by Bob Brooke
Those genealogists tracing a Native American lineage should begin by learning as much as possible from older relatives, accumulating facts and stories that can be documented and build upon with information found in printed sources and public records.
Names present a particular problem, as a Native American might bear several different Indian names during his lifetime and might use yet another, English name when dealing with census takers and other non-Indians. Researchers should make a special attempt, when talking to family members, to learn both the Indian and English names of their ancestors. These names, the name of the Indian tribe and specific or approximate years of births, deaths and other major events in their ancestors lives are needed to gain access to information in government records.
The records at the National Archives, arranged by tribe and dated chiefly 1830 to 1940, include various Indian censuses, muster rolls of Indians removed from the eastern United States during the first half of the nineteenth century, records of claims filed by the eastern Cherokees against the federal government and estate files for Indians who made wills with the approval of the Commissioner of Indian Affairs after 1910.
Many families have traditional stories which indicate that they are descended from Indian ancestry, but only a small percentage of these stories can be proven. Genealogists can examine the records concerning Indians at the National Archives. These records include lists relating to Indian removal, annuity payrolls, annual census rolls, special rolls of the Eastern Cherokees, claims of the Eastern Cherokees, estate files, and Carlisle (Pennsylvania) Indian School files. Other general records relating to Indian research are censuses and bounty-land warrant applications. There are many records relating to the Five Civilized Tribes in Oklahoma at the Federal Records Center in Fort Worth, Texas, and at the Oklahoma Historical Society; records of other tribes are in Federal Records Centers in other locations.
There are lists relating to the migration of Cherokees, Chickasaws, Choctaws, Creeks, and Seminoles, both before and after their removal to the Indian Lands. Some are census lists made prior to emigration; others are muster rolls of emigrating parties. These date primarily from 1830 to 1852. Some lists include the number of persons in each family by age group and sex and the original residence of each head of the family.
Annuity payrolls record annual payments from 1848 to 1940, but they are of most use genealogically in conjunction with the annual Indian census begun in 1885. The censuses weren't taken annually in some instances even though it was required.
Neither the Five Civilized Tribes nor the Eastern Cherokees had annual censuses taken until 1898. These include the person's age, sex, and relationship to the head of the family or to another Indian on the roll. School census records, listing each child, his age, birthplace, and sometimes the parents names, start in the 1870's.
Card indexes are in the Bureau of Indian Affairs. The files usually show the tribe, place of residence, date of death, and age at death. Heirship reports show the name of spouse and date of marriage, names and dates of marriage of parents, names of brothers and sisters, and names of the children.
Prior to 1830, the government maintained few individual records on Indians. The church mission reports and government agents records are the chief sources for Indian genealogy in the earlier period.
The records at the National Archives relate primarily to the subsequent removal of the Indians from their lands and to the reservation period of Indian history. Records of the allotment period, during which the government encouraged allotments of land, are accessible through the Bureau of Indian Affairs. These include land records, registers of families, and records of the sick and injured, births, and deaths.