Native American Census

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The National Archives (Archives I) in Washington, D.C. has records of genealogical value. The Federal government took the census every ten years since 1790 and is a very good source of information for individuals who are trying to identify their ancestors. Census records from 1790-1920 are available on microfilm in the National Archives' regional branches. Seventeen branch offices are in major metropolitan areas throughout the country. A brochure describing the branch offices is available from:

National Archives and Records Administration
Publication and Distribution Staff (NECD)
Room G-3
Eighth Street and Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, D.C. 20408-0001.

The National Archives also has military and service related records, passenger arrival records, and other records of value to persons involved in genealogical research. A copy of the free leaflet, Genealogical Records in the National Archives is available on request.

The National Archives at has various publications for sale. The Archives have microfilmed all censuses. Individuals can purchase copies of the microfilm rolls and associated genealogical materials. Various rolls of microfilm are available for rental at the National Archives. The telephone number for rental and sales requests is 1-800-234-8861.

Records Concerning Native American[edit | edit source]

Native American research and genealogy is unique when compared to other types of genealogical research. Most of the records available for researching Native American ancestry and genealogy are derived from records of the U.S. Government. See "Starting Native American Research."

The Family History Library has microfilm copies of many records of the BIA and the field agencies including:

  • Land allotment records.
  • Indian Census Rolls, 1885-1940, arranged by agencies for the entire United States (On 692 Family History Library films beginning with 573847).
  • BIA heirship, school, census, annuity, probate, land, vital, and other records.

At some point in the research, the researcher will have identified the tribal affiliation of one's ancestor(s). Now is the time to begin research in records about American Indians. The Native American collection at the National Archives includes special censuses, school records, and allotment records.

If you know what tribe your ancestor belonged to, and if your ancestor stayed with the tribe, and if they were recognized by that tribe as a member, and if the agent kept good records, and if those records were not destroyed by a fire or some other calamity, you shold start your research with National Archives Microfilm Publication M595 (Family History Library book 973 J53m No. 595), which reproduces the "Indian Census Rolls, 1885-1940." Agents were required by an act of Congress of 4 July 1884 to submit these census rolls annually. They generally contain each Native American's Indian name ("English" and/or "Indian"), age or date of birth, sex, and relationship to the head of the family.

Beginning in 1930, most rolls include degree of blood and marital status. The Select Catalog (American Indians: a select catalog of National Archives microfilm publications: FHL book 970.1 A3a) provides a list of the contents of each of the 92 rolls of microfilm. Unfortunately, M595 does not include any rolls of the Five Civilized Tribes (Choctaw, Chickasaw, Cherokee, Creek, and Seminole) except for an 1885 Choctaw census (which is on roll 623).

For a more extensive article about searching these records, click here.

Dawes Rolls[edit | edit source]

A Commission to the Five Civilized Tribes: Cherokees, Creeks, Choctaws, Chickasaws, and Seminoles, also called the Dawes Commission after its chairman, Senator Dawes, was established by Congress in 1893. Its purpose was to exchange Indian tribal lands in the southeastern United States for new land allotments to individuals in Oklahoma.

You can search the Dawes Roll for names of persons by going to

Guion Miller Cherokee Rolls[edit | edit source]

In 1906, the U.S. Government appointed Guion Miller to compile a roll of Cherokees eligible for compensation from the government for lands taken in the 1830s. Applicants had to document their lineage back to an Eastern Cherokee living in the 1830s and prove that they had not affiliated with any other tribe. Over 45,000 applications that document about 90,000 Cherokees living about 1910 are in Eastern Cherokee Applications, 1906-1909 (On 348 Family History Library films beginning with 378,594; film 378594 has an index.)

These rolls can be searched online at

The M595 publication will only take you back to 1885. Depending on the tribe you are researching, there are probably earlier census or annuity rolls and the Field Branch that has the agent's records that can probably give you information about them. In general, the earlier the roll the less data it contains. In many cases, the agent only listed the Indian's name and perhaps the amount of money he or she received. Unfortunately, the "roll numbers" from one list seldom have any relation to earlier or later rolls and will not help you make positive identifications.

One source of lists of names that is often overlooked is the Congressional Serial Set, which contains documents received by Congress from various sources (primarily agencies of the Executive Branch) and reports published by Congressional committees. Many of these documents relate to claims against the government for Indian depredations or claims by Indians for rights under treaties. Some documents include lists of Indians but seldom provide much genealogical information. See Angela McComas, Congress and My Family History (12 minute online video) FamilySearch Research Classes Online, and Mid-Continent Public Library Midwest Genealogy Center, 2010. Steven L. Johnson's Guide to American Indian Documents in the Congressional Serial Set: 1817-1899 (Family History Library book 970.1 J637g) is an essential tool to using these documents.

