FINDING YOUR INDIAN ANCESTOR
Identify the tribe of your ancestor.
Begin with yourself, get a pedigree chart and fill it in with the knowledge you have. Collect photos, documents and stories of you family as you search.
1. Find out where your ancestor lived.
Interview the ancestor’s living relatives and friends. Ask them if they have certificates, family Bibles, obituaries, diaries, letters, or other sources which may contain birth, marriage, or death information and places. Ask them to tell you where the person lived at different times in his or her life.
- Be sensitive when interviewing others. Some tribes believe it improper to speak of a deceased ancestor.
Search non-Indian records such as census, church, and vital records for the ancestor’s family. See the United States Research Outline (30972), the Canada Research Outline (34545), and individual state and provincial research outlines for sources to search.
- The 1900 and 1910 U.S. federal censuses list the person’s tribe.
(Remember this does not indicate official membership in a tribe.)
- If relatives have mentioned a tribe their ancestors may have belonged to, assume this is correct until you can prove otherwise.
- If you do not know the tribe, consider that your ancestor may not be Indian until you can prove the name of the tribe.
- Indians may have hidden their tribal identities for social, economical, or political reasons.
- Search non-Indian records for clues.
2. Find what tribes were located in the area where your ancestor lived, and learn who kept the records (Tribe, Agency, Bureau of Indian Affairs, etc.).
Learn about your ancestor’s tribe. Learn about other tribes in the area to find background information. Learn their naming and relationship customs. Use the following sources:
- FamilySearch Research Wiki at: FamilySearch.org has over 1700 pages including tribal, agency, and reservation pages.
- Tribal pages include time line, history, agencies, records, reservations, references and links to online sources and the Family History Library catalog.
• Swanton, John Reed. The Indian Tribes of North America. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1974. (FHL book 970.1 S24i 1974 or film 1598299 item 6.) This book is arranged by region, then by state, then by tribe.On Line at: Access Genealogy
• Malinowski, Sharon, et. al. The Gale Encyclopedia of Native American Tribes. 4 vols. Detroit, Mich.: Gale Research, 1998. (FHL 970.1 G131g.) It includes: records of churches, schools, government agencies, forts, reservations, reserves, and tribes which may include your ancestor.
3. Search Online Databases
4. Search all record types for your ancestor’s time period and location.
To determine which record types are most helpful for researching your ancestor’s timeperiod.
5. Identify and locate specific records by using the Family History Library Catalog.
If your ancestorlived in Oklahoma (Indian Territory) in 1900 and was a member of the Five Civilized Tribes (Cherokee, Choctaw, Chickasaw, Creek, or Seminole Indian tribes in the southeastern United States), use the Dawes Commission Enrollment Records, Online at: Fold3
Search the Family History Library Catalog, using the following searches:
Keyword Search under the name of the TRIBE
Subject Search for INDIANS OF NORTH AMERICA—[STATE]
Place Search under the name of the STATE and the COUNTY using the topic NATIVE RACES
Example of a Place Search for North Dakota under the topic Native Races
Topic: North Dakota - Native Races
Print out the record descriptions from the catalog and write the sources you plan to search on your Research Log.
| Title: Agency records, 1881-1941|
Authors: United States. Bureau of Indian Affairs. Fort Totten Agency (Main Author)
North Dakota - Native races Indians of North America - North Dakota Dakota Indians Ojibwa Indians
| Film Notes
Index to Sioux census roll 1908
| Location Film|
FHL US/CAN Film 1205538
Example of catalog record description
6. Search the records for your ancestor.
- Using the book call number or microfilm numbers you found, search these records for your ancestor.
- Make copies of documents relating to your family, and write the source citation (film or book call number, title, author) on the back.
- Add sources and citation to FamilySearch Family Tree
- Transfer the information from these documents to the appropriate family group record.
- Look for clues suggesting other records or places to search for these ancestors.
Find FamilySearch Center near you where you get free personal help with your family history.
Tips: If you did not find your ancestor:
- They may have been listed as “white” and living among the Indians.
- They may be living with a different tribe that is not their own.
- Search the FamilySearch Research Wiki for other clues.