Ancestry Blog » Collections The official blog of Ancestry Wed, 01 Jul 2015 12:05:13 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Over 11,000 Historic Surrey Mental Hospital Admission Records Published on Ancestry Thu, 04 Jun 2015 10:36:32 +0000 Brian Gallagher Read more]]>    Records detail thousands of people placed in Surrey mental health institutions over a 33-year period

Children as young as four and adults up to age 93 are listed in the collection

Collection is key for people looking to find out more about the circumstances surrounding ancestors with mental health diagnoses



Over 11,000 historic Surrey Mental Hospital records have been published online for the first time, revealing details on patients as young as four. Digitised by Ancestry, in partnership with the Surrey History Centre, the Surrey, England, Mental Hospital Admissions, 1867-1900 collection includes the records of thousands of men, women and children committed to local institutions over a period of 33 years. Analysis of the records reveals a large number of elderly patients, with a 93-year-old appearing in the collection. Even more shockingly, a large percentage of patients were aged ten or younger, including: 

Maxwell Henry Elbourn Four-year-old Maxwell, living at Sydenham Road in Guildford, was detained in Brookwood Hospital in 1891 after being classified an ‘idiot’ by medical staff.

Mary Jane Seymour South London-based Mary was also sent to Brookwood Hospital in 1875 at the tender age of five. Her diagnosis was simply ‘being an imbecile’.

Annie Smith Born in Wisley, Surrey, eight-year-old Annie was also admitted to Brookwood after being diagnosed with ‘mania’ in 1872.

Each record contains the patient’s name, gender, marriage status, occupation, residence, religion, and their reason for admission. Some diagnoses such as dementia and melancholia (deep depression) remain recognisable today; however others such as ‘hysteria’ and ‘weak-mindedness’ show a clear lack of medical understanding at the time.

By the end of the 19th Century, there were more than 300 mental institutions in the UK and Surrey was home to several. This collection includes records pertaining to Brookwood Hospital in Woking, and Holloway Sanatorium in Egham. Brookwood was the County Asylum chiefly serving West Surrey whereas Holloway was a private hospital which took patients from across the country.  Beyond offering historic insights into the inner workings of the UK’s mental health system, these records are important from a family history perspective. They will allow people to trace and confirm important genealogical information such as family relationships and also provide background to an ancestor’s life and the circumstances surrounding their reason for admittance. Further, the collection can also indicate the nature of a patient’s condition and how it was treated. Fortunately, attitudes towards mental health have changed significantly over the past century.

Initial efforts were made to ensure the proper treatment of patients suffering from mental illnesses via the Lunacy Acts of 1845 and 1890. The Idiots Act of 1886 and Mental Deficiency Act of 1913 improved provision for the identification and care of those suffering from learning disabilities. Despite this, people continued to hold a negative view of these marginalised groups and individuals diagnosed with mental health issues were often detained for lengthy periods. For example, Horwood-born Julianna Brummel spent 19 years at Holloway Sanatorium as a result of alcohol-induced dementia. It was not until the passing of the Mental Health Act of 1959, that efforts were made to reintroduce and actively treat people with mental health issues within their communities. This act was focused on removing the stigma attached to mental illness via a large government re-education programme.

Michael Page, Country Archivist from Surrey County Council says: “These records provide a detailed and poignant insight into how Surrey sought to provide proper care for those of its inhabitants suffering from mental illness and learning disabilities at a time when proper remedies and therapies were in their infancy.”

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Records from the Jersey Archive in the Channel Islands go online for the first time. Fri, 22 May 2015 11:42:14 +0000 Brian Gallagher Read more]]>


We are very excited to bring you two new collections as part of our web search initiative. The Jersey, Channel Islands, Wills and Testaments collection covering the years 1663-1948 and The Jersey, Channel Islands, Occupation Registration Cards from World War Two covering the years 1940-1945. Both these collections will be of enormous benefit to anyone who is eager to learn more about their Jersey family history. Some of the most common surnames found in these collections include, De Gruchy, Renouf, Hamon, Amy, Bisson, Querée, Le Brocq, Le Marquand, Le Cornu, and De La Haye.


It is the first time, as part of a major digitisation project, that Jersey Archive has uploaded images of its entire collection of registration cards from the occupation of Jersey during World War Two.


