
Spanish Roman Catholic churches were established in Florida, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and California beginning in the 1500's. Some early missions were dissolved when Spain lost the territory and Indian uprisings made it difficult to protect the missionaries. Some documents dealing with the Spanish missions may be found in the records of the State Archives and Historical Societies of the different states and in archives in Spain. For information on the records of these early missions, see the "Church Records” Wiki articles of the individual states. The earliest church records from these missions are from St. Augustine, Florida:
Catholic Church. Cathedral St. Augustine, Florida. Church Records, 1594-1924. Salt Lake City, Utah: Genealogical Society of Utah, 1977. (FHL films 1015293-306.) These records include baptisms, marriages, confirmations, deaths, and burials for “whites” and “coloreds”. The “colored” records include blacks and some Indians and mixed bloods. These records are in Spanish and are partially indexed.
The Catholics began missionary work in New Mexico in 1598, Arizona and Texas in the late 1600's, and California in 1697. These missions continued with limited growth until 1767, when the Jesuits were ordered out of Spain and all her American colonies. The Franciscans, lead by Father Junipero Serra, took charge of the abandoned California missions and established nine missions between 1769 and 1784. The missionaries converted the Indians to Christianity with varying degrees of success. Some Indians willingly accepted Christianity and were baptized, but others had it forced upon them. The Family History Library has the records of many Spanish missions and churches, including:
Catholic Church. Mission San Diego de Alcalá. Book of Baptisms, San Diego Mission. San Diego, California: University of California Library Photographic Service, 1973. (FHL film 944001.) This is an English translation of the baptismal records of the San Diego Mission from 1769 to 1822.
Catholic Church. Our Lady of Guadalupe (Toas, New Mexico). Church Records, 1701-1956. El Paso, Texas: Golightly, 1957. (FHL film 17010-23.) Text partly in Spanish, including baptisms, confirmations, marriages, and deaths.
Catholic Church. Mission Santa Barbara. Mission Registers, 1776-1912. Salt Lake City, Utah: Genealogical Society of Utah, 1972. (FHL film 913165-9.) These unindexed registers include baptisms, marriages, burials, and other church records. They are in Spanish and include the person’s name, the date of the event, age, and parents’ and godparents’ names.
By 1886 the agents of the BIA were instructed to record information about Native Americans who used health services for any kind of treatment. There were a number of different records kept, including physician’s records, clinic and hospital records, individual records, and sanitary records of the sick and wounded (including births and deaths). Physicians, nurses and other health workers reported on the sick and injured on the reservation and in boarding schools and sent reports on the health problems to the agents in charge. These letters are kept in the Commissioner’s Office.
The most complete health records before 1934 are the “Sanitary Record of Sick, Wounded, Births, Deaths.” An example of these records is: United States. Bureau of Indian Affairs. Round Valley Agency. Sanitary Records of Sick & Etc., 18901905. Salt Lake City, Utah: Genealogical Society of Utah, 1975. (FHL film 976991.) These records include the patient’s name, sex, tribe, disease, when taken sick and whether recovered, continued or deceased, date of death, whether over or under age five, and at the birth of a child, the names of the parents are given.
Other types of medical records kept include the Individual Health Record and Family History Medical Data. The Individual Health Record usually includes the name of the Indian, sex, tribe, birth date, address, and a medical history, including immunization records, medical tests, and disease history. Some Family History Medical Data records are available at the Family History Library, including:
United States. Bureau of Indian Affairs. Klamath Agency. Family History and Medical Data, 19041937. Salt Lake City, Utah: Genealogical Society of Utah, 1978. (FHL films 1028454 item 2 and 1028455.) This record includes the Indian’s name, English name or English translation of the name, tribe, census or allotment number, year born, medical history, parents’ names, and the names of other relatives, including grandparents, siblings, aunts and uncles, and their census numbers. Medical records are usually not indexed and cover only a portion of the tribal members. These health records can be found in the records of the Indian Agency in the area where the person lived.
Military records identify individuals who served in the military or who were eligible for service. Many Native Americans have served in the United States and Canadian military and are found in their records.
The following records can give clues to help find your Native American ancestor: muster rolls, personnel files, regimental account books, letters of deportment, lists of officers, pay vouchers/records, pension records, records of leave, and descriptive rolls.
Revolutionary War: (1775-1783)
O’Donnell, James H. The Cherokees of North Carolina in the American Revolution. Raleigh, North Carolina: North Carolina State University Graphics, 1976 (FHL book 970.1 A1 no. 112). This book is unindexed.
