American Indian Genealogy
|American Indian Topics|
|Bureau of Indian Affairs|
"The key to success in American Indian genealogy is the cross-disciplinary approach. One cannot just be a genealogist who pours through public records. Only the very lucky will find a census record with a notation that so-and-so was a Choctaw Indian. The task requires an expanded thought process where one must investigate all possibilities without tiring of the effort. The history of the family, community, county and state must be known. Church and local records must be examined for any clue regarding family origins. A successful researcher must also have an intimate knowledge of tribal history and culture. This is a very big order, indeed especially for the small splinter groups that dot the southern map. The quest can be a noble and romantic endeavor. At the least, one can come away with a great body of knowledge of the first American. At most, one can find that allusive [sic] Native American ancestor."
American Indian Genealogy is a guide to beginning Native American research, available records types, BIA (Bureau of Indian Affairs) agencies and reservations, census, church, military records, schools, annuity, allotment, treaties, removal records, archives and libraries, cultural groups, and forts.
Several approaches could be taken to locate information about a potential American Indian ancestor.
If the name of the tribe with which the ancestor was associated is known, a researcher should study the history and culture of that tribe and locate the records created by various records jurisdictions for that tribe.
- If the tribe is not known, a more logical approach would be to determine the tribes associated with the locality or localities where the ancestor resided. In this case, sometimes only the state is known. Occasionally a county of residence is known. In either case, the records of that locality should be searched until the association of the ancestor is established or at least strongly suspected.
- If a residence close to a reservation or a Bureau of Indian Affairs agency is known, the history of the reservation or agency and the location of records they generated could be studied.
Many records were created by the Bureau of Indian Affairs and their various offices. Many of those records have been preserved by the National Archives of the United States and its regional archives. Some of those records have been microfilmed and are available at the Family History Library in Salt Lake City. Some of the records are also being digitized and indexed by internet websites and by commercial companies.
There are also other jurisdictions that recorded information about the American Indians, including churches, schools, hospitals, and others. Each of these jurisdictions may have records of individual Indians and should be studied.
If you know where your ancestor lived at the time of the alleged Indian connection, go to the page for the Indians of that state or province by clicking on the link below.
Provinces of Canada
There are over 550 federally recognized Tribal entities in the United States and are usually called tribes or nations. There are also many more Indian groups, sometimes called bands, some of which are included in the federally recognized tribal entities. In addition to those recognized by the federal government, there are tribes that are state-recognized, tribes that are seeking official recognition, and tribes that have existed historically that are no longer recognized as a distinct tribe.
There are approximately 630 "First Nations" recognized by the Canadian government, some of which reside on the US/Canadian border and are closely related to some of the tribes in the United States.
The page for each state of the United States lists the known tribes who reside in or had historical connection to that state. A separate page exists for many of the tribes listed on the state pages. If you know the name of the tribe with which your family is connected, you may simply search for the name of the tribe.
The Tribal Office of each tribe maintains many records of value to the American Indian researcher. Most of the tribes require enrollment in the tribe before they allow access to the records of its members.
Some of the major tribes of the United States are listed here.
By BIA Office
Agencies and Sub Agencies Agencies of the Bureau of Indian Affairs are the field offices of that federal bureau. They are normally the office that recorded most of the records pertaining to individual Indians. They are listed under the pages for the Indians of [state], the tribes they served, the name of the agency, and the reservation for which they were the field office. They are also cross-linked among these pages.
Sub-Agencies normally served smaller jurisdictions or tribes than the agencies and were subordinate to an agency.
U.S. Department of the Interior Indian Affairs BIA Regional, Agency, and Field Offices Map
BIA Regional Offices page links to twelve regions: Alaska, Eastern, Eastern Oklahoma, Great Plains, Midwest, Navajo, Northwest, Pacific, Rocky Mountain, Southern Plains, Southwest, and Western; site map, with listing of Tribes served, and agencies
Area Offices. Area Offices of the BIA are administrative offices. They kept many records, but most of the files regarding individuals are kept at the agency level or in the Tribal Offices of each tribe.
Superintendencies. Historically, the Bureau of Indian Affairs used an administrative office called a superintendency to oversee the local agencies and sub agencies. Most of them were abolished in the 1870s and, for a time, the agencies reported directly to the Commissioner of Indian Affairs in Washington, DC. The records of the superintendencies usually consist primarily of correspondence and reports of the BIA Field Offices.
There are or have been hundreds of Indian Reservations in the United States. Many of them are federally recognized and supervised. Some are state reservations, administered by a state office of Indian Affairs. Federal reservations usually have an agency of the Bureau of Indian Affairs responsible for the administration of that reservation.
- Indian Reservations in the Continental United States. by National Park Service U.S. Department of the Interior.
- Maps of United States Indians by State. by Native languages of the Americans website.
- Southwestern United States. Arizona's Indian Reservations.
