Finding Individual Native American Information

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Native American Research


This article is part of a series.

Overview of Native American Research
Finding Native American Tribe-specific Information
Finding Individual Native American Information
Records Relating to Native American Research in Oklahoma
The Commission to the Five Tribes
Indian Census Rolls, 1885-1940
Muskogee Area Office
Anadarko Area Office
Florida Superintendency
Select List of Native American Tribes
List of Useful Native American Research Resources
Topics

This article originally appeared in "Native American Research" by Curt B. Witcher, MLS, FUGA, FIGS, and George J. Nixon in The Source: A Guidebook to American Genealogy

Overview

As you continue Native American genealogical research, working from general Native American materials and documents into more tribe-specific accounts and information, focus increasingly on obtaining individual (person-specific) details. As with other stages in the research process, there are a number of records at this level that are useful to genealogists. One example is the applications by individuals who appear on the Eastern Cherokee Roll of 1909, such as that of Will Rogers (figure 19-4). Annual Indian census lists are another example. They became required in 1884. These census records are contained on several hundred rolls of National Archives microfilm. Transitional census records, which indicate both Native American and English names, are most useful. Be careful in the use of the census materials, however: being listed in the census does not mean that a person was of the particular tribe; there were many mixed-tribe marriages. Only persons on enrollment lists are actually considered tribal members, or enrolled members.

Enrollment records are often called the “official census records” for any given tribe or nation. Typically, they contain the name of the Indian tribe and date of validity, roll number, name (including given name, birth name, and married names), sex, date of death (if applicable), probate number (if applicable), blood degree (degree of Native American blood), names of both parents, and blood degree of parents. If a person or family was denied enrollment, a suit was often filed in court. Significant data may be available in court proceedings of the federal district courts.

Allotment records detail the allotment of land parcels among adult Native Americans who were of at least one-half Native American blood. They are often referred to as “heirship records” because ownership of the land would pass to the allottee’s heirs upon death. Will and probate cases carry extra importance for the Native American researcher when they relate to allotted land. Normally, probate material is found in local courthouses. However, when allotted lands on reservation tracts are involved, federal records need to be consulted. Still other property records available for the Native American researcher are land claims. The land-claims system enabled native tribes to file claims against the government for monies owed them for lands taken and not adequately paid for during treaty eras.

Many significant census and enrollment lists are being reprinted in indexed or transcribed form, making the information more widely accessible for today’s researchers. A Complete Roll of All Choctaw Claimants and Their Heirs Existing Under the Treaties Between the United States and the Choctaw Nation provides a complete alphabetical list, including aliases and English names (where known).[1] Bob Blankenship’s series Cherokee Roots lists the names from nearly a dozen official lists.[2] These types of publications contribute significantly to the accessibility of Native American historical and genealogical data and should be sought by the family historian.

A number of other works published as monographs contribute substantially to the body of data available to researchers seeking individual-specific records. A more contemporary example, Toni Jollay Prevost’s The Delaware & Shawnee Admitted to Cherokee Citizenship and the Related Wyandotte & Moravian Delaware, provides many lists, including signers of treaties, property owners, children enrolled in mission schools, and partial citizenship lists.[3] Divided into fourteen sections, it provides many names, dates, and places to assist directly in developing ancestor charts and ancestral proof.

A number of Indian schools were operated as part of the process of attempting to assimilate Native Americans. Records of these schools, which had agricultural, industrial, or missionary focuses, may provide the researcher with plentiful details about a potential ancestor, including such facts as tribal affiliation, degree of Native American blood, names of parents, home address, dates of arrival and departure, attendance records, health cards, and letters to parents and social workers.