Indian Wars and Conflicts: (1780’s to 1890’s)
Dunlay, Thomas W. Wolves for the Blue Soldiers: Indian Scouts and Auxiliaries With the United States Army, 1860-1890. Lincoln, Nebraska: University of Nebraska Press, 1982 (FHL book 978 M2du). This history of Indian scouts with the United States military contains an index to names and tribes.
Downey, Fairfax Davis. The Red/Bluecoats, the Indian Scouts, U.S. Army. Ft. Collins, Colorado: Old Army Press, 1973. (FHL book 970.1 D758r.) The tribes who supplied scouts to the United States army were the Apache, Crow, Pawnee, Shoshone, Comanche, Kiowa, Blackfeet, Navajo, Seminole, and some Dakota, Arapahoe, Arickana, and Cheyenne Indians. This book is indexed and includes a list of awards the Indian scouts received.
Buecker, Thomas R. and R. Eli Paul. The Crazy Horse Surrender Ledger. Lincoln, Nebraska: State Historical Society, 1994. (FHL book 970.1 C859h.) This contains names (head of families) of the Sioux, Cheyenne, and Arapaho at the Red Cloud Agency. It also recorded those who returned following the great Sioux War.
Civil War: (1861 to 1865)
Native Americans served in both the Union and the Confederate military.
Hauptman, Lawrence M. The Iroquois in the Civil War: From Battlefield to Reservation. Syracuse, New York: Syracuse University Press, 1993 (FHL book 970.1 H294i). This history is indexed and includes a bibliography.
United States. Veterans Administration. Veterans Administration Payment Card, 1907-1933. National Archive Microfilm Publication, M0850. Washington, DC: National Archives, 1976. (On 2539 FHL films beginning with 1634036.) This is a record of payments to pensioners, except for World War I. The cards are arranged alphabetically by surname. Native American names are listed at the beginning of each letter of the alphabet.
Forman, Grant. History of the Service and List of Individuals of the Five Civilized Tribes in the Confederate Army, Two Volumes. Oklahoma City, Oklahoma: Oklahoma Historical Society, 1948.
United States. Record and Pension Office. Compiled Service Records of Confederate Soldiers who Served in Organizations Raised Directly by the Confederate Government. National Archive Microfilm Publication, M0258. Washington, DC: National Archives, 1963. (FHL Film 880283-97.) This source provides a listing of various Indian volunteers from the following tribes: Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Creek, Osage, Seminole.
World War I: (1917 to 1918)
United States. Selective Service System. World War I Selective Service System Draft Registration Cards, 1917-1918. Washington, DC: National Archives, 1987-1988. National Archive Microfilm Publication Number, M1509. Washington, DC: National Archives, 1987-1988. (On 4383 FHL films beginning with 1509347.) A typical card lists names, home address, age, birth, citizenship status, occupation, employee’s name and address, race, dependents or nearest relative, and physical description. The third registration taken in September 1918 identifies citizen and non-citizen Native Americans.
World War II: (1941-1945)
Indians at Work: A News Sheet for Indians and the Indian Service. Washington, DC: Office of Indian Affairs, 1944. (FHL book 970.1 Un3i v.12.) This lists war dead by state, including name, residence, place of death; lists of prisoners of war by state, name, residence, place of capture; wounded in action by state, name, residence, place; and lists of awards for valor, decoration, rank, name, and residence.
United States. Bureau of Indian Affairs. Indians in the War: Burial of a Brave. Chicago, Illinois: United States Department of the Interior, Office of Indian Affairs, 1945. (FHL book 970.1 A1 number 1; FHL film 824082 item 2.) This contains awards for valor by decoration, then name, rank, tribe, state; war dead arranged by state, then name, tribe, place of death; wounded in action arranged by state, then name, tribe, place where wound occurred. It also contains chapters on ceremonial dances in the Pacific, a Choctaw leads the guerrillas, Navajo Code Talkers, Indians who fought on Iwo Jima; Indians working for the Navy; Indian women working for victory, and Indian Service Employees in the war.
They Talked Navajo “diné bi-zaad choz-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, 1971. (FHL book 970.3 N227tt.) It includes the names and addresses of those who attended.
The Department of Militia and Defense (DMD) during World War I and the Department of National Defense (DND) during World War II, did not officially keep their record of Indians distinct from non-Indians. The Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIS) did. During the war, Indian agents were directed to provide headquarters with regular lists of enlistments, records which are now found in the Red Series of central registry headquarters files (RG 10, Volumes 3180-3182, file 452124 (various parts). The Red Series (so named because of the color of the books) also contains information about the Veterans’ Land Act (VLA), Indians of British Columbia (ICBC), and Soldier Settlement Act (SSA).
