Beginning Research of United States Indigenous Peoples

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Native American Topics
Buffalo Hunt under the Wolf-Skin Mask
Beginning Research
Record Types
Bureau of Indian Affairs
Other Topics

Other Beginners' Guides[edit | edit source]

This is one of four pages of American Indian beginners' guides:

Establishing Your Tribe[edit | edit source]

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 establish 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

Searching for Your Ancestors When You Know the Tribe[edit | edit source]

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

Learn About the Tribe[edit | edit source]

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[edit | edit source]

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:

Some of these record types are linked to other Wiki articles which give more information about that record type. |}

Find the Records[edit | edit source]

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

Many of the above repositories are listed in American Indian Archives and Libraries.

The catalog for these libraries and archives will list the records in their collection. Many of these catalogs are now available on-line and may be searched for free. Many of the records in these collections are also available on-line however, you may need to pay a fee to search the records on-line.

Other records may only be available at the library and must be searched in person. Check the library's web site or check with the library for their research policy. If you cannot search the records in person, ask of a list of preferred or accredited researchers who maybe able to search on your behalf. Be aware that a fee will probably be involved if you ask someone else to do the searches for you.

Searching the Records[edit | edit source]

As you are searching the records you should keep theses tips and suggestions in mind.

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.

As you are searching the records you may need to search for different names or multiple names depending on the type of record and the time period.

Create a Timeline

It is helpful to know what events are happening during the lifetime of your ancestor as these events may cause records to made about your family. These events may be political, social, or geological such as:

  • A war
  • A major earthquake, fire, or tornado
  • An epidemic such as Small Pox
  • A change in president or governor
  • Creation of new laws such as laws requiring the registration of births, marriages, and deaths
  • A religious group or missionaries coming into the area

You may find it helpful to create a timeline for your ancestor including the important dates in your ancestor's life along with the other pertinent events.

Missing Records

You may be unble to find records for the following reasons:

  • The records may have been lost or destroyed.
  • Where the records are stored may have changed.

Using the Records

Begin your search in the records by becoming familiar with how the individual entries are arranged and by looking for a name index. If the record does have an index, search it first. Name indexes make it possible to access a specific record quickly. Remember that these indexes may contain inaccuracies, such as altered spellings, misinterpretations, and optical character recognition errors if the information was scanned. You will also need to keep in mind that your ancestor's name may have changed.

Use the locator information found in the index (such as page, entry, or certificate number) to locate your ancestors in the marriage records. Compare the information in the marriage record to what you already know about your ancestors to determine if this is the correct person. You may need to compare the information of more than one person to make this determination.

When you have located your ancestor’s record, carefully evaluate each piece of information given. These pieces of information may give you new biographical details that can lead you to other records about your ancestors. Add this new information to your records of each family. For example Use ages to calculate approximate birth dates.

Continue to search the records to identify children, siblings, parents, and other relatives. Be sure to look at all the entries for the name before deciding which is correct.

Keep in mind

  • Earlier records may not contain as much information as the records created after the late 1800s.
  • Because most of these records are based on someone's memory, there may be some variation in the information about your ancestor from one record type to another.

Searching for Your Ancestors When You Do Not Know the Tribe[edit | edit source]

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. See also Searching for Native American When the Tribe is Unknown".