The documents have previously only been viewable by visiting Jersey Archive, but Jersey Heritage recognised that many descendants of those Islanders who lived through the occupation by German forces between 1940 and 1945 now live overseas, in the UK and as far away as Canada, Australia and New Zealand. Now anyone wishing to research their Jersey family history can do so from the comfort of home.


Linda Romeril, Head of Archives and Collections at Jersey Heritage said, ‘We have an astonishing collection of documents and official records that have until now only been accessible to people who physically visit the Archive. Over the past few years we have worked tirelessly to bring that data into the 21st century by digitising it and making it available to search.’


The Occupation Record Cards consist of approximately 61,000 records, with more than 90,000 images and offer a unique pictorial record of over 30,000 people who lived in the Island during the occupation.  The importance of this particular set of records was recognised in 2011 by their inscription into the United Nations, Educational Scientific and Cultural Organisation’s (UNESCO) UK Memory of the World Register.  The register embodies some of the most pivotal moments and periods that have shaped the UK and Great Britain. 


You can follow Jersey Heritage here on Twitter.

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Newly digitised collection details the haunted drinking-holes of West Yorkshire in the United Kingdom Thu, 14 May 2015 13:30:07 +0000 Brian Gallagher Read more]]> The West Yorkshire Alehouse Licences Collection have been digitised for the first time and are exclusive to Ancestry


  • More than 75,000 historic alehouse records included in this newly digitised collection 
  • Haunted boozers include The Fleece Inn in Elland – home to a headless horseman named Old Leathery Coit
  • Other weird and wonderful pub names such as the Shoulder of Mutton and Golden Ball feature in the collection


The historic records of West Yorkshire’s most haunted pubs have been published online for the very first time. We have digitised the records from the The West Yorkshire Alehouse Licences Collection and they detail the names of more than 75,000 landlords and their respective establishments. Each record states the name of the landlord, residence, date and location, date of birth, name of public house, date of license and city – allowing people both in the local area and wider afield to find out more about their local pubs. Interestingly these records also help uncover the history of some of the county’s most haunted hostelries.


The Fleece Inn in Elland is one such pub – home to multiple mysterious occurrences over the years. This includes a fight between a traveller and local conman in the late 19th Century, which saw one of the men bleed to death on the staircase of the establishment. Despite numerous attempts, nothing could remove the grisly stain and it became a prominent feature in the pub for many years to come. The grounds of The Fleece Inn also play host to Old Leathery Coit – a headless apparition in a battered leather coat that reportedly takes up a seat on a carriage pulled by equally headless horses. Numerous different landlords are listed for the pub over the years including John Edward Briggs in 1902.

Other establishments with similarly spooky stories in the local area include:


  • The Old White Lion – located in Bradford and appearing in the collection in 1910, this ale house is reportedly haunted by daredevil parachutist Lily Cove who was famed for launching herself out of hot air balloons and parachuting back down to earth. Things took a turn for the worse however when she fell out of her parachute and plummeted to the ground at a local show in 1906. Still showing signs of life, she was rushed to the Old White Lion but died at the scene. Locals still report sightings of Lily – especially on the anniversary of her death.


  • The Dog and Gun – This Keighley pub appears in the collection under the ownership of James Cowgill in 1903. Legend has it that an old woman pig farmer was run over by a horse and cart on her way to the pub one evening and died shortly afterwards in one of the upstairs bedrooms. She now haunts the premises, taking a particular liking to the repositioning of ornaments and regular smashing of crockery.


Haunted or not, a parliamentary act of 1551 required alehouses to be licenced annually. Landlords were required to enter into a bond with the court in which they promised to keep their establishments under good order and not allow unlawful games to be played. These recognisances were made redundant in 1828 and licensing laws lapsed significantly until stricter legislation was brought in via the Licensing Act of 1872. As well as scary stories, the collection goes on to reveal some of the weird and wonderful names given to local pubs in the West Yorkshire area. This includes the New Dusty Miller Inn in Wakefield, the Golden Ball of Pontefract and even the rather unappetisingly-titled Shoulder of Mutton in Gomersal.


