Tips on Researching your Indian Heritage.

Many of our families have vague stories of a grandmother who was an "Indian Princess" are present in many of our family lines. Well, folks, there were no “Indian Princesses”! When the white Europeans came to North America, Their customs were, their “heads of state or government” in the 1600’s had been for centuries, kings and queens. As they began dealing with the Native Americans, our Indian ancestors, in order to relate their “headman or chief”, according to their customs, the Chief became “KING” and his children became “PRINCESS and PRINCE”. From here, came the legend of Indian Princess to pass down the generations.

A large percentage of citizens in the U.S.A. have at least one Indian ancestral line. There is more than a 50% chance of an Indian ancestor, if your ancestors lived in Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Missouri, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, or West Virginia. Then, there are the states of: Arizona, California, Nevada, New Mexico, New York, North and South Dakota, Texas, and Washington. If you look at old maps of Indian locations, you will see they were spread across all the country that eventually became the United States. These Nations were not confined to small portions of the country, though many did live in smaller areas. In the Midwest/plains area many tribes roamed over several states between the Rockies and the Mississippi.

So, you can see why such a large percentage of Americans probably have an Indian ancestor. Today, there are over 500 federally recognized Indian Tribes in the United States.

Today, having “Indian blood lines” does not have the stigma it did 100 plus years ago, when many of our ancestors “passed as white”. We are proud of that little drop of blood from a distant ancestor. This search can be the most frustrating one you will undertake. You can be rewarded with the evidence of that Indian ancestor, or you may never find the paperwork to connect you with a specific tribe.

To find this ancestor, many of the steps you take to find any other will be followed, as you go back in time. The methods change WHEN you get to the point where you "should" be able to prove the Indian connection. At that point, it is necessary to know some of the history and culture of the tribe your ancestor belonged to in order to know which sources you need to be looking at. As you “work back” into your Indian heritage, you’ll need those same three basic items: NAME (various spellings), DATE or approximate of an event, and probable PLACE of an event. The need for dates and places of events is where HISTORY and MAPS become invaluable tools for our Indian research.

Some have more information than that to begin with while others are not so lucky. Some people begin their research and have enough information within a month to be able to apply for tribal recognition. On the other hand, some have been searching for years and still have not found the "proof" required to enroll. Most people fit somewhere in the middle.

Lack of early written records for Native Americans makes genealogical research for Indian ancestors difficult, if it predates the white man’s arrival in America. Nevertheless, some tribes have verbally passed family legends along to their young–generation after generation. Just as some of our ancestors have personally passed legends through our families. Many tribes kept records. Needless to say, some tribes maintained more and better records than other tribes did.

Most of the time, people are so excited about finding their ancestor, the first thing they do is go to the Indian rolls to find their name. Then they are disappointed, and have no idea of where to go next. Many then give up thinking there is nothing to the stories they have heard all their life. Just because their ancestor’s name is not on the rolls, doesn’t mean they were not Indian. Many of our Indian ancestors were never on a roll because they feared and hated the American government, distrusted white people and wanted only to be left alone. That makes the search more difficult, but still not impossible.

Because there are so many Indian tribes and they are all so different each one has resources and records that are slightly, and sometimes dramatically, different from the others. For that reason, this guide can only give a general sense of what to do. You will be able to tailor your search to meet your own needs.

As with your Euro ancestors, begin with yourself and your immediate family. List the full names of your parents, brothers and sisters. Also list the full names of spouses. Write down their dates of birth, marriages, divorces and deaths where appropriate. Use birth certificates, marriage licenses, baptismal records, newspaper articles such as wedding announcements and obituaries, cemetery headstones, U.S. census records, land deeds, military records and other legal and published records as sources. Many of these records are on microfilm at your nearest genealogy library, or Morman Family History Center. In addition, write down where the information came from. But, YOU NEED TO KNOW THE AREA/STATE TO CONDUCT YOUR SEARCH. This you will discover as you follow the family paper trail back in time through census and other records. Sooner or later, you will want to know where you got a particular piece of information and may not be able to remember, especially when you have accumulated a large database of facts. Having that noted from the beginning can save much time later on if a question or conflict of information arises.

