American Indians Beginning Your Search

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Beginning Your Search

Many families include the tradition of American Indian ancestry. Some families have an established connection to a recognized Indian tribe, but most do not. Before you can search federal and tribal records you must have a tribal affiliation.

Begin your search, by asking other family members for any information they may have about your ancestor’s tribe. You may find that different family members have different information. This is common in oral family traditions. Write down this information along with the source of the information such as:

  • The family member's name and contact information (phone number, address, etc.)
  • The reference information for a book (Name, author, call number, library or archive, and page number)
  • The name and URL of a web site  

Known Tribal Affiliations

If your family knows the tribe and which ancestors belonged to the tribe, follow these suggestions.

Learn About the Tribe

Information or facts about your tribe can be very important in locating and using the records so you will need to learn about your tribe. These pieces of informaiton may include the following:

  • Tribal customs such as inheritance customs
  • Oral genealogies 
  • Naming patterns
  • Assigned reservations and agencies
  • Migration patterns and native lands
  • Treaties signed
  • Historical connections with a particular church or sect

Records About the Tribe

You will need to learn what records were made about your tribe. Many people believe that there are few or no records of American Indians. Actually American Indians are some of the most tracked and recorded people in America. You will want to check to see which records were created for your tribe. These records were usually made by one of the following:

  • The Federal Government such as the War Department, the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), or an agency
  • A State Government
  • A special commission such as the Dawes Commission
  • The tribe

These records may include some or all of the following types of records:

Find the Records

Once you have learned which record types exist for your family you will need to locate the record collection that may include your family. The best places to find records of American Indians are:

  • The National Archives Record Centers
  • The Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah
  • University libraries
  • State archives and libraries
  • Tribal archives and libraries
  • The internet

Search the catalog of the library or archives You w

Search the Records

When you have found the collection of records

Searching Tips

Here are some tips and suggestions that you may find helpful as you are searching for your ancestors.

Name changes

American Indians usually are known by more than one name throughout their lifetime. Here are some examples of common changes that may apply to your ancestor:

  • The name of your ancestor may have changed from one Indian name to a different Indian name.
  • The name of your ancestor may have changed from an Indian name to a Christian name.
  • The name of your ancestor may have been abreviated.
  • Part of your ancestor's name may have been droped.

Create a timeline for your ancestor

You may find it helpful to created a timeline for your ancestor. To do this

Records may have been lost or destroyed

Where the records are stored may have changed.

Tribal Affiliation Unknown

If your family does not know your ancestor's tribe you will need to search non-Indian records where your ancestor lived until you can establish their tribe.

Related Wiki Articles

Portal:American Indian

Portal:American Indian/American Indians by State

Portal:American Indian/Canada