FollowingÂ my 2 July columnÂ on the 1880-1940 U.S. Indian censuses at Ancestry.com, I received many questions about tracing elusive American Indian ancestry. While I canâ€™t answer each of you personally, the basic steps and tips below should get you started.
Perhaps you have a family legend that Great-great-grandma Pearl had Indian blood. Usually the story doesnâ€™t share a clue whether that blood is from her maternal or paternal side. Itâ€™s important to note that a specific tribe will not have a master index of anyone who ever had that Indian blood. Nor will the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA). There is no â€œmaster index.â€ So, how do you go about solving this mystery?
1. Get back to the basics. Most basic research steps apply to any ethnic background. Take classes, read a guidebook, and attend genealogical society educational meetings. Genealogy software programs such as Family Tree Maker 2008 are a boon to keeping track of family details.
2. Work from the present to the past. Begin by contacting your immediate and extended family. You never know who might have family pictures and papers, or know of others who do. You will be linking each generation back in time and proving the connections. Check Ancestry, other online sources, and library catalogs to see if someone has done previous research on parts of your family. Those Indian censuses that Ancestry has postedÂ should be checked for ancestral non-Native American surnames in case you find some possible ties to check further.
3. Place your ancestors in a time and place. Determine this via the records that all family historians use. Include censuses; obituaries; military pension, service, and draft records; and records relating to birth, marriage, and death.
4. Read a state, county, or town history once you place your ancestors in specific geographic areas, . What Indian tribes were in that place at that time? Histories also tell of the forced removal of Indians, some to very distant locations. There may be some separate published histories of those tribes that refer to the place where they migrated from.
5. Check for church records. A marriage, burial, or christening entry might yield a special notation that gives a clue to Indian heritage. For each piece of information or copy of a record you obtain, be sure to add a notation that tells you where it came from, (e.g., Aunt Susie Griffin, Ancestry.com, Green County Courthouse, Family History Library, or some other place/person). Add the book, page, microfilm #, or other identifying information in case you or others need to double check that item.
6. Work on the entire family in each generation. You might find that four sisters and one brother were always listed as white. BUT the second brother or a cousin is listed as â€œI,â€ â€œIn,â€ or even as black or mulatto on the 1900 and 1910 federal censuses. What did that branch of the family know? Do any family members appear on the special Indian schedules for these years? Check for all related surnames in Native American censuses.
7. Did they live within an Irish, Swedish, German, African American, or other community? They may never be listed as Indian. Perhaps they hid that heritage because they were frightened or knew that housing and jobs were more difficult to obtain if their Indian heritage was known. People that did not live as part of an organized group of Indians are often more difficult to trace. The BIA has not had interaction with every group of Indians.
8. There are many records specific to North American Indians that may apply if you can make some family connections to a tribe that had interaction with the federal government. Check libraries and bookstores for guides and online resources. Here are a few places to start:
- The Source: A Guidebook to American Genealogy, rev. 3rd edition,
Chapter 19, Native American Research, by Curt B. Witcher, MLS, FUGA, FIGS, and George J. Nixon (Ancestry, 2006.)
- Guide to Records in the National Archives of the United States Relating to American Indians. (National Archives and Records Service, 1981.)
- Native American Genealogical Sourcebook. (Gale Research, 1995, out of print).
- The Handbook of American Indians North of Mexico. (Smithsonian Institution, Bureau of Ethnology, out of print.)
- How to Research American Indian Blood Lines: A Manual on Indian Genealogical Research. (Heritage Quest, 1987.)
- Records of the Department of Indian Affairs at Library and Archives Canada: A Source for Genealogical Research. 2nd edition. (Ontario Genealogical Society, 2004)
If you have proof or even a suspicion that your Indian connection is before many written records exist, the diaries of other area residents, records of religious missionaries, area histories, and town records are just some of the possible items to consult. Donâ€™t forget that Indians were the original settlers and later settlers encroached on their space. Neither the Bureau of Indian Affairs nor its predecessors were always able to record information about Indians. A christening or marriage entry in church records might mention the words â€œIndian,â€ â€œNative,â€ or other term. The local pastor, storekeeper, or other person might have kept a diary and mentioned the Indians in an area. Determine what missionaries were in the area, whether they were connected to a specific denomination, and where possible records such as diaries, christening, marriage, and correspondence are located today.
One last tip–spelling does not count in genealogy. Stand up and shout this to the world. You will find many variations in both the Indian and other name spellings. Indexes and transcriptions of records may not have been clearly read by the indexer.
Too often genealogists feel stymied by a search for a newly discovered ethnic heritage. Keep this is mind: Research is research. Learn the basics, search all records, and learn about the other records that pertain to that heritage whether it is Indian, Norwegian, or Polish.
About the Author
Paula Stuart-Warren, CG, a Minnesota resident is a professional genealogist, consultant, writer, and lecturer who is frequently on the road. She coordinates the intermediate course, â€œAmerican Records & Research,â€ at the annual Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy. She writes for several periodicals including â€œAncestryâ€ Magazine. Comments and additions to her columns will reach her at PaulaStuartWarren@gmail.com but she regrets that she is unable to answer individual genealogical research inquiries due to the volume of requests. From time to time, comments from readers may be quoted in her writings. Your name will not be used, but your place of residence might be listed (i.e. Mountain View, California).
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Upcoming Appearances by Paula Stuart-Warren, CG
- 13 October 2007, Germantown, Tennessee
Tennessee Genealogical Society Fall Seminar