Digitised from original records held at West Yorkshire Archives Service, The West Yorkshire Occupation Collection 1627-1962 is now available exclusively online at Ancestry. As well as alehouse records, the collection includes over 6,700 apprentice records and nearly 45,000 occupation records, perfect for helping local people find out more about their local heritage.


“Public houses played an important part in the local community, hosting all kinds of activities such as social and sporting events, legal meetings such as coroners’ inquests and some court cases, radical and political meetings.  Many were also key stops on the coaching and rail network and offered accommodation.” Teresa Nixon of the West Yorkshire Archive Service said, “These records will open up a gold mine of West Yorkshire alehouse records and occupation records.”

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Seeing Pre- and Post-WWI Britain via Ordnance Survey Maps Wed, 06 May 2015 17:06:26 +0000 Juliana Szucs Read more]]> One of the best things about family history is that it is constantly taking you to new places and times. Even if your ancestors stayed put for generations, the places where they lived changed and evolved through the years.

Knowing your ancestor’s surroundings can be critical to your research in terms of locating new records. Where would the family most likely have done business? Worshipped? Or perhaps relocated? Transportation routes and the environment may have impacted those decisions. Too often we have to visualize our ancestor’s surroundings based on what we can glean from records, but with historical maps we get a visual of the places our ancestors lived as they were at the time. And the more detailed the map, the better.

England’s Ordnance Survey began in 1791 in an effort to produce detailed maps of areas in southern England for military uses. Though it took the better part of a century, the Survey eventually mapped the entire country, and the maps were published between 1805 and 1874. In the meantime, the rapid expansion of railroads and urbanization had changed the face of the country, and maps were being put to greater civilian uses. New surveys led to new maps published between 1876 and 1896, and they were revised again starting in the interwar years. Ancestry now has two sets of these maps – the Revised New Series Maps, 1896-1904, and Popular Edition Maps, 1919-1926.

These detailed maps cover much of Britain (England, Wales, and Scotland-though only Scottish Borders are included in the latter). They include features such as forests, mountains, larger farms, roads, railroads, towns, and more to help you better understand and even visualize the world your ancestor lived in. This map lists the names of several larger farms and even shows a road that dates back to Roman times.

20150506 features


Elevations are noted, as are some distances, and natural features like marshes, rivers, lakes, hills, woods, and orchards are marked. Man-made features like churches, windmills, lighthouses, railroads, post and telegraph offices, and parks are also included. Roads are classified by class in the Revised New Series and ranked for various types of traffic in the Popular Edition.  Below are legends to each collection, and additional information can be found on the Cassini Historical Maps website.

20150506 RevisedNewCassini

20150506 PopularCassini



You’ll also note some abbreviations on the maps. The Ordnance Survey website has a helpful list of these abbreviations. So if you’ve got British roots, take a closer look at your ancestor’s neighborhood to get a better feel for their surroundings and some new insights into their lives.

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Reports from Gallipoli, The Dardanelles and The Western Front: WWI Military Diaries go Online Wed, 22 Apr 2015 08:18:59 +0000 Brian Gallagher Read more]]> War Diaries 44More than 1.5 million pages of first-hand diary accounts of WWI military operations are now available to read online.

Published today, from records held at The National Archives in Kew, the UK, WWI War Diaries 1914-1920 document operations by British and colonial units serving in France, Belgium, Germany, Gallipoli and the Dardanelles over a six year period. Of these, the records pertaining to Gallipoli and the Dardanelles have been digitised for the very first time.

Each diary entry includes a mixture of tactics, maps, intelligence summaries, reports on casualties and fatalities and general observations. Written up daily by a junior officer and approved by the commander on duty, regiment/unit, sub unit, date and location are also all recorded. Their detail makes the records an invaluable resource for family historians looking to trace the footsteps of a WWI ancestor.

The purpose of the diaries was to create a permanent record of the movements of each unit on active service. Each entry holds a vast amount of military information, which was used by senior officers to locate patterns, plan attacks and build intelligence against enemy forces.

The records also offer a unique first hand perspective on some of WWI’s most infamous battles. This includes the Battle of the Somme, which saw more than one million men wounded or killed in 1916 and has since been described as one of the bloodiest clashes in military history. Diary entries relating to this brutal five-month conflict recall “hurricane bombardments of the German front line” and “mass casualties from prolonged attacks on German trenches”.

