American Indian Allotment Records
The General Allotment Act was passed by the U.S. Congress in 1887, marking the establishment of the allotment of land to individuals as the official and widespread policy of the federal government toward the Native Americans. Under this policy, land was allotted to individuals to be held in trust until they had shown competency to handle their own affairs. The Bureau of Indian Affairs was the trustee.
Individual American Indians were given a prescribed amount of land on a reservation based upon what land was available and the number of tribal members living on that reservation. Generally, the amount of land allotted was 160 Acres for each head of family, 80 Acres for each single person over eighteen years of age, 80 Acres for each orphan child under eighteen years of age, and 40 Acres for each single person under eighteen years of age. This was dependent upon there being sufficient land available on the existing reservation. If the total acreage on the reservation was insufficient, the amounts of land were pro-rated accordingly.
Not all tribes and reservations were allotted. Those specifically excluded were Cherokees, Creeks, Choctaws, Chickasaws, Seminoles, Osage, Miamies and Peorias, Sacs and Foxes, all in Indian Territory, the Seneca Nation of New York and all other Indians in the State of New York, the Indians of Alaska, and “a strip of territory in the State of Nebraska adjoining the Sioux Nation on the south added by executive order.” The allotment of lands on each reservation was subject to the decision of the President (and, by extension, the Bureau of Indian Affairs, acting as part of the Executive Branch of government) that such an allotment was in the best interest of the Indians on that reservation.
On allotted reservations, each person was recorded in an allotment register, which included that person’s name, the location of the allotment, the number of acres, an allotment number, age of the allottee, and his or her relationship to other individuals on the reservation.
If an allottee died, a fractional interest in his allotment passed to his heirs. Because of these fractional interests, records to determine all of the heirs of each individual were kept:
- 1. Register of Families
- 2. Heirship Finding papers
- 3. The Allotment Registers themselves
Many of the land allotment records remain at the Agency Office. Some have been transferred to the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) at Washington or at NARA’s regional archives.
An Explanation of the General Allotment Act and its effects on Native American families.