American Indian Census Rolls

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(Not to be confused with United States Special Inquiries Relating to Indians.)
An Act of Congress of July 4, 1884 (23 Stat. L, 98) required the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) to begin recording an annual census on most Indian reservations in the United States. Beginning in 1885, therefore, BIA agents began doing so on special forms. Not all reservations were included as some tribes were exempted from this law. A few agents were inconsistent in creating the records annually. Agents were requied to take a census once a year, and correct and certify the roll for each annuity payment, by adding the births and subtracting the deaths.
Indian 1915 census.jpg

Content[edit | edit source]

The earlier attempts at Indian census recording, under this law, took place on columnar forms, ruled by the agents, which included the Indian and English names of all family members, relationships to the head of the family, and the age of each family member. Later forms were printed and included additional information.

1885-1912: The census forms contained the individual’s Indian name, English name, sex, age, relationship, tribe, and reservation. After 1885, the roll would most likely have two numbers assigned: one is the order number in which the name appeared on the current census; the other is the order number in which the name appeared on the last census. A few of the censuses show the names of persons who were born or died during the year, along with date of birth and death. The information on the form could be either typed or hand-written.

1913-1928: This includes the census roll numbers (both past and present), the English and Indian name, relationship to family, date of birth, sex, reservation, and tribe.

1929: These forms included the name of the tribe, reservation, past and present census roll numbers, Indian and English names, annuity or allotment number, sex, date of birth, degree of blood, marital status, and relationships in the family. In this census, if a man had a plural wife, the oldest wife was listed first, with her unmarried children. The other wives and their children are listed in order of their ages.

1930-1940: The forms for these census years contained the roll number, surname, given name, sex, age at last birthday, tribe, degree of blood, marital status, relationship to head of the family, jurisdiction where enrolled, name of the post office, county, state, ward of the state, and allotment or annuity identification number. In the later censuses, the form also contains information on how many live or still births a woman had.

Census rolls taken after 1924 by the Bureau of Indian Affairs included supplements which included birth and death information.

Some earlier Indian census rolls were compiled, particularly of the Five Civilized Tribes. However, there was no consistency nor regularity in these early censuses.

Census-like information is also included in annuity rolls, enrollment records, removal records, and claims records. Often these records are called census records when, in fact, they are not and were compiled for other purposes.

Where to Find the Records[edit | edit source]

These annual Indian Census Rolls, 1885-1940, were gathered into a collection by the Commissioner's Office of the Bureau of Indian Affairs and are now located at the National Archives in Washington, D.C. They have been microfilmed and are also available on the internet.



Many libraries have the full set of Indian Census Rolls and many others have part of the microfilm collection that is relevant to their area.

  • Locate these records at a library using Worldcat.

Family history Library


Record Group


FHL First Film


Indian Census Rolls, 1885-1940

including some Vital Records

75 M595 573847 692

Websites[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

Byers, Paula K., Ed. Native American Genealogical Handbook. "Agency Census Records" Pages 35-36. (Detroit: Gale publishing, 1995). FHL Book 970.1 B991n.