Gaffen, Fred. Forgotten Soldiers: An Illustrated History of Canada’s Native Peoples in Both World Wars. Pentiction, British Columbia: Theytus Books, 1984.
Paterson, T.W. Canadian Battles and Massacres: 300 Years of Warfare and Atrocities on Canadian Soil. Langley, British Columbia: Stagecoach Pub, 1977. (FHL book 971 M2p.)
Business Records and Commerce
Business records about Indians include records of fur trading companies, canneries, and employment records of various companies. These records or histories of businesses and commercial companies do not usually give dates or places of birth, marriage, or death. Most sources discuss business and company dealings and general history.
Fur companies kept records of their employees including Indians and their wives, the areas where employees were assigned, and some Catholic Church baptisms and marriages. These fur companies include the Minnesota-Michilimackinac Company 1695-1821, American Fur Company, North West Company, North American Commercial Company, and the Hudson Bay Company, which are listed in books such as:
New England Company (London).
Records of the New England Company, 1660-1906. Salt Lake City: Genealogical Society of Utah, 1991. (On 11 FHL films beginning with 1786518 item 6.) These include information on Indians and trading.
Hudson’s Bay Company.
Records of this fur trading company are some of Canada’s most important because of the amount of territory they controlled. Until 1870, the company controlled almost four-fifths of the Territory of present-day Canada, including northern Quebec and Ontario and most of Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta, British Columbia, and the Yukon and Northwest Territories. It was also active in areas now in the United States, including Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and Hawaii.
The Hudson’s Bay Company Archives records include journals and correspondence (on 1,900 rolls of microfilm) for more than 200 trading posts (17031894), and lists of officers, servants, and contracts (1774-1904). Records of employees usually give name, age, occupation, pay rate, and location of employment. Hudson Bay Company records about Indians can be divided into several categories:
Hudson Bay Company factory records are from the Office of Indian Trade established in 1806. As early as 1795 the British government built factories for Indians. At first the Indians were sold goods at cost to establish harmonious relations. Later, the purpose was to make the Indians dependent on the government. The Canadian Office of Indian Trade continued until the year 1822. The United States also established a factory system in 1806 for similar purposes.
Some groups and tribes took up farming and ranching.
Trading post records.
Trading posts (forts) were a stopover for Indians who would trade for goods, but few records mentioned the names of Indians who traded there. Records to about 1904 are not at the Family History Library but may be loaned to public libraries. Further information is available from:
Hudson’s Bay Company Archives
Provincial Archives of Manitoba
200 Vaughan Street
Winnipeg, MB, CANADA R3C 1T5
For information on ordering films through inter-library loan on the Internet see:
www.gov.mb.ca/chc/archives/hbca/resource/access.html. Sources available through the Family History Library include:
Hudson’s Bay Company Archives. Microfilm Register. [Winnipeg, Manitoba: Hudson’s Bay Company Archives, Provincial Archives of Manitoba], 19881989. (FHL Film 1730847-48.) This is not circulated to family history centers. This is not a name index to the records but a description of the various series in the records.
Briggs, Elizabeth.Biographical Resources at the Hudson’s Bay Company Archives. Winnipeg, Manitobe: Westgarth, 1996. (FHL book 971U33b.) This includes many personal names and good descriptions of how to use the records, including dozens of “native censuses.”
Rich, E. E. The History of the Hudson’s Bay Company, 1670-1870. Two Volumes. The publications of the Hudson’s Bay Record Society, 21-22. London, England: Hudson’s Bay Records Society, 1958-1959. (FHL book 971 B4h v. 21-22.) This book contains a general history mentioning many Indian tribes but few personal Indian names.
Mitchell, Elaine Allan. Fort Timiskaming and the Fur Trade. Toronto, Ontario: University of Toronto Press, 1977. (FHL book 971 U3m). This source contains a history with many references to Indian tribes and includes a good bibliography.
Fisheries and Canneries
While the majority of the fisheries and canneries were operated by Asian workers, numerous Indian people also were employed. Fisheries and canneries were located in Washington state and Alaska. Cannery records sometimes give the name and residence of the head of the household and family members living with him. Because of the remoteness of Alaskan canneries and because fishermen were often at sea during censuses, cannery records may be the only records where these natives were recorded. One source of cannery records is:
United States. Bureau of Indian Affairs. Records of Alaska Division of Bureau of Indian Affairs Concerning Metlakatla, 1887-1933. National Archives Microfilm Publications, M1333. Washington, DC: National Archives, 1984. (FHL film 1695294-97.) This source contains records of company transactions and contract documents in addition to lists of shareholders, including Indians and contract disputes. It is unindexed. It sometimes lists family members.
