Posted by Paula Stuart-Warren on June 9, 2015 in Research

This is a guest post by Paula Stuart Warren, CG℠, FMGS, FUGA

Whether it’s a tradition handed down, a known close connection, or even if you are currently enrolled in a tribe, there are many rich resources for researching your Native American family history.

The starting point

Ancestry.com. South Dakota, Marriages, 1905-2013 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2005. Does this marriage record for Howard Smith and Johanna Nipp signify they are natives of the United States, South Dakota, or that they are Native Americans?
Ancestry.com. South Dakota, Marriages, 1905-2013 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2005.
Does this marriage record for Howard Smith and Johanna Nipp signify they are natives of the United States, South Dakota, or that they are Native Americans?
No matter our background, we all need to begin with ourselves and trace the generations back. Research will determine if those great grandparents are the correct ancestors. Do you descend from John. A. Smith or John B. Smith? Do you descend from his first or second wife?  Remember the childhood taunt when someone caught you doing something wrong? “Prove it” is important here, too. Build your case to show that you have the correct John and Mary Smith. Maybe you have a document such as a death or birth certificate that identifies a family member as Native American or Indian. Just one piece of paper may not tell the whole story. No proof of that was needed when the certificate was filed. No matter the document, the information needs to be verified and the full story built from many records.

But I have some evidence

A photo of ancestor with high cheekbones and dark hair doesn’t stand alone as the answer, either. Other people with no Indian ancestry have high cheekbones and dark hair. Maybe grandma told you that her grandmother was Native American. Don’t take anyone else’s word as the final word. We all know family stories get unintentionally modified over the years. It’s the paper trail plus DNA in today’s world that will tell your Native American family history.

The paper trail

Ancestry.com. U.S., Indian Census Rolls, 1885-1940 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2007. Are you sure this is your George Adams? The course explains one way to tell but full family history research is still a must.
Ancestry.com. U.S., Indian Census Rolls, 1885-1940 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2007.
Are you sure this is your George Adams? The course explains one way to tell but full family history research is still a must.
What’s the paper trail? Various records such as census, probate, military, birth, marriage, death, obituaries, and others are parts of that trail. These may or may not provide evidence of Native American forebears but all must be checked to show the link. The records you ignore might be the ones that hold the best clues. Don’t just rely on indexes or someone’s abstract of a record as they might have made a mistake. Always search for the original record or at least a microfilmed or digitized full record. Don’t be surprised to find mixed blood. French-Canadian and Native American, black and Native American, Scottish and Native American or any other combination. Then move on to specific Native American records for 19th and 20th centuries.

BIA, Federal and state censuses

Many researchers receive the suggestion of immediately checking the B IA (Bureau of Indian Affairs) Indian censuses. If you haven’t done the other family history research how will you know that a person listed on one or more of those BIA censuses is truly your ancestor? You must investigate and document the family connections generation by generation. You need to place your ancestor in a specific place, at a specific time, and with a connection to a specific tribe. The regular federal and state censuses are helpful in that endeavor. We are fortunate to have all these censuses on microfilm and also digitized. Look for the digitized ones (BIA, federal, state) via Ancestry.com. BIA censuses are also on Fold3.com and the federal and state are also on FamilySearch.org.

That roll

I see Native American ancestral queries on Facebook, Twitter, and other social media pages and on other online discussion sites. Many people tell the inquirer to “check the Dawes Roll.” This does not apply to all Indian tribes. That phrase refers to a roll and associated records compiled to document ancestry in the Five Civilized Tribes. If your ancestry is Dakota, Pedatum, Shoshone, Narragansett, Brotherton, Apache, or Nez Pierce, your ancestors would not appear on that. That said, there are base rolls for determining connections to other tribes. Combine these with other records of your paper trail to show the whole story of your ancestry.

Early connections

Is your probable or known connection to a Native American ancestor in the early 19th century or before? Is your connection with someone that did not

Ancestry.com and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. 1880 United States Federal Census [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2010. Without other research, how can you be certain that the first couple, John and Dolly Christian are your ancestors?. Are you sure they are Indian? The enumerator stated that this was the Oneida Indian Reservation. Is that enough all by itself? What is their degree of Indian blood? These questions are reasons that full family history research is vital.
Ancestry.com and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. 1880 United States Federal Census [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2010.
Without other research, how can you be certain that the first couple, John and Dolly Christian are your ancestors?. Are you sure they are Indian? The enumerator stated that this was the Oneida Indian Reservation. Is that enough all by itself? What is their degree of Indian blood? These questions are reasons that full family history research is vital.
remain part of a tribe? Then we move to other records such as church, missionary, land, tax, general store ledgers, county probates, diaries, journals,  correspondence from people in the community, and other sources to find clues.