Pre-Federal Records[edit | edit source]

Prior to 1789 there was no Federal government, so there were no Federal Indian agents to make census rolls. From 1774 to 1789 the Continental and Confederation Congresses were in charge of relations with Indians and most of their records have been reproduced on 204 rolls of microfilm as National Archives Microfilm Publication M247 (Family History Library book 973 J53m No. 247). Documents about individuals and tribes can be located using the five-volume name and subject Index to the Papers of the Continental Congress compiled by John Butler and published by the Government Printing Office (Family History Library book 973 H2buj; 257 film notes). The single volume Index to Journals of the Contental Congress compiled by Kenneth E. Harris and Steven D. Tilley (Family History Library book 973 H22cc) is also helpful in locating documents relating to Indian afairs.

The British and the various colonial governments controlled Indian affairs before the American Revolution, and State archives are generally the best source of information about what records exist for the pre-Revolutionary period. If you are able to trace your Indian ancestry back this far, you have been extremely lucky.

Census of Intruders[edit | edit source]

If you have not found your ancestor listed on any rolls of persons recognized as tribal members, you should check for lists of "Intruders." The correspondence between tribal officials and agents is full of complaints about non-Indians living on tribal land and sometimes includes lists of the names of these people with a request that they be removed.

The Cherokees compiled a census of intruders in 1893, which has been microfilmed by the Fort Worth Branch of the national Archives (control number 7RA-55), and censuses taken by the tribe in 1880 and 1890 (microfilmed as 7RA07 and 7RA08) contain separate schedules of Intruders. Many of the persons enrolled by the Dawes Commission found non-Indians living on the lands they selected as allotments. The Commission investigated these complaints from 1901 to 1909 and the indexes to these intruder cases are available on microfilm (7RA5-3) at the Fort Worth Branch of the National Archives.

Not all non-Indians living on tribal land were intruders. Some were traders operating under permits from the Bureau of Indian Affairs, teachers at tribal schools, or employees of the agency, such as clerks or blacksmiths. You may be able to find such people mentioned in an agency's personnel or accounting records (if any still exist). However, there will probably be very little genealogical information contained in such records. Some tribal governments, such as those of the Five Civilized Tribes, issued residency permits to non-Indians, allowing them to farm tribal land or operate businesses. These permits and most of the other records created by the tribal governments (as opposed to the official records of the Indian agent) are in the custody of the Archives and Manuscripts Division of the Oklahoma Historical Society. In some cases, there are name indexes to these records taht may help locate references to the ancestor who is in Indian Territory but does not appear on any tribal roll.

Pre-1896 Cherokee Records[edit | edit source]

The Fort Worth Branch of the national Archives has microfilmed a number of Cherokee census and payment rolls, including those done in 1867, 1880, 1883, 1886, 1890, 1893, 1894, and 1896. Most of these rolls are not indexed, contain only the person's name, and do not include degree of Indian blood. There are also dockets of the Cherokee Citizenship Commission that include the names of persons who applied to the tribal government for admission between 1879 and 1889. These have been microfilmed as 7RA25.

Prior to the Civil War (1861-1865) there are relatively few rolls of Cherokee citizens. In Occupying the Cherokee Country of Oklahoma (published by the University of Nebraska in 1978) Leslie Hewes estimates that there may have been as many as 22,000 Cherokees living in the Southeast prior to the arrival of European settlers. Unfortunately for genealogists, no one made lists of their names. As early as 1792, some Cherokees began moving west as the area of European settlement expanded and the national Archives has "emigration rolls" for the period 1817-1838, which contain the names of people who wished to relocate. Many of these rolls have been transcribed by Jack D. Baker and published in 1977 by the Baker Publishing Company in Oklahoma City, Cherokee emigration rolls, 1817-1835 (Family History Library book 970.3 C424e).

The first major census of Cherokees living in North Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, and Tennessee was taken by the Federal government, was compiled from June to December 1834, and is generally called the Henderson Roll. The roll only lists the name of the head of each family. An index to it has been reproduced as National Archives Microfilm Publication T496 (Family History Libraryfilm 833322).