Records relating to the Battle of Sari Bair in which Britain tried to seize control of the Gallipoli peninsular, go on to highlight how soldiers were fighting around the clock. An entry for the
East Lancashire Regiment describes how they “received information that the enemy had broken through to the right…we dug trenches as quickly as possible but suffered a few casualties from their fire.” The time was recorded as 5.30am.

Further reports from Gallipoli reveal the terrible conditions facing soldiers from the British Army Corps noting how “there had been heavy rain all over the forward trenches during the afternoon and they were mostly knee deep in mud and water. The Gully Ravine Road was turned into a breast high torrent and cut about by the water.”

Another entry pertains to the actions of The Royal Welsh Fusiliers and notes how “the enemy retaliated from our previous bombardments with heavy shelling of our own front line.” This regiment contained acclaimed WWI poet Siegfried Sassoon. As well as a way with words, Sassoon was a courageous commander – once single-handedly capturing a German trench in the Hindenburg Line.

The battalion of Victoria Cross recipient Reverend Theodore Hardy also appears in the records. Part of The Lincolnshire Regiment, Hardy was killed after crossing into no-man’s land under heavy fire whilst attempting to rescue his wounded comrades. Just 17 days before his death, diary entries note early morning clashes with “the battalion arming up for attack at 4.30am.”

Whilst the majority of officers recorded the brutalities of war succinctly, others were more descriptive with their entries, providing a more personal take on life on the front line. One note relating to the Battle of Le Cateu details how, “battle continued all day but was fiercest between 10am and 3pm” and that wagons sent to drop off much needed ammunition “could not be traced and in some cases had to be abandoned to carry the wounded men who were very tired.”

In a similar vein, some of these records confirm the horrors facing soldiers off the battlefield with regards to sickness and disease. A diary entry recorded by the 102nd Field Ambulance Service states how several soldiers had experienced “prevailing disease for a month, temp for up to three to four days, chilly sensation, pulse acceleration and soreness of the whole body.”

As well as providing insight into what life was really like on the front line, the War Diaries present people with the perfect opportunity to locate their ancestors and trace their wartime movements with military precision.

To search the UK, WWI War Diaries, 1914-1920 click here.

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North Carolina County Marriage Records Wed, 01 Apr 2015 14:18:39 +0000 Anne Gillespie Mitchell Read more]]> Do you have North Carolina ancestors?  Well you may need to take a day off from work or tell your family you simply aren’t available.

Ancestry has launched North Carolina, Marriage Records, 1741-2011 and this data collection includes images of marriage bonds, licenses, certificates, and registers from 87 different counties.

On the data collection page, check out the browse section on the right hand side to see which counties are available and what records are included for that county.

Check the browse section on the right side of the data collection page to see what is available.

Check the browse section on the right side of the data collection page to see what is available.

And check each entry you find for your ancestor.  This search for Newman Alexander and Catherine Carpenter gives me two entries:


Check each search result to see if they point to different images.

Check each search result to see if they point to different images.


Don’t assume they are the same.  One is to a book that abstracts marriage records, the second is to an actual bond.

And if you are doing African American research in North Carolina, you may discover some critical clues.

In 1866, An Act Concerning Negroes and Persons of Color or of Mixed Blood made provisions for the legal registration of the marriages of recently emancipated slaves.

The recording of the marriages took place mostly around 1866, they reference the joining of couples living as man and wife dating back to 1820, and possibly earlier.

The details on these records typically only give the names of the bride and groom, the year, and sometimes the month they began living together as man and wife. Sometimes they also include the names of their former owners, making these a powerful genealogical tool for those researching their African American roots.

Example of a slave marriage record.

Example of a slave marriage record.


Happy Searching!

Thanks to Juliana Szucs for the information on the African American records in this collection.



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Are You Looking For a Convict in Your Australian Family Tree? Sat, 21 Feb 2015 21:00:18 +0000 Jeremy Palmer Read more]]> The founding of Australia as a penal colony for the transportation of convicts from Britain is of course well known. The First Fleet arrived in New South Wales on 26th January 1788 and over the following 80 years approximately 160,000 convicts were transported to various locations in the country to serve their sentence.

