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Did You Know?
- American Indians served in every U.S. Military conflict from the Revolutionary War to the present. Many served as scouts for the United States Army during many of their skirmishes with other Indians.
- In 1902 the Commissioner of the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) sent a circular letter to all field agents giving them instructions to systematize the surnamesof all Indians under their charge.
- The Indian Reorganization Act (also known as the Wheeler-Howard Act) of 1934 established the right for most Indian tribes of the United States to govern their own affairs through the establishment of their own tribal governments, tribal councils, and tribal offices.
Getting Started with American Indian Research
Several approaches could be taken to locate information about a potential American Indian ancestor.
- If the name of the tribe with which the ancestor was associated is known, a researcher should study the history and culture of that tribe and locate the records created by various records jurisdictions for that tribe.
- If the tribe is not known, a more logical approach would be to determine the tribes associated with the locality or localities where the ancestor resided. In this case, sometimes only the state is known. Occasionally a county of residence is known. In either case, the records of that locality should be searched until the association of the ancestor is established or at least strongly suspected.
- If a residence close to a reservation or a Bureau of Indian Affairs agency is known, the history of the reservation or agency and the location of records they generated could be studied.
Many records were created by the Bureau of Indian Affairs and their various offices. Many of those records have been preserved by the National Archives of the United States and its regional archives. Some of those records have been microfilmed and are available at the Family History Library in Salt Lake City. Some of the records are also being digitized and indexed by internet websites and by commercial companies.
There are also other jurisdictions that recorded information about the American Indians, including churches, schools, hospitals, and others. Each of these jurisdictions may have records of individual Indians and should be studied.
If you know where your ancestor lived at the time of the alleged Indian connection, go to the page for the Indians of that state or province by clicking on the link below.
Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Jersey, New Hampshire, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin, Wyoming
Provinces of Canada
There are over 550 federally recognized Tribal entities in the United States and are usually called tribes or nations. There are also many more Indian groups, sometimes called bands, some of which are included in the federally recognized tribal entities. In addition to those recognized by the federal government, there are tribes that are state-recognized, tribes that are seeking official recognition, and tribes that have existed historically that are no longer recognized as a distinct tribe.
There are approximately 630 "First Nations" recognized by the Canadian government, some of which reside on the US/Canadian border and are closely related to some of the tribes in the United States.
The page for each state of the United States lists the known tribes who reside in or had historical connection to that state. A separate page exists for many of the tribes listed on the state pages. If you know the name of the tribe with which your family is connected, you may simply search for the name of the tribe.
The Tribal Office of each tribe maintains many records of value to the American Indian researcher. Most of the tribes require enrollment in the tribe before they allow access to the records of its members.
Some of the major tribes of the United States is listed here.
By Name of Reservation
There are or have been hundreds of Indian Reservations in the United States. Many of them are federally recognized and supervised. Some are state reservations, administered by a state office of Indian Affairs. Federal reservations usually have an agency of the Bureau of Indian Affairs responsible for the administration of that reservation.
By Name of Bureau of Indian Affairs Offices
Agencies and Subagencies
Agencies of the Bureau of Indian Affairs are the field offices of that federal bureau. They are normally the office that recorded most of the records pertaining to individual Indians. They are listed under the pages for the Indians of [state], the tribes they served, the name of the agency, and the reservation for which they were the field office. They are also cross-linked among these pages.
Subagencies normally served smaller jurisdictions or tribes than the agencies and were subordinate to an agency.
Area Offices of the BIA are administrative offices. They kept many records, but most of the files regarding individuals are kept at the agency level or in the Tribal Offices of each tribe.
Historically, the Bureau of Indian Affairs used an administrative office called a superintendency to oversee the local agencies and subagencies. Most of them were abolished in the 1870s and, for a time, the agencies reported directly to the Commissioner of Indian Affairs in Washington, DC. The records of the superintendencies usually consist primarily of correspondence and reports of the BIA Field Offices.
There are many research facilities which have significant collections of American Indian records. A few of the larger ones have been listed, but there are many others. Some of the university libraries and historical societies have significant and somewhat unique collections for their geographical areas of interest.
Records of the native population can be found in several archives, including the National Archives and its regional archives, state archives, and other archival institutions.
Many of the records created by the various levels of the Bureau of Indian Affairs have been preserved by the National Archives of the United States. Read more...
Regional Archives of the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA)
The Regional Archives of NARA is the depository for many federal records, including those of the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Read more...
Oklahoma Historical Society
One of the largest collection of American Indian history and records is housed in the American Indian Archives of the Oklahoma Historical Society in Oklahoma City.
Many libraries have special collections of materials regarding the local American Indian groups. Some of the larger libraries have very large collections of such material.
Library of Congress
Family History Library
The Family History Library in Salt Lake City has a collection of many American Indian records, including microfilm copies of some of the holdings of the National Archives and its regional archives.
The libraries of many universities have collections of American Indian manuscripts and published records. A few examples of those with significant collections are the University of Oklahoma at Norman, the University of Arizona at Tucson, Brigham Young University at Provo, Utah, the University of San Diego at San Diego, California, the University of South Dakota at Pierre, Gonzaga University at Spokane, Washington, Marquette University at Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and many others.
Jurisdictions Responsible for the Creation of American Indian Records
Department of War
Department of Interior
Department of State (Territorial)
The Bureau of Indian Affairs, since 1947, and its forerunner, the Office of Indian Affairs, from 1824 to 1947, have been the primary offices of the federal government responsible for the administration of Indian Affairs in the United States. They also generated the largest amount of records regarding individual Indians.
Nearly every state in the United States has an Office of Indian Affairs, although their title may vary from one state to another. These offices coordinate affairs between their state's government and the tribal governments. They also have particular responsibility for any tribes recognized by the state that are not federally recognized. For a list of contact information for each state, click here.
Several denominations sent missionaries among the Native Americans, often establishing American Indian Missions, some of which evolved into long-standing congregations on or near Indian reservations. Read more...
Many schools were established for the education of American Indian children, including boarding school, day schools, mission schools, and many others. Read more...
The Bureau of Indian Affairs established health facilities for American Indians at many locations throughout the United States. Read more...
- (helpful tools and resources, gazetteers)
- (language dictionary, handwriting guide or tutorial, etc.
Some Important Websites
National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) www.nara.gov
Bureau of Indian Affairs On-Line www.doi.gov/bureau-indian-affairs.html
Native American Heritage Genealogy www.nativeamericanheritage.com
Access Genealogy www.accessgenealogy.com
Indians of Canada www.inac.gc.ca
Association of Tribal Archives, Libraries and museums (ATALM) www.atalm.org
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