Once you have your immediate family recorded, begin the same process for your grandparents' families. Record the information for all your aunts and uncles, including the maiden and married names of all the female ancestors and cousins. Keep working backwards, one generation at a time, making notes about what documents were used to obtain the information for each person. Also record any family stories that you know about each person. Such personal history helps each person to "come alive" as an individual instead of merely being a name on your family chart. Such family stories also provide clues to locate and identify other family members.
Use a "Family Group Sheet" form to record the information on births, deaths, marriages and children of each family unit. These forms can be obtained from genealogy libraries, the Mormon's Family History Center, or photocopied from one of the many "beginning genealogy" books available at libraries and bookstores. Most computer genealogy programs, like Family Tree Maker, also have blank forms you can print out to record the information. Using a computer genealogy program is helpful for collecting and keeping track of information, but is not required.

When you reach the ancestor who is said to be Indian, you will have enough information on parents, descendants and siblings to begin looking for the family in Indian records. At that point, you will need to have a general idea of which tribe(s) to search for your ancestor. Knowing some of the history of the tribes in the area where your ancestor was born will help in making that decision. Again, history will show you which Nations were in which areas of the country. So dig out the histories of the area you found your family. For instance, you wouldn’t try to locate your ancestor of Apache blood in Kentucky. You would need to know what states they were in.

Once you've established which Nation your ancestor may have belonged to, you will need to learn which records are available for that tribe or tribes. One of the places to search for records is the National Archives microfilm collection. They have an extensive collection of microfilmed records of reservation censuses, payment records, school records, BIA agent reports and other records and documents pertaining to American Indians. A catalog of Native American records on microfilm can be ordered by calling 1-800-234-8861. The catalogs are also online at In addition, the National Archives has a searchable database of records online at This database is incomplete, but they are adding more information on a regular basis.

The Family History Library of the Latter Day Saints (the Mormons) has records pertaining to American Indians on microfilm and in books. These microfilms and books can be borrowed through the Family History Centers of the LDS. Some larger colleges and universities also have collections of Indian records. Search all the tribal records and census lists for your ancestor's name as well as the names of their parents, siblings and children. If you don't find them on the records of the tribe you believe they may have belonged to, extend your search to nearby and allied tribes. Some people registered with a tribe that was close by instead of registering with their ancestral tribe, particularly if their parents belonged to different tribes.

One of the most pleasant surprises you will find is how many records are available for Native American research. These records exist from the early 1500's to the present.


You may run into some difficulty with your Indian ancestral names. Many Indians had only one name. And, an Indian name doesn’t indicate if the individual was a male or female. Generally, our Indian ancestors had a personal name and a title or honorary name. Their names frequently referred to a personal characteristic, and were often added later in life. Sometimes, personal names were changed at different events. Then, sometimes they just decided to change their name–or record keepers made mistakes in writing the Indian names.


Based on the time and where an ancestor lived, you can study U.S. maps that show Indian reservations. There are approximately 280 Indian reservations in the U.S.A. today. By looking at maps that show where the reservations are located, you can determine to which tribe your ancestor probably belonged. Note: If one of your non-Indian ancestors disappeared around an Indian reservation that was located near an army post, you should search for that missing ancestor in the records of that military post. The reservations are generally located in/near the area the Nations occupied prior to being on a reservation. Older history maps will show the areas where specific Nations lived. These, probably, will be considerably larger than their present day reservation. Many smaller, less known tribes lost their sovereign recognition and some are finally getting the federal recognition back after years of fighting for it.

Most of these records are available at the National Archives or at one of its fifteen Regional Branches. .

Most material of any genealogical value for research involves records of Indians and their interaction with the U.S. Government and the Bureau of Indian Affairs. In 1824, the U.S. Government created the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) to act as a trustee for Indian property held in trust by the U.S. Also, the BIA was to assist in providing education, health and welfare services for American Indians. Thereby, millions of federal records about individual Indians and tribes came into existence over a period of time.

These millions of records are available for you to research, and many of them are available on microfilm! You can find the ones on microfilm in American Indians--A Select Catalog of National Archives Microfilm Publications, which was published in 1984 by the National Archives Trust Fund Board. This catalog is divided into Civilian Agency Records and Military Establishment Records. Many of these same microfilm records are available through the Reno Family History Center (or other LDS Family History Centers). For any of these records to help in your personal search for an Indian ancestor, you need to know something about the different types of records.


