Indians of North America: Identifying Tribal Names
It is important to identify the name of the American Indian tribal group before making an attempt to locate its members. The names of the tribes and groups have changed over time, and before searching, you should be aware of the possible name changes. This is particularly true in recent times, when many of the tribes have begun using their own traditional names rather than the older European designations. For example, the former Papago Tribe is now called the Tohono O'odam
There are generally two ways in which Native American records are preserved -- by tribal name and by residential location. For example, some records may be arranged by the "Nez Perce Tribe," while others may be arranged by "Indians of Idaho." If the name of the tribal group is known, that is likely the best place to start looking for records of its members. However, if the tribal name is not known, it is often better to start by studying the history of a locality to determine what tribes historically resided in that locality. The history of a locality can be studied to determine the names of tribes living in that locality at various time periods. The history of a tribe can also be studied to determine where they were located at various points pf history.
See also: FamilySearch Research Wiki article: Searching for an American Indian When the Tribe is Unknown.
To find the name of a tribe in a locality in the United States, use:
- Swanton, John Reed. The Indian Tribes of North America. Washington: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1952.
By Tribal Name
To find more of the history of a tribe, their migrations, cross-references to other names by which they were known, etc., use:
- Hodge, Frederick Webb, ed. Handbook of American Indians North of Mexico. Washington: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1912. 2 v.
Use the following to identify tribal web sites.
- – Lists of Tribes with links and bibliographies
-  – List of Federally Recognized American Indian Tribes and links to their web sites.
Using the United States Census to Determine Tribe
To search for tribal affiliation of Indians living off the reservations, the United States 1900 and 1910 census should be searched.
The 1900, 1910 United States census have a supplemental census for Indians. Indians living within communities (not on reservation) were enumerated on the census and a supplemental census page was used to record the tribe of each individual and their parents.
Census takers of the 1920 and 1930 sometimes added the tribal name of the Indians they enumerated.