There are many research facilities which have significant collections of American Indian records. See also American Indian Archives and Libraries. A few of the larger ones are listed below. Some university libraries and historical societies have significant and unique collections for their areas of interest.
Records of the native population can be found in several archives, including the National Archives and its regional archives, state archives, and other archival institutions.
- National Archives. Many of the records created by the various levels of the Bureau of Indian Affairs have been preserved by the National Archives of the United States. Read more...
- National Archives Regional Archives. The Regional Archives of NARA are the depositories for many federal records, including those of the Bureau of Indian Affairs. The National Archives at Fort Worth has more American Indian records than the others. Read more...
- Researching Native American Records at the National Archives... The National Archives at Fort Worth
- Oklahoma Historical Society. One of the largest collection of American Indian history and records is housed in the American Indian Archives of the Oklahoma Historical Society in Oklahoma City.
Many libraries have special collections of materials regarding the local American Indian groups. Some of the larger libraries have very large collections of such material.
- Library of Congress. Largest library in the world with a good American Indian collection.
- Family History Library in Salt Lake City has a collection of many American Indian records, including microfilm copies of some of the holdings of the National Archives and its regional archives. See American Indian Research in the Family History Library.
- University Libraries. The libraries of many universities have collections of American Indian manuscripts and published records. A few examples of those with significant collections are:
- University of Oklahoma Libraries at Norman
- University of Arizona Special Collections at Tucson.
- Brigham Young University Harold B. Lee Library at Provo, Utah
- University of San Diego, at San Diego, California
- University of South Dakota, at Pierre
- Gonzaga University, at Spokane, Washington,
- Marquette University, at Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and many others.
Federal. Several federal departments have historically kept Indian records:
- Department of War
- Department of Interior
- Department of State (Territorial)
- Bureau of Indian Affairs since 1947, and its forerunner, the Office of Indian Affairs, from 1824 to 1947, have been the primary offices of the federal government responsible for the administration of Indian Affairs in the United States. They also generated the largest amount of records regarding individual Indians.
States. Nearly every state in the United States has an Office of Indian Affairs, although their title may vary from one state to another. These offices coordinate affairs between their state's government and the tribal governments. They also have particular responsibility for any tribes recognized by the state that are not federally recognized. For a list of contact information for each state, click here.
Churches. Several denominations sent missionaries among the Native Americans, often establishing American Indian Missions, some of which evolved into long-standing congregations on or near Indian reservations. Read more...
Schools. Many schools were established for the education of American Indian children, including boarding school, day schools, mission schools, and many others. Read more...
Health Facilities. The Bureau of Indian Affairs established health facilities for American Indians at many locations throughout the United States. Read more...
Related Wiki pages are found at:
- United States Native Races
- Starting Native American (Native Races) Research
- United States Native Races Part 1: How do I Find Records About My Ancestors?
- United States Native Races Part 2: Has Anyone Already Researched My Family?
- United States Native Races Part 3: What Records Can I Search?
- United States Native Races Part 4: What Should I Know about Native Americans before I Search the Records?
- United States Native Races Part 5: Where Do I Find the Records?
- United States Native Races Part 6: What Tools Can Help My Search?
- Starting Native American Research
- Native American Census
- Native American Probate Records
- Native American Research in Oklahoma
Indians of the United States
- Indians of the United States and Their Records
- Indians of North America
- Indians of North America - A Beginner's Guide
- Indians of North America Identifying Tribal Names
Five Civilized Tribes
Did You Know?
- American Indians served in every U.S. Military conflict from the Revolutionary War to the present. Many served as scouts for the United States Army during many of their skirmishes with other Indians.
- In 1902 the Commissioner of the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) sent a circular letter to all field agents giving them instructions to systematize the surnames of all Indians under their charge.
- The Indian Reorganization Act (also known as the Wheeler-Howard Act) of 1934 established the right for most Indian tribes of the United States to govern their own affairs through the establishment of their own tribal governments, tribal councils, and tribal offices.
- Join the Facebook American Indian (Southeastern US) Genealogy Research Community!
- Bureau of Indian Affairs On-Line
- Association of Tribal Archives, Libraries and museums (ATALM)
- Native American Research
- How to do American Indian Research
- Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada
- Legacy Tree Genealogists
- National Archives and Records Administration (NARA)
- Fold3 Native American Collection (Ancestry.com)
- Access Genealogy
- Thomas J. Blumer, "Practical Pointers in Tracing Your Indian Ancestry in the Southeast," Journal of the Afro-American Historical and Genealogical Society, 13 (Spring/Fall 1994): 67-82.
- OU Search: American Indian manuscrips and published records in University of Oklahoma (accessed 11 May 2016).
- History of the Apaches in University of Arizona Special Collections (accessed 11 May 2016)
- Search: American Indian Collection in Brigham Young University (accessed 11 May 2016)