MILITARY RECORDS: Many Indians served in the United States military forces, from the Revolutionary War up to the present. Important items listed on military records are race, physical description, and birth information. They may also contain the names of parents and/or spouse.

SCHOOL REPORTS: From 1910 to 1939 there are many school records of Native American children. These records are available at the National Archives and at the Regional Branches of the National Archives. These School Reports provide: name of child, age, tribe, degree of Indian blood, date of entry into the particular school, attendance record, type of training, distance from home to public school, and various types of additional information.

SCHOOL CENSUS RECORDS: School Census Records for Indian children are available from 1912 to 1939. These records are available at the National Archives and at the Regional Branches of the National Archives. These records are important, because they show: names of all children of school age (6 to 18), often will show both white and Indian names. Indian school records will also list the tribe or nation the student belonged to and age, sex, tribe and degree of Indian blood, distance from home to public school, name of parent or guardian, details of attendance or non-attendance.

PASSPORTS: In the 17th and 18th century passports were often needed to travel around the North American continent, through the Indian territories, through French and Spanish territories and into Canada and Mexico.

TAX LISTS, VOTING LISTS: Finding an Indian ancestor on a tax or voter registration list doesn't mean they weren't Indian - but it does indicate they had successfully "passed" into the white community. In most states, Indians were not allowed to vote until sometime after World War II - late 1940's and 1950's, and as late as the 1960's for some states.

CHURCH RECORDS: Church Records are the earliest sources for proof of Native Americans. Church Records with Indian data are available from the early 1500's to the present. To search these, you need to know the name, approximate date and place where your missing ancestor lived. Intermingling of Indians among the “white-eyes” and conversion to Christianity, as well as adoption of the European way of life, resulted in a great quantity of genealogical data on Indians in Church Records. When an Indian was baptized into a church, they usually received a Christian name. Some of the churches involved in early missionary work among the Indians were: Baptist, Catholic, Episcopal, Mennonite, Methodist, Moravian, Presbyterian, and the Reformed Church.

In Church Records, you can find information on christenings or births, marriages, deaths and burials. These records can be found in various depositories, in local custody–like our Nevada State Historical Society in Reno, and some are available on microfilm through the Family History Center. Some Church Records are in private or state archives.

REMOVAL RECORDS: Removal Records are also known as Emigration Rolls. These records exist from about 1815 to 1850. They provide names of heads of families and some information about other members of the family. These records are available through the National Archives–and on microfilm through the Family History Center.

TRIBAL ENROLLMENT RECORDS: Tribal Enrollment Records are very important sources that are available from 1827 to the present. These records provide: name of head of family, his or her parents, grandparents, uncles, aunts, brothers, sisters, and children. Plus, these records provide: ages or birth dates, marital status, tribal and band affiliation, and land allotment information. These records are available at the National Archives and at Tribal Offices of the individual tribes. Also, they are available on microfilm through the Family History Center.

ANNUITY ROLLS: Annuity Rolls are available from 1841 to 1949. There are 959 rolls of microfilm on Annuity Rolls. These records show payment in money to individual Indians. These records are especially important, because they provide the English name and/or Indian name–plus age, sex, degree of Indian blood, and relationship to head of family.

Since individuals moved from one Indian Agency to another, this sometimes resulted in a person being recorded in the Annuity or Census Rolls a number of times in a given year–but in various localities. Annuity Records are available from the National Archives and its Regional Branches, and on microfilm through the Family History Center.

LAND ALLOTMENT RECORDS: Land Allotment Records are available from 1856 to 1935. These important records provide: name of the allottee, age, sex, relation to heirs to the original allottee, location and acreage of the allotment. These records are available from: the National Archives, the Superintendent’s Office of each Superintendency of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, and the Regional Branches of the National Archives. They are also available on microfilm through the Family History Center.

INDIAN CENSUS ROLLS and FEDERAL POPULATION SCHEDULES: The Indian Census Rolls and the Federal Population Schedules (Censuses) are of UTMOST IMPORTANCE when you are searching for a Native American ancestor. The Federal Population Schedules exist from 1790 to the present. The American Indian Census Rolls exist from 1885 to 1940.

