Native American Genealogy

"Finding your Cherokee Indian Princess"
By Lisa South - Certified Genealogist

Native American Genealogy Research

Finding that Cherokee Indian princess your grandma told you was somewhere in your family tree is going to be harder than you thought. In fact, it won't be possible - because the Cherokee nation did not have princesses!

Erroneous family traditions and the limited number of records can make Native American genealogy daunting, but there are things you can do to increase your success.

Start by understanding that a family story of Indian heritage is not reason enough to dive right in to Native American genealogy. You should continue traditional research until you can show that your ancestors were Native American and then find out to which tribal group they belonged. To jump into Native American genealogy without the tribal name would be like jumping into European research without knowing which country to focus on. There are several good reference books that can help. A good one to start with is the eight-volume set, Biographical and Historical Index of American Indians and Persons Involved in Indian Affairs, from U.S. Dept. of Interior records, G.K. Hall and Co., 70 Lincoln Street, Boston, 1966. 8 Volumes.

Also understand that if your Native American ancestor did not live on a reservation, you should conduct your research the same as any other non-Indian research. But if they did live on a reservation, following the steps below will increase your chances of success with your Native American genealogy research.

As with any genealogy research, your first step is to gather as much information as possible from your family members. Next, determine tribal affiliation and study the historical background of that tribe. Learn about its naming customs, kinship systems, and migration patterns. Note which agencies were involved with that particular tribe and which churches proselyted among them. With this knowledge, you can then extend your search to include records kept by those agencies and churches

So how do you locate the records? Your best source will usually be the local agency of the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), but you will also want to check the area office of the BIA. Next, find out what records are available in The National Archives. It is the largest single holder of Indian records. And remember to check the National Archive Regional repositories. Search the church records that were actively doing missionary work and check private collections in Universities and historical societies. Search the libraries in the areas that the tribes lived. The Oklahoma City Library has a large collection of records for the Five Civilized Tribes (a confederation of specific Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Creek and Seminole tribes.)

While searching for your Native American ancestor can be particularly challenging, finding your place within this rich heritage will make it well worth the effort.

Of course, it is possible that another genealogist has already discovered and documented your family connection to Native Americans within OneGreatFamily. Put our Better Way to Search, work and discover the work already completed by other genealogy enthusiasts on your family tree.

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