By Kimberly Brown, Family Historian
Maybe you’ve heard a family legend about a famous Indian chief in your line, or maybe you know for certain that you have Native American blood. Either way, finding your Indian ancestors is not difficult if you know where to look.
For starters, it’s helpful if you can find out what tribe your ancestors came from. Then you can get a basic idea of the localities that you should search. For a detailed list of Indian tribes and their locations, go to: http://www.accessgenealogy.com/native/indianlocation.htm.
Depending on where your ancestors lived, they may have been included in Indian census records.
Beginning in 1884, Indian agencies were required to take yearly censuses of Indian reservations. Don’t forget to check ordinary census records also. Before 1880, when Indians were first listed as a separate race, they appeared in census records and were listed as white, black, or mulatto. In the 1900, 1910, and 1920 federal censuses, the Indian population is listed, usually at the end of the county. Some of the census records even provide such detailed information as an individual’s Indian name, English name, tribe, degree of Indian blood, and land allotment history.
Some of the best sources for finding Native American ancestors are land records. Beginning in the 1820s, the federal government began relocating native Indian populations to reservations in Oklahoma and other places. After 1887, the government began allotting land to individual tribe members. If your ancestor was allotted land by the government, then you’ll be able to find him in land records. Even better, when a landholder died, his land was usually transferred to his family. By tracing the chain of title for a piece of land, you can trace a family’s history through the generations. You can find this information in land transfer records, plat maps, or county recorder’s book for the county where your ancestors lived.
Land transfer records are also available from the Dawes Commission. This commission was established in 1893 to facilitate the exchange of Indian lands in the southern United States for land in Oklahoma. If your Native American ancestor lived in the south during this time or was a member of the Seminole, Cherokee, Choctaw, Creek, or Chickasaw tribes, it is likely that he is in the Dawes Commission records.
If you are searching for very early Native American ancestors, you may want to check the records of fur companies such as the Hudson Bay Company, the American Fur Company, the North West Company, and the North American Commercial Company. These companies recorded information for their employees and their families, many of whom were Indians. These records are now available on microfilm.
Whatever records you search, whether they are fur company rosters or federal census enumerations, be sure to search for alternate names. Your ancestor could be listed under his or her Indian name, English name, or even a French or Spanish name.
As you search for your ancestors, you’ll be surprised how many resources there are for searching for your Indian ancestors. CyndisList and USGenWeb both have divisions dedicated to Native American research:
Both these lists provide links to societies and records devoted just to searching Native American genealogy. Your Indian ancestry could be just a mouse-click or a microfilm away!