Near the end of the Reservation Period in 1884, the U.S. Congress authorized an Indian census be taken annually. In 1885, many of the tribes started taking this annual census and continued to do so until 1940. (But, not all tribes complied.) These Indian Census Rolls record name of the Indian and other information, as well as deaths in previous years–giving date of death.

The Indian Censuses of 1885-1890 are ESPECIALLY IMPORTANT, because these contain both the Indian and given name of an individual. Needless to say, the later Rolls contain more pertinent genealogical data.

Some problems with early Indian Censuses were: (1) Censuses were taken only of Indians living on certain reservations at a particular time; (2) Many individual Indians were overlooked–maybe because they wanted to be; (3) All Indians on a reservation were members of the tribe, yet spouses frequently belonged to another tribe; and (4) Some tribes were not even enumerated. Another major problem with early Indian Censuses pertains to kinship terms. Relationships, as recorded, are not always the same from one record to another. In fact, the terms for relationships varied between the different tribes. For example, in some tribes the term “brother” also meant a “first cousin.”

The Federal Population Schedules from 1790 forward included some Indians, especially if an Indian was living among non-Indians. Many Indians owned land from the time of our first Federal Census in America in 1790; thus, they weren’t listed as Indians. The 1860 Federal Census was the first one to enumerate Indians as a separate race. But, at that time only Indians living with white settlers were enumerated. In the 1870 and 1880 Federal Censuses, the letter “I” under “Color” indicated that the individual enumerated was an Indian.

In 1890, a Federal Census was taken of Oklahoma and all of its Indian Territories. These records are on one roll of microfilm. This is a very complete enumeration of Indians in Oklahoma. For example, for the Cherokee Nation, the enumeration included: Cherokees, adopted whites, Shawnees and Delawares, those denied citizenship by Cherokee authorities, those whose claims to citizenship were pending, intruders and whites living in Cherokee Nation by permission.

The 1900 and 1910 Federal Population Schedules are ESPECIALLY IMPORTANT when searching for an Indian ancestor. Because, two population schedules were prepared–one for Native Americans and one for all other residents. A Soundex is available for both of these censuses. For these enumerations, Indians were asked: (1) To what tribe they belonged; and (2) If their mother or father was Indian–if so, to which tribe did they belong.

For the 1900 Census, in states where there were Indian Reservations, additional columns were provided. Some of the special information asked of Indians included: Indian name, nativity, blood, marital status, etc. The 1900 Federal Census is truly a direct route to finding Indian ancestors on a reservation. If you don’t find them on the Census for Native American, search for them on the other 1900 Census–they may be listed among the white population.

From 1910 to present, Indians are enumerated in the Federal Censuses. For example, in the 1920 Census, a Native American may be identified as: Black, Indian, Other, or White. In 1924, all Native Americans born in the Territory of the United States were declared U.S. citizens. And, each of them were allowed to also keep their tribal membership.

Some states have taken special censuses of their Indian population–by tribes or reservations. So, when searching for an Indian ancestor, determine if the state where they lived took such a census.

PROBATE RECORDS: Probate Records pertaining to Indian ancestors exist for two very important types of records. That being WILLS and HEIRSHIP PAPERS. For Wills, the time span is from 1906 to 1921. And, for Heirship Papers, the time span is 1907 to the present.

Wills are especially important for tracing an Indian ancestor, because they provide: name of testator, residence, legatees or heirs, relationships, description of land and property (including their Allotment Number), date of Will and Probate, signature, witness, date of approval by the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Indian Wills are among records of the National Archives. Heirship Papers are available from the National Archives and also through the Superintendent’s Office of each Superintendency of the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

VITAL STATISTICS: Like with research for any of our ancestors in America, most records didn’t start until the early 1900s. Vital Statistics for our Indian ancestors started in 1910 and continues to the present. Vital Statistics on our Indian ancestors pertain to: births, deaths, and marriages. Again, to find pertinent information on your ancestor, you must know three basic things: Name, When and Where an Event Occurred.


FAMILY HISTORY CENTER: To find what Native American records are available on microfilm through LDS Family History Centers, search the FAMILY HISTORY CATALOG on fiche or on-line (http://www.familysearch.orgSearch/searchcatalog.asp).
You start by looking at the “Subject Catalog” and find “NATIVE AMERICANS.” Then, search for the sources you need in your personal research. Or, you can start by looking at the “Locality Catalog.” For this approach, you need to know a state where you think your Indian ancestor lived.