In the past, having a convict in your ancestry was not something to be proud of. However, as interest in family history has developed over the last 30 years, it is increasingly being seen as a high point of interest and many researchers now strive to discover any criminal connections of their ancestors. Ancestors who arrived on the First and Second Fleets are especially revered as they represent some of the earliest European settlers in the country.

Convict Transportation Registers 1787 – 1868 

The main collection of criminal databases available on Ancestry is comprised of the registers of transportation recorded by the British government. As with many records of the time, it cannot be said to be complete, but it is the most comprehensive listing of transportees available. The registers have been split into four separate sections – those for the First Fleet of 1787 – 1788the Second Fleet of 1789 – 1790the Third Fleet of 1791, and finally those for all remaining ships in the period up to 1868. If you have an idea as to when your convict ancestor may have arrived in Australia you can choose the appropriate section and search for him or her within that database. Alternatively, you can undertake a general search for just the name in the ‘Historical Records’ section. This is useful if you do not know when your convict ancestor may have arrived, as the result screen will display all of the various databases where the name in question appears. You can then check the list to see whether any of the Convict Transportation Registers feature in the list. A general search like this is also useful if you are trying to discover whether any of your ancestors were convicts. Just type their names into the search facilities and scan the results to see if the details in the records match with what you know of your ancestors.

Original Images of Documents 

Once you have established a list of possible entries for a name, clicking on ‘View Images’ will take you to a digital copy of the original document from The National Archives in London. The information provided will usually include the name of the convict, when and where their trial took place, and the length of their sentence. The name of the vessel on which he or she arrived in Australia will also be recorded. The date and place of the trial is very important as these details provide a link back to further sources in the UK, such as newspaper reports and trial records, that can help establish details of the convict’s origins.

Convict Musters and Convict Lists 1787 – 1849 

Other databases, such as the collection of Convict Musters 1806 – 1849 and the collection of Convict Lists 1787 – 1834 will provide you with further details about ancestors sent to New South Wales and Tasmania, the two main convict areas. Like the Convict Transportation Registers, they will record the name of the convict, the ship that transported them, and the date and place of their trial. Note, further details such as age and occupation might also be recorded. The musters were an attempt to keep track of the convicts, many of whom were employed around the colony. The musters also included ex-convicts whose sentence had been served and who remained in the colony. The Convict Lists and the Musters often also included the free settlers who had migrated to New South Wales and Tasmania and were living there at the time the record was compiled. Many of the records were written in wide ledger books and due to the way the documents had to be digitised, you may find that it is worthwhile looking at the page after the one on which your convict appears as further information about them may have been carried over.

Convict Pardons 1834 – 1859 

Another database of interest to the researcher with convict ancestry is the collection of Convict Pardons and Tickets of Leave 1834 – 1859 for New South Wales and Tasmania. A Ticket of Leave could be granted to a convict after a certain proportion of his or her sentence had been served. It allowed the convict to live in the community and work for their own wage whilst the rest of the sentence was served. As with the records mentioned above, the information about the convict’s arrival in the colony and their date and place of conviction will be repeated. Useful information to be recorded here sometimes includes the place of birth of the convict, their physical description and the reason why a pardon was granted. However, the majority of the entries are less informative and often comprise a very long list of people pardoned or granted tickets of leave in a particular year. You will therefore need to look at earlier pages to find the beginning of the particular list containing your ancestor to discover the date concerned.

The convict records available on Ancestry are an extremely important source for early Australian history. The convicts formed the backbone of the fledgling country and gave Australia a unique heritage. By uncovering details of your ancestor’s criminal past, you will be able to discover when and how they first arrived in Australia. You will also find details of where they were tried in Britain and this detail is crucial in establishing a location for them in their home country. Without this locational information it may be impossible to establish details of any earlier family history.

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William Thomas Swift – Gloucestershire’s Answer to Samuel Pepys Wed, 18 Feb 2015 09:00:38 +0000 Vicky Thorpe Read more]]> guest blog1Village schoolmaster, William Thomas Swift, wrote an entry in his diary every single day from 31 December 1859 when he was 18 years old until 5 February 1915, just a few days before his death.  His zest for life and interest in his fellow men shine through every entry and offer us a unique insight into a village community during a time of great social change. 

We’re so lucky that this marvelous collection is being preserved for the future here in the Gloucestershire Archives and is available for anyone to see in our research room (D3981). 

