United States Native Races Part 5 - Where Do I Find Records?Edit This Page
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This section includes information about repositories where you will find original documents about your Native American ancestors. These repositories include the Family History Library, national archives in the United States and Canada, and other repositories. This article is a part of a series entitled Indians of North America - A Beginner's Guide.
Archives and Libraries
Archives collect and preserve original documents or copies from organizations such as churches or governments. Libraries generally collect published sources such as books, maps, and microfilm, but have also collected some original materials. This page describes some of the repositories of genealogical and historical records and sources for Native Americans.
If you plan to visit one of these repositories, learn about them on their Internet site, or contact the organization and ask for information about their collection, hours, services, and fees.
For information about additional repositories with Native American records, see the “Archives and Libraries” section of the United States Page, Canada's Page, or the Portal Pages for each state or province where your ancestor lived. Indians of North America also contains helpful information about archives and libraries.
National Archives and Libraries
One of the largest collections of Native American material is housed at the National Archives and at their Field Branches. This includes Journals of the Continental Congress, Congressional Reports of Committees, Reports of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, reports of the Bureau of American Ethnology, War Department records, and WPA Interviews of Indians on various reservations. The National Archives collection also includes agency records such as individual history cards, censuses, allotment records, annuity rolls, etc. A few tribal records and church records may be included, although most of them are held by the tribal offices or individual church.
Some of the information found in the records in the National Archives system are names, dates, places, and tribal affiliation. They may also contain a list of individuals removed to another place (called removal records), deaths, depredations suffered by Indians from non-Indians, names of Indian agents, and records of employees. The records most often used by genealogists are censuses, military records, and Native American genealogies.
There are several field branches of the National Archives and Records Administration serving different states and containing some of these same records. You may want to write or call before visiting to find the availability and accessibility of the records in each area. The addresses and telephone numbers can be found under "Archives and Libraries" on the Portal Page for the United States. They can also be found in:
- Hill, Edward E. Guide to Records in the National Archives of the United States Relating to American Indians. Washington, D.C.: n.p., 1971. This briefly describes civilian agency records including field office records, census rolls, treaties, territorial papers, and military records.
- The National Archives web site.
The Canadian government collects records about Canadian history, culture, and people. Many such records are at the Library and Archives Canada. They have produced guides for researching "Aboriginal Peoples' in Canada, which are available online. For details and addresses, see "Archives and Libraries" on the Page for Canada.
The Library and Archives Canada is not the same as the National Archives. Although it has the same street and postal address, it has a helpful collection of published genealogies, manuscripts, histories, and many other records. Write for information about their holdings and services.
State (or Provincial) Archives and State Libraries
Most state archives and state libraries store their records separate from those of the national government. They serve as repositories for records pertaining to their particular area. Addresses are available in "Archives and Libraries" topic on the Portal Pages for each state and province.
Each Canadian province has its own archives that are separate from those of the national government. These repositories have many records valuable for genealogical research regarding native peoples in their particular area. You many contact each provincial archive for information about its services. The Provincial Archives of New Brunswick and the Archives of Ontario lend microfilms to public and university libraries in North America that participate in the interlibrary loan service. The other archives do not. None of the archives have sufficient staff to research records for you, but they may be able to furnish names of researchers you can hire.
For addresses and more information about Canadian provincial archives, see the Portal Pages for each province of interest.
County Courthouses, Town Halls, and Municipal Offices
Many of the key records essential for genealogical research were created by local county or town governments. However, very few records of American Indians, historically, are in these local offices of the government. Some land records are the notable exception, especially for Colonial New England.
The records included in courthouses and town halls are court, land and property, naturalization and citizenship, probate, taxation, and vital records. The county courthouses and town halls are the primary repositories of these valuable records. (However, some courthouse records have been destroyed or transferred to state archives.) The Family History Library has copies of many of these important records on microfilm. The state Portal Pages provide further information on how these records are filed and how to obtain them.
