How to Use the Dawes Rolls to Trace Your Indian Ancestry


Posted By Paul G March 19th, 2017 Blog

As you’ve likely figured out by now, tracing your Indian heritage requires a lot of work. You may end up having to do a lot more work than you had initially anticipated.

When tracing your Native American genealogy, there are a lot of resources available to you that you may have not even thought of. One such resource is the Dawes Rolls, also known as the “Final Rolls.”

What are the Dawes Rolls?

In 1893, the Dawes Commission was established by the U.S. Congress for the purpose of trading land in the southeastern United States for land allotments in Oklahoma. Over 250,000 individuals belonging to five Indian tribes – the “Five Civilized Tribes,” including Cherokees, Chickasaws, Choctaws, Creeks, and Seminoles – applied to the commission, and around 100,000 were approved. Land, usually a homestead, was granted to those who were accepted on the basis of tribal membership in one of the five tribes.


Indian Census Collection

Thanks to diligent record-keeping, the rolls still exist and contain more than 101,000 names from the years 1894-1914. The rolls contain a record for each person’s name, blood degree, sex, and census number.

Why search the Dawes Rolls?

Searching the Dawes Rolls will likely not give you a lot of information about your ancestors specifically, but it will be a jumping off point to find information about them elsewhere. Also, if you are appealing for membership in one of the Five Civilized Tribes, you will likely have to prove your affiliation to a tribal member listed in the Rolls. Of course, you first must verify that that individual – your ancestor – actually can be found listed in the Rolls.

dawes roll native american seminole

The Dawes Rolls contain plenty of helpful information themselves, and they also act as a great jumping off point – they can provide direction for where else to look for information on your ancestry. For example, since they provide each individual’s census card number, you can use that information to look up their census card for other genealogical information. These census cards also sometimes mention the 1880 Cherokee census and earlier rolls.

You may also be able to find additional valuable information accompanying the census cards in the rolls. They were first collected alongside “application jackets,” which can contain other documents. These include marriage licenses, birth and death certificates, and certain correspondences.

The five tribes still, to this day, refer to the Dawes Rolls in the process of determining someone’s tribal membership. Applicants typically must provide their own proof that they are descended from an individual listed within the rolls.

What should I know before my search?

Before you start idly perusing the Dawes Rolls’ online index for potential information on your genealogy, you should know your specific ancestor’s name and tribal affiliation. With this information, you will be able to deeply search the Rolls’ online archive for other documentation and valuable data. Here is a step-by-step process for effectively searching through the rolls online.

If you do not know their tribe, there are a few other places you can search. One of these is the 1900 Census, starting with the Soundex index; however, whether you’ll be able to find this information there depends on one important factor. If your ancestor lived among a predominantly Indian population, there will likely be information available on their tribe. However, if they lived among the general population, it is likely that the census information collected about them simply says “Indian.” If you can’t find their tribal affiliation through the 1900 Census, first find out where they lived, and work your way from there.

If, after figuring out their location and tribal affiliation, you still can’t find them in the Rolls, it may be because they applied for the Dawes Commission, but were not accepted. The online index of the Final Rolls only includes those individuals who were accepted. However, the National Archives facility in Fort Worth contains information on everyone who applied to the commission.


Where do I go from there?

If you have searched through the Dawes Rolls and found your ancestor(s) and their census card number, there are a few further steps you can take. First, you can research the tribal membership information for each of the five tribes, which can be found here for each:

Read more about researching your family history.

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