Who was William Swift?  He was born in Cheltenham in July 1841.  His father, also called William, was a painter but unfortunately he died when his only child was a still a baby.  His widow, Ann Maria, remarried to John Mills in 1859 and the diaries show that William generally got on well with his stepfather.  We know that William trained to be a teacher at Carmarthen Training College and then taught in Wales for a few years, but he returned home to Gloucestershire to work in Badgeworth School.  In 1874, he was appointed as the headmaster of the newly-built school in the village of Churchdown where he remained for the rest of his working life.  He married Rosena (always known as Rose) Poole in St Peter’s parish church in Cheltenham in 1864 and the couple had six children, all boys.  Rose Swift worked alongside her husband as an assistant teacher.  William Swift died on 10 February 1915 and the Gloucester Journal reports that many of his former pupils attended the funeral in a demonstration of their affection for him.

What makes the diaries so special?  As the schoolteacher William had a clearly-defined place in society with a wide circle of friends and acquaintances.  And he was at the centre of village affairs so his diaries reflect all the ‘goings-on’ of everyday life.  But what makes his diaries really stand out are the highly descriptive and sometimes rather outspoken comments he makes about people he meets and the things he does.  In the evening of 27 March 1886 he met a man called Steed, a friend of his stepfather, and wrote:

‘His nose was something to remember.  It may be said to have been in 3 divisions and looked like 3 noses. Evidently from intemperance.’

He has an eye for entertaining detail and a clever turn of phrase.  On 16 October 1885, he went with his mother to the theatre in Cheltenham to see a play called ‘Frou-Frou’ and he writes that their seats were by the front rail in the gallery,

where we sat like the cat looking through the dairy window.’

He describes how his mother dropped her umbrella down through a hole into a subterranean, so they had to wait until the audience had left to recover it.  This provided the unexpected bonus of an opportunity to go backstage.

The diaries reflect his enquiring mind and wide range of interests including local phrases and sayings.  I’m sure that this one, jotted down on 23 August 1888, was one of his favourites:

[He] shines like a button in a sweep’s arse.’

He also wrote about much more serious topics so mentions the outbreak of World War 1 in August 1914.  This affected every area of life in Churchdown and although William’s diaries only cover the first months of the war he mentions the men who joined up, fund-raising and the local Defence Corps.

The diaries end in mid-sentence on 5 February 1915 – a sad loss!

The baptismal record of William Thomas Smith is amongst the recently published records, along with the marriage record of Ellie Goulding’s 2x great grandmother Adeliza Goulding (née Imm) , marriage record of famous British engineer Hubert Cecil Booth (Henry Hoover) and many others.

To explore the Gloucestershire Parish records visit our Parish collection page.


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American Indian Research in the 1800s Mon, 10 Nov 2014 21:54:23 +0000 Paul Rawlins Read more]]> In 19th-century America, the eyes of the country were looking west. The Louisiana Purchase, annexation of Texas, Mexican-American War,

Oklahoma and Indian Territory, Indian Photos, 1850-1930, American Indian Exposition, Anadarko, Ok.

Oklahoma and Indian Territory, Indian Photos, 1850-1930, American Indian Exposition, Anadarko, Ok.

resolving of the Oregon boundary dispute, California gold rush, Homestead Act, and transcontinental railroad all contributed to opening more of the American continent to white settlement.

This westward expansion also spelled the end of the life they had known for tribes that had not yet encountered European settlers. By time the 19th century was over, disease, war, the reservation system, allotments, and assimilation would all take their toll on native homelands, cultures, and lives. And the inevitable clash of peoples led to many of the records you can use to trace your American Indian ancestry.

Key Dates in the 19th Century

Each tribe or band had its own experience with treaties, soldiers, and resettlement, which makes generalizations difficult. However, a few key dates stand out when it comes to researching your American Indian ancestors in the 19th century.

1824: Office of Indian Affairs is created (later renamed Bureau of Indian Affairs, or BIA).

1830: Indian Removal Act passes Congress. Andrew Jackson favored a policy of removing native peoples in the U.S. to federal lands west of the Mississippi River. The act eventually led or contributed to the resettlement of most members of the Five Civilized Tribes and several other nations, the Trail of Tears, and the establishment of Indian Territory in 1834. Though white settlers were eager to lay claim to Indian lands, the act was not solely a land grab; issues surrounding tribal sovereignty vs. state or federal law were also in play.