Naturalization and Citizenship Records
By 1924 about two thirds of the Indian population were citizens. The Naturalization Act of 1924 entitled “all non-citizen Indians born within the territorial limits of the United States be, and they are hereby, declared to be citizens of the United States: Provided, that the granting of such citizenship shall not in any manner impair or otherwise affect the right of any Indian to tribal or other property.” Some tribes had already acquired citizenship in one or more of the following ways: treaties signed with Indian tribes, special statutes naturalizing named tribes or individuals, general statutes naturalizing Indians who took allotments, or general statutes naturalizing other special classes, such as Indian women who had married non-Indian men. The Potawatomi of the Woods became citizens in 1864 under a treaty of 1861 when the tribe received allotments after their removal to Kansas. These people were called Citizen Potawatomi.
Kesek, Joan. Federal Naturalizations for the First District of Kansas. Overland Park, Kansas: J. Kusek, 1990. (FHL book 978.1 P4k.) This book lists Delaware, Kickapoo, and Potawatomi Indians who became United States citizens before 1902.
Before Indians could vote in national, state, or county elections, they could participate in tribal elections. The Family History Library has the tribal voting registers and election returns for the Cherokees from 18731909:
Oklahoma Historical Society. Indian Archives Division. Elections in the Cherokee Nation for all Districts, 1873-1909. Oklahoma City, Oklahoma: The Society, 1976. (FHL films 1666197 items 6-7 and 1666198.) These unindexed election records include the names of those who voted and the payment of the election workers.
Schaefer, Christina K. Guide to Naturalization Records of the United States. Baltimore, Maryland: Genealogical Publishing Company, 1997. (FHL book 973 P4s.) Pages 377-387 cover Indians. This appendix identifies sources of Native American citizenship records in a table format. The headings in the table include: National Archives record group and decimal number, Title of Record, Tribe/Band, State(s) covered, and Repository.
Before the Indian Act of 1876, most of the Indians in Canada did not have franchise rights. They had to give up their status rights as an Indian to have rights as a citizen to vote. The Indian Act says, “All Indians with a university education or its equivalent must become full citizens with voting rights and relinquish his special rights as an Indian”. It also says “Indians who farm their allotment over a period of three years are to be enfranchised and receive absolute title to the land.” In 1951 a revision to the Indian Act lowered the requirement for citizenship and voting rights by requesting only character references and proof that an Indian could earn a living outside a reservation. By 1960 Indians had been given the national franchise (citizenship) with no loss of Indian rights, and by the 1980s most had gained their “Indian status” back. For further reading, see individual state and provincial Wiki articles for "Native Races", or "American Indians" as well as Canada Native Races and United States Native Races Wiki articles.
Laws and Legislation
Laws and legislation contain the names of very few Indians. They usually list only the names of the Indians who signed the documents, and they don’t contain genealogical information.
Knowing about the laws is valuable to genealogists because many of the records genealogists use would not have been created without the laws. This is especially true with Indian research. Governments made treaties with Indian nations as if they were foreigners. The treaties resulted in land distribution records, censuses, and court records that are unique to Indians.
Little information on Indian laws is included in this section because early records created by the Indians themselves were either destroyed or have not been found. The organization in most tribes was informal. In most cases, the family was the central unit of the Indian culture. The band, which was usually composed of near kindred, was the only clearly defined political unit in many tribes. Each family group and each band had a leader who changed from time to time. Rules governing interactions between individuals and groups were prescribed by custom. Real and personal property was minimal and rarely created disputes. Persuasion and physical force were the only methods of arbitrating disputes. People outside the tribe were viewed as potential enemies.
As the Europeans began settling in America, they established their own laws, began to make treaties with the Indians, and kept written records of their decisions. England, France, Spain, and Russia had the most influence in the Americas. When a colonial governor made a law, he was representing the European government that ruled his colony. New York was an exception. From the beginning they made their own treaties with the Indians. Virginia was probably the largest colony of the United States in precolonial and colonial times. Laws made by the governor of Virginia between 1619 and 1792 are found in:
Hening, William Waller. The Statutes at Large, Being a Collection of All the Laws of Virginia from the First Legislature in the Year 1619. Salt Lake City, Utah: Genealogical Society of Utah, 1958. (FHL film 162029-40.) These books contain the treaties and laws made with the Indians during the early time period. The treaties contain the names of Indians who signed them.
