American Indian Census Rolls

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An Act of Congress of July 4, 1884 (23 Stat. L, 98) required the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) to begin recording an annual census on most Indian reservations in the United States. Beginning in 1885, therefore, BIA agents began doing so on special forms. Not all reservations were included as some tribes were exempted from this law. A few agents were inconsistent in creating the records annually.

Indian 1915 census.jpg


The earlier attempts at Indian census recording, under this law, took place on columnar forms, ruled by the agents, which included the Indian and English names of all family members, relationships to the head of the family, and the age of each family member. Later forms were printed and included additional information.

Some earlier Indian census rolls were compiled, particularly of the Five Civilized Tribes. However, there was no consistency nor regularity in these early censuses.

Census rolls taken after 1924 by the Bureau of Indian Affairs included supplements which included birth and death information.

Census-like information is also included in annuity rolls, enrollment records, removal records, and claims records. Often these records are called census records when, in fact, they are not and were compiled for other purposes.


These annual Indian Census Rolls, 1885-1940, were gathered into a collection by the Commissioner's Office of the Bureau of Indian Affairs and are now located at the National Archives in Washington, D.C. They have been microfilmed and are also available on the internet.

External Links:

Indian Census Rolls at [requires a subscription to access images] --

The USGenWeb Indian Census Rolls Project --