Municipal offices in Canada, comparable to county courthouses and town halls in the United States, cannot legally provide copies of their vital records. They are described in the Portal Pages for each province.
Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) agencies kept records. There are three levels for the Bureau of Indian Affairs Offices.
- The first is the local BIA office (agency or subagency). This is the level where most of the good genealogical information is found. There are usually a number of records that date back to the establishment of the agency. Be sure to call ahead to get the hours the agency is open and to get an idea of what records are available. Agencies and reservations are listed under "American Indians" on the Portal Page for each state.
- The second level is the Area Office, which is usually limited primarily to land records and administrative records.
- The third level is the Commissioner’s Office in Washington, D.C. Almost all of the Commissioner’s records have been transferred to the National Archives and are only available there.
The areas covered by BIA offices have changed over time.
The Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development was established in 1966 to replace the department of Northern Affairs and National Resources. The 1968 reorganization created three programs, one of which was Indian and Inuit Affairs. An office of Native Claims was established in 1974 to represent the government in claims negotiations with native groups. The department commonly called DIAND is responsible for the administration of the resources and affairs of the Northwest Territories and the Yukon Territory.
Indian and Northern Affairs Canada
Terrasses de la Chaudiere
10 Wellington Street
Ottawa, Ontario K1A 0H4
There are several Regional Offices of Indian and Inuit Affairs in Canada.
Since the Indian Reorganization Act in 1934, some tribes in the United States have started to keep their own records. They keep the same records as a county or town would keep, such as land, probate, court, or vital records. Be sure to call the office ahead of time to get the hours the office is open and what records are available. In Canada records at the tribal offices may start later than 1934.
Public Libraries. Remember to use your local public library. Some have sections devoted to specialty areas such as genealogy, Native Americans, and other ethnic or historical collections.
Addresses of many private Canadian archives, libraries, museums, educational centers, tribal headquarters, newspapers, and other nongovernmental organizations controlled by or serving Indians, Inuit, and mixed-blood groups are listed in:
Snyder, Fred, ed. Native American Directory: Alaska, Canada, United States.San Carlos, Arizona: National Native American Co-Operative, 1982. (FHL book 970.1 B768s.)
Museums sometimes have archives or libraries with helpful information. For addresses, see:
Brascoupé, Simon, ed. Directory of North American Indian Museums & Cultural Centers. 1981. Niagra Falls, New York: North American Indian Museums Association, 1980. (FHL book 970.1 B736d.)
The following libraries also have exceptional Native American collections.
University of Oklahoma Library (Norman, Oklahoma).
Some of the items included in the collection are “Ridge-Watie-Boudinot Families,” “Duke Indian Oral History Collection,” and “Cherokee Nation Papers.” The materials include personal papers such as correspondence, diaries, journals, scrapbooks, legal and financial records concerning the affairs of businesses and organizations, tribal records that include Indian laws, governments, relations with the U.S. Government, newspaper articles, brochures, and pamphlets. These are described in:
American Indian Resource Materials in the Western History Collections, University of Oklahoma.Norman, Oklahoma: University of Oklahoma Press, 1990. (FHL Book no. 970.1 Am35d.)
Gibson, Arrell M., ed. A Guide to Regional Manuscript Collections in the Division of Manuscripts: University of Oklahoma Library. Norman, Oklahoma: University of Oklahoma Press, 1960. (FHL book 976.6 H2g.)
Thomas Gilcrease Institute of American History and Art Library (Tulsa, Oklahoma).
The archives at the Gilcrease Institute includes records of Cyrus Byington a Presbyterian minister and missionary to the Choctaws, papers of Brinton Darlington, an agent for the Cheyenne-Arapaho from 1869 to 1872, and other important manuscripts. These are described in:
Thomas Gilcrease Institute of American History and Art. A Guidebook to Manuscripts in the Library of the Thomas Gilcrease Institute of American History and Art. Tulsa, Oklahoma: TGIAHA, 1969. (FHL book 976.6 A3k.) This guide includes a name and tribe index.