Two kinds of laws were made that affect Indian genealogy. There are laws to govern individuals which include criminal and civil law, and laws made between governments which include treaties, statutes, and agreements.
Civil and Criminal Laws
These laws are intended to see that crimes are punished and that individuals deal fairly with each other. Civil and criminal laws are the same for all citizens; therefore, no separate books of this type are kept for Indians.
A comprehensive listing of United States Federal legislation dealing with the Indians is:
Cohen, Felix S. Handbook of Federal Indian Law. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico, 1971. (FHL book 970.1 C66f; film 1597929 item 10.) This includes an index.
United States Treaties
Several hundred treaties were formally ratified and passed into law before the making of treaties with Indians was terminated in 1871. These treaties had the same status as treaties with sovereign nations.
The purpose of many treaties was the extinguishment of Indian title to land and to regulate commerce with tribes to assimilate Indians into white society. Ninety-six ratified treaties deal with the establishment of peace and allegiance to the United States. Two hundred thirty treaties concerned land cessions, and 76 of these called for Indian removal and settlement in the west. The Indians viewed the treaties as a means of preserving themselves as a people and sought from the government recognition of exclusive right to the use of a well defined area, and to be protected from non-Indian encroachment. Indian leaders, most of whom made their mark beside their names, interpreters who witnessed the treaties, and council participants signed the documents.
After 1871, agreements were submitted to the congress and enacted into laws. Most ratified agreements were published by the Office of Indian Affairs.
Many of the records of treaties and agreements are available in published form. These treaties have limited genealogical information, but include the names of individual Indians who signed the treaties, their English names, and their tribe, band, or clan. Part blood men and whites who married Indian women were used as interpreters, and their names are included.
United States. Bureau of Indian Affairs. Documents Relating to the Negotiation of Ratified and Unratified Treaties with Various Indian Tribes, ''1801-1869.'''National Archives Microfilm Publications, T0494. Washington, DC: National Archives, 1960. (FHL film 1695663-72.) The first film explains these documents.'
Kappler, Charles Joseph. Indian Treaties, 1778-1883.New York, New York: Interland, 1972. (FHL book 970.1 K142.) These treaties are arranged by date. They are indexed by the name of the treaty and the tribe or band, but there is no index to names of Indians.
United States. Congress. American State Papers: Documents, Legislative and Executive of the Congress of the United States. Salt Lake City, Utah; LaCrosse, Wisconsin: Genealogical Society of Utah; Brookhaven Press, 1959, 1975, 1977. (On 29 FHL films beginning with 1631827.) The documents relating to Indian affairs 1789-1827 are in Class 2 of these papers on films 1631829 and 1631830. These volumes are indexed by the name of the whites dealing with the Indians, the tribe, and subject.
Only about one half of the lands of Canada have been the object of a formal agreement or treaty between the Indians and the federal government. For money or trade goods, Indians agreed to surrender land. The land cession treaties were designed to provide the government a safe and secure method of acquiring land which was occupied by Indians. A source of Indian treaties involving Canadian land is:
Indian Treaties and Surrenders. Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Three Volumes: Fifth House, 1992. (FHL book 970.1 In2c.) This is indexed by location, tribe, and treaty number. Volume 1 contains an index for volumes 1 and 2. Volume 3 is also indexed. The names of Indians who signed the treaties are included in the text of the treaties but are not indexed.
Newspapers publish notices of marriage, divorce, death, funerals, and obituaries. Notices include names of persons involved, the date of the event, and may contain maiden names, names of parents, and other living relatives. Newspapers also publish articles of local interest, including religious and social events in the community with the names of those involved. Some newspapers serve several communities and devote columns to the everyday happenings in the area. Newspapers also include legal notices, estate sales, and advertising for local businesses.
To find the names and locations of newspapers, use the reference books cited in the United States Newspapers and the Canada Newspapers Wiki articles. Additional information can be found in the “Newspapers” Wiki articles of the individual states or provinces. Sources for Native American newspapers include:
Littlefield, Daniel F. American Indian and Alaska Native Newspapers and Periodicals, 1826-1924. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 1984. (FHL book 970.1 L73a.) This includes newspaper titles by tribe, location, and time periods.
