Finding Your United States Indigenous Ancestor

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Native American Topics
Buffalo Hunt under the Wolf-Skin Mask
Beginning Research
Record Types
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Begin with yourself, get a pedigree chart and fill it in with the knowledge you have. Collect photos, documents and stories of you family as you search.

Other Beginners' Guides. This is one of four pages of American Indian beginners' guides:

Identify the tribe of your ancestor[edit | edit source]

To find Indian ancestors, first identify their tribe by following the process below. If you know your ancestor's tribe, use the Indigenous Peoples of the United States Genealogy Wiki page.

1. Find out where your ancestor lived.

Interview the ancestor’s living relatives and friends. Ask them if they have certificates, family Bibles, obituaries, diaries, letters, or other sources which may contain birth, marriage, or death information and places. Ask them to tell you where the person lived at different times in his or her life.

  • Be sensitive when interviewing others. Some tribes believe it improper to speak of a deceased ancestor.

Search non-Indian records such as census, church, and vital records for the ancestor’s family. See the United States Genealogy Wiki pages, the Canada Wiki pages, and individual state and provincial Wiki pages for sources to search.

  • The 1900 and 1910 U.S. federal censuses list the person’s tribe. Remember this does not indicate official membership in a tribe.
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  • If relatives have mentioned a tribe their ancestors may have belonged to, assume this is correct until you can prove otherwise.
  • If you do not know the tribe, consider that your ancestor may not be Indian until you can prove the name of the tribe.
  • Indians may have hidden their tribal identities for social, economical, or political reasons.
  • Search non-Indian records for clues.
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2. Find what tribes were located in the area where your ancestor lived, and learn who kept the records (Tribe, Agency, Bureau of Indian Affairs, etc.)

Once you know the state where an ancestor lived, go to the Wiki page for the Indians of that state or province to see a list of Indian tribes in that state or province. Study those tribes and try to identify which was the tribe of your ancestor. Tribal pages in the Wiki include a time line, history, agencies, records, reservations, references and links to online sources and the FamilySearch Catalog.

Learn about your ancestor’s tribe. Learn about other tribes in the area to find background information. Learn their naming and relationship customs. The following sources will also help:

  • Sharon Malinowski, et. al., The Gale Encyclopedia of Native American Tribes, 4 vols. (Detroit, Mich.: Gale Research, 1998). At various libraries (WorldCat); FHL Book 970.1 G131g. It includes: records of churches, schools, government agencies, forts, reservations, reserves, and tribes which may include your ancestor.

See also:  Searching for a Native American When the Tribe is Unknown.

Search ALL records of your ancestor’s time and place[edit | edit source]

To determine which record types are most helpful for researching your ancestor’s time period, use the pages linked to the Indigenous Peoples of the United States Genealogy Wiki page. That page leads to a variety of records and topics to help document American Indian ancestors. Also, early in your research, try:

1. Search Online Databases. Click this button for links to online databases:

2. Search Indian census rolls. If you know the tribe and which reservation they were living on between the years 1885-1940 search the Indian Census records. Online at Fold 3 or ($)

Locate records using the FamilySearch Catalog[edit | edit source]

Search the FamilySearch Catalog, using the following searches:

  • Keyword Search under the name of the TRIBE
  • Place Search under the name of the STATE and the COUNTY using the topic NATIVE RACES
Example partial Search Results for the Place Search using North Dakota with the topic Native races.

Print out the record descriptions from the catalog and write the sources you plan to search on your Research Log.

Example of part of a FamilySearch Catalog entry for Indian Agency records.

6. Search the records for your ancestor.

  • Using the book call number or microfilm numbers you found, search these records for your ancestor.
  • Make copies of documents relating to your family, and write the source citation (film or book call number, title, author) on the back.
  • Look for clues suggesting other records or places to search for these ancestors.

Find a FamilySearch Center near you where you get free personal help with your family history.

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If you did not find your ancestors:
  • They may have been listed as “white” and living among the Indians.
  • They may be living with a different tribe that is not their own.
  • Search the American Indian Genealogy Wiki pages for other clues.

References[edit | edit source]