University of Tulsa Library (Tulsa, Oklahoma).
The McFarlin Library at the University of Tulsa contains several records such as The Worcester-Robertson Family Papers (also known as the Alice Robertson Collection), which contains letters, newspapers, books, photographs, etc. The John W. Shleppy Collection contains mission and missionary histories, captivity narratives, etc. The library also contains muster rolls from Fort Gibson, and handwritten settler’s roll from the Cherokee Nation. These are described in:
“Indian Studies Resources at the University of Tulsa.”The Chronicles of Oklahoma 55 (Spring 1977). (FHL book 976.6 B2c.)
Guides to Other Native American Collections include:
Chepesiuk, Ron. American Indian Archival Material: A Guide to Holdings in the Southeast. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 1982. (FHL Book no. 970.1 C421a.) This guide contains an index and bibliography of holdings in repositories in the states of Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia.
Connecticut State Library (Hartford, Connecticut). Connecticut Archives, Indians, 1647-1789.Hartford, Connecticut: [N.p..], 1922. (FHL Film 376987 item 2.) This contains an index to the names of persons found in documents of the Connecticut Archives involving Indian affairs and legislation.
Tennessee. State Library and Archives. Manuscript Division (Nashville). Cherokee Collection. Nashville, Tennessee: The Library, 1966. (FHL film 1425611 item 4.) This collections contains documents from 1755 to 1878, including the papers of John Ross, 1790-1866, who was a Chief of the Cherokees. It contains a name index and a chronology of events.
Mississippi. Department of Archives and History. Mississippi Provincial Archives [1757-1820] Spanish Dominion. Jackson, Mississippi: Photoduplication Div., 1969. (FHL Film 89997280.) These records were copied from documents in the General Archive of the Indies in Seville, Spain. They are written in Spanish, French, and English and are unindexed. They contain records of the Spanish government and military regulations of early Louisiana and other Gulf coast states.
An Essay Toward an Indian Bibliography: Being a Catalogue of Books Relating to the History, Antiquities, Languages, Customs, Religion, Wars, Literature and Origin of the American Indians in the Library of Thomas W. Field, with Bibliographical and Historical Notes and Synopses of the Contents of Some of the Works Least Known,1873 reprint. Columbus, Ohio: Long’s College Book Co., 1951. (FHL Book 970.1 F458e .) The sources in this bibliography are listed by the name of the author and include a description of the books.
California Indian Library Collections. Finding Guide to the California Indian Library Collections: California State Library. Berkeley, California: California Indian Library Collections, 1993. This set contains tribal collections deposited in twenty California public libraries, photographs, an index to three collections of sound recordings, 36 tribal bibliographies, and more.
Bibliography of Native Americans on Disc. Santa Barbara, California: ABC-CLIO, 1992. This contains the most comprehensive general bibliography of articles and books about Native Americans.
Native American Records in Other Countries
Some records are in the archives of other governments. To use these records, it will help to know the language of the country.
For instance, in the French Archives there are many records of the Jesuits, some dealing with the Hurons. There are other records dealing with Colonial America before the British took over. These records are written in French.
Records kept by the Russians for Alaska and parts of Canada are either housed in St. Petersburg (Church records) or Moscow (government records). These records are in Russian or Finnish. Some of the church records are available at the Family History Library.
A guide book to help search British records is:
Reid, Judith Prowse. Genealogical Research in England’s Public Record Office: A Guide for North Americans. Baltimore, Maryland: Genealogical Publishing, 1996. (FHL book 973 D27rjp.) This lists some of the record categories in the Public Record Office pertaining to North America, and how to find them and use them in genealogical research.
For further information, try the following Internet sites:
Royal Commission on Historical Manuscripts www.hmc.gov.uk
Public Record Office www.pro.gov.uk or
For further information see:
Anderson, William L. A Guide to Cherokee Documents in Foreign Archives. Metuchen, New Jersey: Scarecrow Press, 1983. (FHL book 970.3 C424aw.) This lists material in archives in Canada, France, Great Britain, Mexico, and Spain dealing with Cherokee Indians.