The earliest and most helpful Native American newspapers were produced by the Cherokees. The newspapers were in both Cherokee and English. The Cherokee Advocate was published in the Oklahoma territory. An abstract of this newspaper from 1845 to 1906 is:
Mauldin, Dorothy Tincup. Cherokee Advocate Newspaper Extracts. Tulsa, Oklahoma: Oklahoma Yesterday Pub., 1991. (FHL book 970.3 C424cad.) The abstracts consist of tribal news, such as citizenship information, public notices, school lists, and election results. They also include family data, such as births, marriages, and deaths of individuals. Most volumes are indexed.
Churches and missions of various denominations also printed newspapers for the tribes they had jurisdiction over.
Contact local libraries in the area where your ancestor lived to locate existing newspapers. Placing a notice in a local newspaper may help you contact people who have information about your family.
Vital records for the Indians were not generally recorded until about 1880. Records may have been kept by a tribal group, the state, the county, a church, or a jurisdiction of the BIA.
Many birth, marriage, or death certificates may not indicate the correct racial designation. If the registrant was not aware that the individual was of Indian ancestry, especially if the event occurred to mixed bloods off the reservation, the racial portion of the certificate might be marked white where Indian should have appeared. Some part-Indians may have ignored their Indian heritage and checked the white column.
Other sources of Indian vital records may be found in church records, tribal enrollment records, supplements to census records, and sanitary records of sick, wounded, births, and deaths.
After 1934, Indians were given the right to manage their own affairs through tribal councils. Since then, they have kept their own vital records. They patterned their vital statistics forms after those being used by the states in which they resided.
State Vital Records
Each state developed its own laws and created a statewide registration system. See "vital records" Wiki article for each state.
New York State has its own Bureau of Indian Affairs. The Indians of New York are under the jurisdiction of the state and have not been under the Federal Government administration. To find vital records in New York, first search on a county level and then the state level.
Supplements to Census Rolls
These are sometimes referred to as Supplementary Rolls. In the Indian censuses for the period of 18851940, a supplemental census was taken that included records of births, deaths, and sometimes marriages.
The Addition Rolls link children to parents. Both Addition (birth) and Deletion or Deduction (death or transfer from reservation) rolls give tribal affiliation, blood degree, and residence.
The Addition Rolls contain the census roll number, name, date of birth, whether live birth or stillbirth, sex, tribe, whether a ward of the government, degree of Indian blood of the father, mother, child, and residence.
The Deletion Rolls contain the last census roll number, name, date of death, age at death, sex, tribe, whether ward of the government, degree of Indian blood, cause of death, and residence.
These are available at National Archives and local offices of the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), and many are on microfilm at the Family History Library.
Tribal Vital Records: (1934-present)
Tribal birth records list the name, date and place of birth, patents, names, ages, residence, and occupations. The marriage records contain the names of bride and groom, ages, date and place of marriage, witnesses, date of recording, name of official, and names of parents. The death records include the name, date and place of birth, date and place of death, names, ages, birthplaces and occupations of parents, name and residence of informant, date and place of burial, and cause of death. These are available at the Tribal Council offices and in each tribe.
Indian Agents also kept a record called the Register of Families. The births and deaths were recorded as they occurred. This record was maintained to establish the degrees of relationship. It was referred to in determining cases of allotment relationships and heirship documentation. Each entry of the Register of Families gives the name, age, marital status and amount of allotted land. See "Probate Records” section of this article for further information.
Canadian Vital Records
The major repositories for Canadian Indian records are:
- Federal Department of Indian Affairs
- National Archives of Canada.
Genealogical & Archives Research Unit
Special & Administrative Services Division
Indian & Eskimo Affairs program
Dept of Indian Affairs Program
400 Laurier Avenue West
Ottawa ON K1A OH4
National Archives of Canada
395 Wellington Street
Ottawa ON K1A ON3
Records at the Family History Library
The Family History Library has copies of many vital records, primarily before 1920. However, if a record was never kept, was not available in the courthouse at the time of microfilming, was not microfilmed, or is restricted from public access by the laws of the state, the Family History Library does not have a copy.You may use the records of the library for your family research, but the library does not issue or certify certificates for living or deceased individuals.
For further information see individual state and provincial Wiki articles.
Other types of records that are not discussed in this article can be found in the Locality Search or Subject Search of the Family History Library Catalog. Some of them may have application to American Indian research, including:
- Bible Records
- Correctional Institutions
- Kinship Names
- Geographical Names
- Personal Notarial Records
- Public Records
- Tax records
- Voting Registers
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