Let’s say your Indian ancestor resided in Oklahoma. Find “Oklahoma” in the “Locality Catalog.” There you’ll find Indians under “Minorities.” (For example, “Rolls of Indian Tribes in Oklahoma 1889-1991" is listed under “Minorities.”) DON’T STOP THERE! Under “Oklahoma” also search for “NATIVE RACES.” There you’ll find many of the Bureau of Indian Affairs Rolls that I’ve told you about. Or, look at “Native Races–Vital Records–Indexes.” Yes! Such records can be found on our Indians in all the states throughout the U.S. and Canada. You just have to know the WHO, WHEN, AND WHERE of your search, to find a pertinent research trail. Once you’ve decided which records you would like to search, make a note of the microfilm numbers and order the records through the Family History Center.

HISTORICAL SOCIETIES AND LIBRARIES: Numerous Historical Societies and Libraries in the U.S. have extensive collections of Indian material and records. Some of those include:

Oklahoma Historical Society at Oklahoma City, OK (Has one of the most extensive and well-indexed American Indian collections in the U.S.);
Bancroft Library, Berkeley, CA; Henry Huntington Library, San Marino, CA;
Newberry Library Center for History of the American Indian, Chicago, IL;
Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University,
New Haven, CT; Museum of the American Indian Library, Bronx, NY;
Library of Congress, Washington, DC;
U.S. Department of the Interior Library, Washington, DC.


Thousands of books have been published that pertain to the various Native American Tribes, their reservations and records, and how to do genealogical search for an Indian ancestor. Titles of some books that are especially helpful guides, when researching for your Native American ancestor, include:
(1) THE ENCYCLOPEDIA of NORTH AMERICAN INDIAN TRIBES–A Comprehensive Study of Tribes from Abitibi to the Zuni, by Bill Yenne (Arch Cape Press, 1986);
(2) ATLAS of the NORTH AMERICAN INDIAN, by Carl Waldman (NY, NY: Facts on File Publications, 1985);
(3) GUIDE TO GENEALOGICAL RESEARCH IN THE NATIONAL ARCHIVES (Washington, DC: National Archives Trust Fund Board, Rev. 1983);
(4) Guide to Records in the National Archives of the United States Relating to American Indians, by Edward E. Hill (Washington, DC: National Archives Trust Fund Board, 1982);
(5) AMERICAN INDIANS–A Select Catalog of National Archives Microfilm Publications (Washington, DC: National Archives Trust Fund Board, U.S. General Services Administration, Rev. 1984);
(6 & 7) OUR NATIVE AMERICANS AND THEIR RECORDS OF GENEALOGICAL VALUE, Vol. I & II, by E. Kay Kirkham (Logan, UT: Everton Publishers, 1984)–these books are of extreme value as a guide to understanding types of Native American records and where to find the records;
(8) HOW TO SEARCH AMERICAN INDIAN BLOOD LINES, by Cecelia Svinth Carpenter (Bountiful, UT: American Genealogical Lending Library, 1994);
(9) CHEROKEE ROOTS. Vol. 1: Eastern Cherokee Rolls, by Bob Blankenship (Cherokee, NC: Bob Blankenship, 1992);
(10) CHEROKEE ROOTS. Vol. 2: Western Cherokee Rolls, by Bob Blankenship (Cherokee, NC: Bob Blankenship, 1992)
(11) CHEROKEE BY BLOOD, 9 volumes, by Jerry Wright Jordan (Bowie, MD: Heritage Books, 1977)
(12)OUR NATIVE AMERICANS and THEIR RECORDS of GENEALOGICAL VALUE, Volume I, by E. Kay Kirkham (Logan, UT: Everton Publishers, 1980). Detailed information about the Indian Census Rolls.
by William H. Allison (Washington, DC: Carnegie Institute, 1910).
(14) THE WPA HISTORICAL RECORDS SURVEY: A Guide to the Unpublished Inventories, Indexes, and Transcripts, by Loretta L. Hefner (Chicago: Society of American Archivists, 1980).

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Webpage dated 10-16-2005