Indians of North America - A Beginner's Guide

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This research outline has been organized to help you learn important strategies for beginning research in Native American records. It also will help as you become more proficient at Native American research and want to know more about possible sources. This outline will lead you from the beginning steps to more involved types of research.

The outline covers the records about Native Americans in both the United States and Canada. It covers various federal, state or province, and tribal resources. In addition to this outline, you will want to use the following research outlines:

  1. United States
  2. Canada 
  3. United States Military Records 
  4. Each U.S. State, especially:
        New York 
  5. Each Canadian Province

You will need some basic understanding of genealogical research procedures. You may want to read the booklet Guide to Research, available on this site.

Opportunities for genealogical research for Native Americans are good because more government records have been created for Indians than for any other Canadian or United States ethnic group. The Family History Library is beginning to expand its Native American collection. Many Indian records are still being obtained from various archives or libraries.

This outline does not cover the “native populations” of the Caribbean, Hawaii, or Mexico.

This outline does not mention all possible genealogical record sources for Native Americans.

Before using this outline, you need to choose a particular ancestor or family that you would like to know more about. The first step will be to identify all you can about this person or family in family sources. This outline will help you research additional information about your ancestors and possibly extend their genealogy, giving instructions and information under the following sections:

  • Part 1. How Do I Find Records About My Ancestors? This section is the key in knowing what sources to search and in what order to answer your research questions.
  • Part 2. Has Someone Already Researched My Family? This discusses many sources where you might find information compiled by other researchers. It includes databases, published genealogies, biographies, Internet sources, periodicals, and societies that have been established for helping genealogists. As you find information on earlier generations, return to this section to see if the earlier generation has been researched by others.
  • Part 3. What Records Can I Search? Most of the information on Native American
    sources is found in this section. It 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?
  • Part 4. What Should I Know About Native Americans before I Search the Records?
    You will find background information about history, minorities and reservations or reserves for Native Americans in this section. Read through this material before doing very much original research.
  • Part 5.Where Do I Find Records? 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.
  • Part 6. What Tools Can Help My Search? This section gives information on dictionaries, gazetteers, maps, further reading, and a glossary. These reference tools can help identify places and help you read the records.

The following is a topical content of each part:

  • Part 1. How Do I Find Records about My Ancestors?

Special Strategies for Indian Research
        The Research Process
        Record Selection Table

  • Part 2. Has Someone Already Researched My Family? 

Genealogical Databases
        Societies and Periodicals

  • Part 3. What Records Can I Search?

Census Records
        Land and Property Records
        Enrollment Records 
        Probate Records
        Emigration and Immigration Records 
        Court Records
        School Records
        Church Records
        Medical Records
        Military Records
        Business Records and Commerce
        Naturalization and Citizenship Records
        Laws and Legislation
        Vital Records
        Other Records

  • Part 4. What Should I Know about Native Americans before I Search the Records?


  • Part 5. Where Do I Find Records?

Archives and Libraries
        Native American Records in Other Countries 
        Family History Library

  • Part 6. What Tools Can Help My Search?

        Encyclopedias and Dictionaries