From 1835-1837 the Cherokees living in what is now Arkansas and Oklahoma were joined by thousands of Cherokees who moved under the terms of the treaty of New Echota, signed on 29 December 1835. The Old Settlers Roll of 1851 and the Drennen Payment Roll of 1851 are the best sources of the names of people who voluntarily moved west. They are both reproduced on the Old Setters Roll (FHL book 970.3 C424wa) and their heirs who received a payment resulting from a decision of the U.S. Court of Claims of 6 June 1893. The payment roll has been microfilmed by the Fort Worth Branch of the National Archives (control number 7RA34) (Family History Library film 830420) and an index to the roll is available as National Archives Microfilm Publication T985 (Family History Library film 830419).

Most Cherokees, however, refused to relocate because to do so would mean the government could confiscate any land in their possession. These Cherokees were forcibly moved by the Federal government in 1838-1839 in what has come to be called the Trail of Tears. There is no consolidated list of all the people on the Trail of Tears (or their descendants), but the national Archives in Washington, D.C. does have numerous muster rolls prepared by the military officers in charge of the removal parties. Robert S. Cotterill's The Southern Indians (Family History Library book 970.1 C828s) is an excellent source of information about the Five Civilized Tribes before removal. Also, the numerious footnotes to the various books by Grant Foreman are a source of valuable information about the tribes both before and after removal. One excellent source by Grant Foreman is The Five Civilized Tribes: Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Creek, Seminole (Family History Library book 970.1 F761f).

1900 Census[edit | edit source]

If you do not find your ancestor's name listed in the "final rolls" and you are sure they were living in Indian Territory, you should check the Soundex index to the 1900 Federal population census of the area that has been reproduced as National Archives Microfilm Publication T1081. The index will tell you exactly where the person is listed in the actual census schedules, which are reproduced as rolls 1843-1854 of T623. By 1900 there were almost four times as many non-Indians in Indian Territory as there were Indians. Therefore, you may find that the ancestor has been enumerated by the federal census taker as "white."

Online Records[edit | edit source]

Soundex Indexes[edit | edit source]

The Soundex indexes are used to learn where an ancestor can be found in a census. Soundex indexes list surnames by Soundex code. This code groups surnames by sound, not exact spelling. For example, the surnames Stewart, Stuart, and Steward have the same Soundex code and appear together in the index.

Converting a Surname to a Soundex Code[edit | edit source]

There is an online name converter on the Internet. This is the quickest way to convert a surname to a Soundex code. Go to Yet Another Soundex Converter.

Steps To Do It Yourself

Instructions  Examples  Ancestor's Surname
1. Write the family surname in the far right 
column of this chart, but omit the letters H and
W if they are not the first letter.

2. Write the first letter of the surname in the first blank. ASCROFT = A-_ _ _
 CARRIGT = C-_ _ _
_-_ _ _
3. Cross out the remaining vowels (A, E, I, O, U, or Y). ASCROFT = A-SCRFT

4. If there are any double letters, cross out one of them. CRRGT = C-RGT
5. If there are any consonants side by side when the
same code number (see the Soundex Code key below),
cross out all but one of those consonants.
6. Using the Soundex Code Key below, assign a Soundex
code to the first three of the remaining letters. Soundex
codes have one letter and three numbers.
ASRFT = A-261
   CRGT = C-623

7. Stop coding after you have three numbers. If a name
does not have enough numbers, add zeros to make
three digits. For example, the Soundex code for Haley
is H400.

Soundex code _-_ _ _

Soundex Code Key[edit | edit source]

Letter in surname   Code
B, P, F, V
C, S, K, G, J, Q, X, Z
D, T
M, N

Searching Soundex Indexes[edit | edit source]

Before using Soundex you must know:

  • The ancestor's name
  • The census year and state you want to search
  • The Soundex code for the ancestor's surname

Search Steps[edit | edit source]

  1. Determine the Soundex code for the ancestor's surname.
  2. In the FamilySearch Catalog, find the number for the correct Soundex film.
  3. On the film, find the ancestor's Soundex code, then search for the given name (given names are alphabetical within the code group).
  4. Copy all the information you find you may need every detail for your census search).

Finding the Right Soundex Film[edit | edit source]

After you have the ancestor's Soundex code, find the Soundex film as follows:

  1. In the FamilySearch Catalog, click Place Search and type the state where your ancestor lived.
  2. On the Place Search Results screen, click the state.
  3. From the list, click the census year you want: [state] - Census - [year].
  4. On the Topic Details screen, click the title you want.
  5. On the Title Details screen, click View Film Notes. Scroll to your ancestor's Soundex code (found on the left side of the screen) and write down the microfilm number (found on the right side of the screen).

Websites[edit | edit source]

Soundex FamilySearch Wiki article