Want to learn more?

Read more basic how to do genealogy guidebooks. By taking the Ancestry Academy Course Native American Ancestry: Steps to Learn More, you will find help with the starting steps and the importance of family information, tribal history, tribal location, changes in the tribes themselves, censuses, annuity and allotment rolls, church and military records and other important details. The course is accompanied by a detailed handout listing many books and websites.

Just three more websites for Native American information. Use the search terms Indian and Native American in the search boxes on each website and be ready for extensive help.

National Archives & Records Administration http://www.archives.gov/

FamilySearch Wiki  https://familysearch.org/learn/wiki/en/Main_Page

Paula Stuart-Warren

Paula Stuart-Warren works full time in the area of genealogical and historical research, lecturing, consulting, and writing. She has been a Board-certified genealogist since 1988, passing the every-five-year renewal assessments by the national Board for Certification of Genealogists. She is a firm believer in continuing education in genealogy and strives to keep up-to-date by participating in national and local conferences, reading the publications of many genealogical and historical organizations and individuals both off and online. She completed the week-long U.S. National Institute of Genealogical Research held at the National Archives in Washington, DC. Learn more at her blog: paulastuartwarren.blogspot.com or follow her on Twitter at @PaulaStuartWarr.

5 Comments

  1. Jim

    Hi,
    Thanks for the info!
    So, in building the case, you mentioned DNA, but didn’t elaborate. A common question is, “Does Ancestry have enough DNA samples from myriad Native American peoples to show accurate & representative information regarding native ancestry?” Many people with documented Native American ancestry are not having that identified in the Ancestry DNA testing, which begs more questions. Where is that Native American ancestry being apportioned to? I realize the process is in the early stages & will develop as more samples & revision of data occurs, but how is this being considered/ handled in terms of accuracy & representation? I see new countries added, which is very exciting, but, is it a case of whoever is most interested & able to pay getting overrepresented in this population genetics image we’re creating, and that whoever is last to the party will have to settle with what’s available and try to fit into the paradigm at that point? I haven’t seen this posted, and maybe/hopefully it’s being done, but it seems a portion of the abundant funds flowing in for the testing should be allocated to testing underrepresented groups, so the accuracy & complexity of this wonderful project can be enhanced. For example, Native American is North & South America on the map. Well, that sure could be more detailed, similar to parts of Europe & Africa. Seems there could be some distinctions from Haida to Araucanian to Mayan to Hoopa to Potawatomi etc. I’m sure this is being considered & probably has been illustrated in detail somewhere, but I’ve looked quite a bit & haven’t found the info yet . Hopefully, that info and some of these considerations could be directly covered in a blog/monthly update etc that is accessible to all. I look forward to checking the Academy class! Thanks!

  2. Linda

    I have native American heritage that has been over looked for years. The lineage is documented from the late 1800’s, but I have never been able to benefit from my heritage. Some of my lineage dates to Jesse Chisholm, Thomas Chisholm (last hereditary Chief of the western Cherokee at Tahlonteeske), and Talihina (Diana Rogers) second wife of General Sam Houston. Can you help me?

  3. Like most people, I have some genealogical lines on which I have simply given up. My family is very close, and several of us have dabbled in genealogy. I have been tracing ancestors since I was in my thirties, and I am now 83, burdened down with heavy notebooks I don’t dare throw out, because computers seem unreliable to me, over the years. They crash, for instance. so I keep hard copies of everything.
    Several years ago, a maiden great aunt of mine gave me a hand-written paper that “proved” her mother, my great-grandmother, was descended from King Arthur of England, along with several others, because of the way royalty intermarries. My children and grandchildren found this fascinating, so I gave some of them copies. Now, on a website that carries this family name, they say that this line is not proven. Very well could be, but I’d like to know the real lineage, whether or not it leads to kings. The family name is Rice, and I can give much more detail if you think you can help.
    My daughter married a man whose surname is Knight. His son, also a Knight, of course, wants to know if he is really descended from some British Knights. I think it is highly likely he is, and perhaps these two lines cross, four or five hundred years ago. Where to I go to search these lines?
    Ann

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