Indigenous Peoples of the United States Church Records

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Click this button for links to databases, indexes, or sites that help you find an American Indian ancestor by topic or tribe.

To determine religious affiliation after 1900 an obituary or funeral home may, before 1900 study what religions were prominent in the area and local history. Study tribal history and Religious history,

"American Indian religious varied from the most primitive shamanism--little more than the exercise of magic, usually beneficial, by self-elected practitioners--to organized, priestly systems based on high philosophies. Whatever the type, one thing is constant: religion permeated daily life."

Oliver La Farge, anthropologist

A number of denominations in the United States proselyted among the American Indians. Some of the more active groups who sent missionaries among the native population were:

Catholic (Franciscan)[edit | edit source]

For records:

  • Marquette University (Upper Midwest and general U.S.), Marquette University has a large collection of records for the Bureau of Catholic Indian Missions, 1839-present. This collection includes correspondence, mission and school reports, photographs, and much more. The records of other Catholic organizations with some connections are also at Marquette University. There is a guide to the collections at Marquette University available online.
  • Gonzaga University (Pacific Northwest and Alaska),
  • Diocesan Archives (area covered by Diocese)
  • Family History Library (Spanish Mission records of California and New Mexico abstract and copies of originals on microfilm )

History of the Catholic Missions Among the Indian Tribes of the United States, 1529-1854. By John Dawson Gilmary Shea.New York, NY: AMS Press 1973. Online at: FamilySearch Digital Library. FHL book970.1Sh31h or film 1320669; WorldCat

Dutch Reformed[edit | edit source]

Jesuit[edit | edit source]

Lutherans[edit | edit source]

Methodist[edit | edit source]

Tribes Served: Cherokee, Oregon Indians, Wyandot, Oneida of Wisconsin, Indians of Minnesota, and others.

For records:

  • Kansas Historical Society; local historical societies
  • Drew University, New Jersey
  • Library of the Board of Missions of the Methodist Church, (475 Riveside Dr. New York, NY)

Moravian[edit | edit source]

For records:

  • Moravian Archives (41 W Locust St. Behtleham, PA. 18018 Phone: 1-610-866-3255);
  • local historical societies.

Tribes served: Delaware, Mohegan, Ohio Indians, Indiana Indians: Creeks and Cherokee

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints[edit | edit source]

For records:

  • FamilySearch
  • Church History Library
  • Early missions to the Indians of North America include: Catawba, Lemhi (Snake), Tooele (Paiute), Southern Indian (Paiute, Navajo) Wind River (Shoshone) and in Indian Territory

Presbyterian[edit | edit source]

Tribes Served: Stokbridge, Oneida, Chickasaw, Tuscarora, Seneca, Shinnecock, Cherokee, Choctaw, Osage, Ojibwa, Sioux, Pawnee, Indians of Oregon, Iowa, Sack and Fox, Creek, and Blackfeet

For Records:

  • Presbyterian Historical Society; local historical societies. The Presbyterian Historical Society in Philadelphia has a collection of the correspondence of Presbyterian missionaries, operating under the Board of Foreign Missions. These missionaries served among several American Indian Tribes in the United States. The collection of approximately 14,000 letters is called American Indian correspondence : the Presbyterian Historical Society collection of missionaries' letters, 1833-1893.
  • Dartmouth College, Hanover, NH.,
  • Houghton Library Harvard Library, Boston, MA.,
  • Congregational House, 14 1/4 Beacon St. Boston, MA
  • American Indian Mission Association (mentioned in a treaty)

Baptist[edit | edit source]

  • For records: Kansas and Oklahoma Historical Societies, and Family History Library

Quaker[edit | edit source]

Tribes served: Seneca of New York and others

For Records:

  • Friends Historical Library Swathmore College, (500 College Ave, Swarthmore,PA.19081 phone: 1-610-328-8000)
  • Committee on Records (221E 15th Street, New York, NY)
  • Department of Records (3rd and Arch Streets, Philadelphia, PA)
  • Quaker Collection, Haverford College (370 Lancaster Ave, Haverford, PA 19041 phone 1-610-896-1000)

The records created varied among the denominations. Some kept records of individuals who were baptized or who joined with that denomination. Some kept only reports of activities among the native tribes or groups. Some have preserved correspondence with their respective oversight boards and/or government offices.

It was not uncommon, when records of Indian individuals were kept, to list those individuals under a "Christian" name, rather than their native name. This makes it more difficult to determine whether or not names in the church records are for the same individual as those in government records.

References[edit | edit source]