Forbes, Jack D. Apache, Navaho [sic] and Spaniard. Norman, Oklahoma: University of Oklahoma Press, 1960. (FHL book 970.1 F744.) This lists records of the Apache and Navajo tribes in archives in Spain and Mexico.
Freeman, John F. A Guide to Manuscripts Relating to the American Indian in the Library of the American Philosophical Society. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: American Philosophical Society, 1966. (FHL book 970.1 F877g.) This lists some records that are in Archives in Mexico, Great Britain, and France.
Shankman, Arnold M. American Indian Archival Material: A Guide to Holdings in the Southeast. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 1982. (FHL book 970.1 C421a.) Some libraries list other Archives, such as the Archives Nationale in Paris and the British Public Records Office, as additional places to look for records.
Family History Library
The Family History Library in Salt Lake City has a large collection of Native American records. The address is:
Family History Library
35 North West Temple St.
Salt Lake City, UT 84120
The key to finding a record in the Family History Library's collection is the Family History Library Catalog. The catalog describes each of the library's records and provides the call numbers. It is available online.
The Family History Library Catalog has eight types of searches. The following would be most useful for this application.
The Locality Search of theFamily History Library Catalog lists records according to the area they cover. Records relating to the entire nation, such as Indian handbooks, are listed under Canada or the United States. Some records are for province or state. Most records are listed under a specific county, town, or parish.
For example, in the Place Search look for:
- The place where an ancestor lived, such as:
QUEBEC(province or state)
QUEBEC, LAPRAIRIE(state or province, county)
QUEBEC, LAPRAIRIE, CAUGHNAWAGA (state or province, county, town)
- Then the record type you want, such as:
NORTH AMERICA -NATIVE RACES UNITED STATES -MINORITIES OKLAHOMA -CENSUS OKLAHOMA, OTTAWA -VITAL RECORDS OKLAHOMA, OTTAWA, WYANDOTTE - SCHOOLS
Almost any Place Search record type could include Indians, but two types are more closely associated with Indians than most. The “Native Races” record type is always about Indians if used with a locality in the United States or Canada. The “Minorities” record type is usually about other ethnic or religious groups, but occasionally it includes mixed ancestry groups which are partially Indian.
You can also find many Indian records in the Subject Search of the Family History Library Catalog on microfiche. First look under the name of the tribe or ethnic group, such as:
- CHEROKEE INDIANS
- CREE INDIANS
- NAVAJO INDIANS
Some ethnic groups listed in the Subject Search have mixed ancestry which is partially Indian, such as:
The subject INDIANS OF NORTH AMERICA includes the largest group of records about Indians. There are many subdivisions. A few examples are:
INDIANS OF NORTH AMERICA BIOGRAPHY
INDIANS OF NORTH AMERICA - BRITISH COLUMBIA
INDIANS OF NORTH AMERICA - CENSUS
INDIANS OF NORTH AMERICA - CLAIMS
INDIANS OF NORTH AMERICA - GENEALOGY
INDIANS OF NORTH AMERICA - HISTORY
INDIANS OF NORTH AMERICA - MIXED BLOODS
INDIANS OF NORTH AMERICA - RESERVATIONS - DIRECTORIES
INDIANS OF NORTH AMERICA - TEXAS
Look for Indian biographies in the Surname Search of the Family History Library Catalog under the name of the individual, such as:
- BLACK HAWK, Sauk chief, 1767-1838.
- POCAHONTAS, d. 1617.
- ROSS, JOHN, Cherokee chief, 1790-1866.
- TECUMSEH, Shawnee chief, 1768-1813.
Many Canadian and American families have some Indian ancestors. You can look for family histories listing Indian ancestors in the Surname Search under the family name, such as:
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