1834: Congress establishes Indian Territory in modern-day Oklahoma.

1860: Census enumerators are instructed to include some Indians on the census.

1871: Congress stops making treaties with American Indian tribes.

1879: Carlisle Indian Industrial School, the first government Indian boarding school that removed students from their reservations, opens.

1885: Starting in 1885, Indian agents and superintendents were required to take a census of Indians under their jurisdiction.

1887: The General Allotment (Dawes) Act included a plan to parcel out formerly communal tribal lands and allot them to individual tribal members. This would both encourage assimilation among American Indians and open millions of acres of “surplus” land to white settlement.

People on the Move

Trail of Tears Migration Map

Trail of Tears Migration Map

Like so many people in America during the 19th century, your American Indian ancestors were probably not living in the same place at the end of the century as they did at the beginning. The difference is that the Indians were forced to move. This had been going on for more than a century, but the process of resettlement accelerated and reached its apex in the 1800s.

A general timeline of American Indian resettlement in the 19th century includes the huge migrations into Indian Territory (present-day Oklahoma) of the Five Civilized Tribes following the Indian Removal Act of 1830. But it’s been said that every tribe had its “Trail of Tears.” In other words, each group had its own journey.

For example, by the time 1800 rolled around, the Delaware (Lenape) had long ago left the Delaware Valley, and many were in the Midwest on their way to Oklahoma—in all, some 65 tribes would be relocated to Oklahoma. Elsewhere, the Navajos’ “Long Walk” between their homelands in Arizona and western New Mexico to Bosque Redondo started in 1864, only to see them return in 1868. The Spokane were confined to a small portion of their original homelands in Washington, and other reservations were established in the Dakotas, Montana, Utah, California, Minnesota, Idaho, and elsewhere. Today, there are 566 federally recognized tribes, and you can find reservations in more than half of the states in the U.S.

Your challenge is to learn the story of your ancestor’s tribe or band—where they were living at the beginning at the century, where they were by the end of it, and how they got there. Just like it is in real estate, location, location, location is important in American Indian research. Also, remember that not everybody moved. Some assimilated, some broke ties with a tribe, some married a non-Indian spouse. (The AccessGenealogy website can be a good starting point for background on tribes or our recent post on Researching Native American American Ancestors: Context Is Key.)

Records, Records, Who’s Got the Records?

Records documenting the lives of American Indians increased steadily during the 19th century. Various NARA research facilities have the largest collections of records relating to American Indians, and the recent additions to the American Indian Collection on Ancestry make this the largest online collection available. But again, finding out what is available and where records might be will often depend on learning the history of a tribe.

Enrollment Records

The Dawes Rolls and the documents surrounding them are the best-known tribal enrollment records of the 19th century. These deal specifically with members of the Five Civilized Tribes living in Oklahoma (for the most part) and can be found in a number of databases on Ancestry. However, the Dawes Rolls are not the only enrollment records. Other Cherokee rolls include the Baker and Guion Miller rolls, both of which used older enrollments as a basis. Various rolls and tribal censuses exist for other tribes as well, but unfortunately, there is no central repository for enrollment records, though the Internet makes searching for them a little easier. (If you want more on the Five Civilized Tribes, read Juliana Szucs’ post.)

Indian Census Rolls (1885–1940)

Starting in 1885, Indian agents and superintendents were required to take a census of Indians under their jurisdiction each year. Though there is not a census for every tribe on every reservation for every year, this is still one of the most valuable and far-reaching collections of records relating to American Indians. You’ll find the entire collection on Ancestry at U.S., Indian Census Rolls, 1885–1940.

U.S. Federal Census

American Indians are not identified as such on the 1790–1840 censuses. A few American Indians living among the general population were identified as “Indians” in the 1850 census, and in 1860, census enumerators were instructed to enumerate “families of Indians who have renounced tribal rule, and who under state or territory laws exercise the rights of citizens.” This did not include Indians living on reservations or a nomadic life on the plains. Starting in 1900, Indians on reservations were enumerated on the census.

Other Records

These records will take a little more effort to access, but they may prove useful, depending on your ancestor’s experience.