An abundance of both tribe-specific and individual-specific records can be found in periodical literature. The historical and genealogical periodicals that cover the geographic areas where Native American tribes historically lived, as well as areas of removal and contemporary settlement, should be considered by the serious researcher. Every type of record that can be found in manuscript collections or published in monographs may be available in indexed, abstracted, transcribed, or reprinted form in periodical literature. One of the best subject indexes to these quarterlies and newsletters is the PERiodical Source Index (PERSI), which indexes more than four thousand periodical titles.[4] Another source of access to this material is the Genealogical Periodical Annual Index (GPAI). (See chapter 3, “General Reference and Guides.”)[5]

Some of the more notable geographically oriented periodicals include the Oklahoma Genealogical Society Quarterly, Stirpes (the journal of the Texas State Genealogical Society), and the Topeka Genealogical Society Quarterly.[6] These journals contain indexes to and transcriptions of numerous Native American records. They can also provide leads to individuals and institutions that might be contacted for further historical and genealogical data. Other fine periodicals worthy of note cover both general Native American history and tribe- and nation-specific details. The American Indian Quarterly provides excellent information about the many sides of Native American life and assists the researcher in the same manner as do general histories; a recently published cumulative index to this quarterly makes accessing this information quite easy.[7] Donna Williams’s Cherokee Family Researcher and the Journal of Cherokee Studies are examples of tribe-specific periodical publications that can provide specific records of genealogical value as well as detailed historical data on particular tribes.[8]

The Bureau of Indian Affairs, its regional offices, and specific tribal offices are rich sources of genealogical information. In fact, they contain the richest collections of individual-specific data for Native Americans. Guides to these collections and offices are available in some major libraries and by contacting the Bureau of Indian Affairs offices in Washington, D.C. Contact the bureau or its organizations directly for both general information and individual-specific requests. Typically, neither the bureau nor tribal offices and archives will engage in genealogical research. Success in interacting with these entities will be determined largely by the specificity of the information request as well as how well that request is contexted with other historical data.

The exploding number of resources available for genealogical researchers on the World Wide Web makes the Internet an invaluable research tool for genealogists exploring Native American family history. The websites of federal agencies, particularly the Library of Congress and the National Archives, as well as tribe-specific websites can provide much information for the researcher looking for individual-specific data as well as information that will lead to sources of individual-specific data. Employing an Internet search engine such as Google and searching for the specific name of the tribe one is investigating often nets the best results. Many sites that provide data about Native Americans have significant links to other related sites. All of these links should be explored to maximize one’s potential for identifying sources of new information. If a large number of search results are the outcome of a particular search, using some of the helps and suggestions under an “advanced search” option can be most beneficial.

Employment of sound research methodology, fine attention to detail with complete and accurate recording of all relevant and associated data, and a willingness to search for all possible data from a multiplicity of information sources—these are the keys to successful Native American genealogical research. The following sections provide numerous vital details useful for identifying extant records, becoming familiar with the historical and genealogical data included in those records, and accessing specific materials needed to further research endeavors.

References

  1. Joe Goss, A Complete Roll of All Choctaw Claimants and Their Heirs Existing Under the Treaties Between the United States and the Choctaw Nation (Conway, Ark.: Oldbuck Press, 1992).
  2. Bob Blankenship, Cherokee Roots (Cherokee, N.C.: the compiler, 1992).
  3. Toni Jollay Prevost, The Delaware & Shawnee Admitted to Cherokee Citizenship and the Related Wyandotte & Moravian Delaware (Bowie, Md.: Heritage Books, 1992).
  4. Periodical Source Index (PERSI) (Fort Wayne, Ind.: Allen County Public Library, 1986-).
  5. Genealogical Periodical Annual Index (GPAI) (Bowie, Md.: Heritage Books, 1962-).
  6. Oklahoma Genealogical Society Quarterly (Oklahoma City: Oklahoma Genealogical Society, 1961-); Stirpes (Cleburne, Tex.: Texas State Genealogical Society, 1961-); Topeka Genealogical Society Quarterly (Topeka, Kans.: Topeka Genealogical Society, 1971).
  7. The American Indian Quarterly (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1974-).
  8. Donna Williams, Cherokee Family Researcher (Mesa, Ariz.: 1988-2001); Journal of Cherokee Studies (Cherokee, N.C.: Museum of the Cherokee Indian, 1976-).

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