Indian Genealogy

You research your Indian genealogy using the same technique you would for any other ancestry. Start with yourself and work your way back, no short cuts! Don’t start with Sacagawea, because somebody in your family says you’re related to her, and try to work your way forward. YOU need to step your way backward in time, documenting along the way, because you’ll never know how well the research was done before you.

People research genealogy for several reasons, I do it because I want to know who came before me – your reason may be different. Please try Beginning Genealogy, where there are very basic steps to get you started, including forms. Keep in mind, along the way you may find information you don’t like, none of our families were or are perfect. These stories of my ancestors makes my search more intriguing.

There are some additional facts you need to know in researching your Indian Genealogy:

  • Name of the Person
    Today we don’t think about our name, our parents gave it to us. Many of our Indian ancestors had only one name. Their surname name was given to them, by agents of the US Government or chosen from a list.  Unlike the immigrants to Ellis Island, they were given little choice in their names. If you look at the 1817 Reservation Roll, you will see that many people on that list did not have two names. It would be difficult to prove relationship to anyone on this roll unless your family provided well documented information. Most of the tribes only had an oral history. I am not saying you can’t find them or don’t try, but we are talking about 188 years of research.
  • Name of the Person’s Federally-Recognized Tribe
    There are 500 plus Indian Tribes today, years ago there were more.  If you know approximately where the ancestor lived, you can consult The Indian Tribes of North America by John R. Swanton. It provides information about the tribes, sub-tribes, bands, etc. which lived in each state. Handbook of American Indians by Frederick W. Hodge describes over 800 tribes of the United States, many no longer in existence.
  • Approximately When the Person Lived
    Determining when your ancestor lived has always been difficult to answer.  As a general rule subtract 20 years to your birth date to determine that of your parents.  Using the year 1941 as your birth year, your parents would be around 1921, grandparents 1901, and gggrandparents 1881. Future generations will find this more difficult with the number of people who are waiting until later in life to start a family.  Likewise many of our ancestors were married at a much younger age.  Using the above dates, I would read the 1930, 1920, 1900 and 1880 census looking for ancestors.  The 1900 Indian Territory Census is available for searching, the first year Indians were clearly listed.  For one reason or another many Indian ancestors hid from the census takers.  Census Rules are some instructions given to census takers, please read the interesting instructions.
  • What State or Territory the Person Lived In
    Indian tribes moved freely across the United States, Canada and Mexico.  Many had winter and summer residences.  More were removed by the US Government to lands far away from their homes.  Indian Tribes of North America is an outstanding source of information for determining where many tribes lived.Books on Indian Movement:

Finally, use the Rolls and Census Records, when you have finally put all your other family information together, it will then be time to look at the rolls.  Reading the history of each roll will help you better understand how to use the rolls.

Rolls and census presently available on Native American Genealogy:



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