Though they probably don’t list your ancestor by name, treaties may help you learn more a tribe’s history. The Oklahoma State University has an online database of treaties.

Annuity Rolls

Annuities, or payments to tribes or members of tribes, resulted from some treaties. Some annuity rolls start listing heads of families as early as 1834, though this became mandatory only after 1875. NARA has a large collection, and others remain at local Bureau of Indian Affairs offices. However, these records have not been microfilmed or digitized.

Emigration and Removal Rolls

Some records of Indian removals were created by government agencies. A collection of these, going as far back as 1824 in some cases, has been microfilmed (NARA film M234) and is available at NARA research centers or the Family History Library.

Indian School Records

The first official boarding school that took Indian children off their reservation was the Carlisle Indian Industrial School opened in 1879 in Pennsylvania. BIA schools were opened in 18 different states. There is no central repository of Indian school records. NARA holds some BIA Indian school records. Use the web to look for others at a local level.

Bureau of Indian Affairs Records

Bureau of Indian Affairs records can include allotment records, various case files, rolls, and applications. Many are held at various NARA research facilities and others at the state level.

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The 1896 and 1898 Rolls of the Five Civilized Tribes Wed, 05 Nov 2014 14:25:39 +0000 Juliana Szucs Read more]]> 20141105Lorene

Lorene Alexander, A Chickasaw Indian, from Oklahoma and Indian Territory, Indian Photos, 1850-1930

In 1893, the Commission to the Five Civilized Tribes, under the leadership of Henry Dawes, was established to convince the leaders of the Five Civilized Tribes – Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Creek, and Seminole – to accept individual land allotments in exchange for tribal lands. The challenge was determining who was eligible; the Dawes Commission was tasked with compiling a list of eligible tribal members.  Those eligible for enrollment were entitled to allotments of land. When land allotments ran out, some received cash in lieu of land.

The Dawes Commission began accepting enrollments in 1896, but with the enactment of the Curtis Act in 1898, these enrollments were declared invalid and new enrollments began later that year.

Those who enrolled via the 1896 applications had to reapply under new guidelines to qualify for land allotments. Although the 1896 roll was overturned and those included are not necessarily going to be found in the final rolls (1898), there is still valuable genealogical information that can be found in the records. (Note: There are no 1896 records from the Seminole tribe because they made a separate arrangement with the Dawes Commission and bypassed the application process at that time.)

The later enrollments became known as the “Dawes Rolls,” which, after closing in 1907, became the official roll of tribal citizenship in the Five Civilized Tribes. (An additional 312 individuals were enrolled under a 1914 act.)

Ancestry has the U.S., Native American Applications for Enrollment in Five Civilized Tribes (Overturned), 1896  and the Oklahoma and Indian Territory, Dawes Census Cards for Five Civilized Tribes, 1898-1914, as well as the Applications for Enrollment in Five Civilized Tribes, 1898-1914, among its historic American Indian collections.

Searching the 1896 Overturned Applications

Searching the 1896 applications is a two-step process. When you locate an ancestor using the search, you’re accessing an index to the actual records. Note the applicant’s name, tribe name, and application number. Once you have this information, use it to locate the appropriate application images through the browse feature by selecting a tribe followed by an application number range. That will put you in the correct section of images; then use the image viewer to browse to the images of the file you want. Each application starts with an image of the folder with the application number; these folders appear mostly blank in the filmstrip so they’re easy to spot. Using the filmstrip, you can browse to the cover pages and zero in on the application.

For example, we find Becky Blue in the 1896 index to Choctaw Freedmen.


Note that her application is #31. From the drop-down browse to the Choctaw Freedmen applications 1-39.


Open the filmstrip so you can easily spot the cover pages.


Since application 31 will be near the end of this group (applications 1-39), I skipped to 300, which landed me right in Becky’s file. Using the filmstrip, I can see that image 295 appears blank and sure enough that is the start of her file.


Understanding the Records

To best understand the records in the new American Indian collections, be sure to read the descriptive materials for each database located below the search form on each database page. You can learn more about American Indian research with our latest free research guide, which can be found here:  (Click the blue box on the right side of the page to download the guide.) You can learn more about individual collections by selecting a collection from the list below the search form.

Best of luck with your searches!

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