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A lot of people have found success using Ancestry.com to find out about their heritage. The website provides the largest arsenal of genealogical data online. By entering in some basic personal information, you can start opening doors to pieces of your family history that you may not have even known existed.
But what about those of us with Native American ancestry? Since there have been several points throughout history where records have been lost or not existed in the first place, it can be tough to track our American Indian heritage. With the right guidance and some digging, Ancestry.com can still be a useful tool in uncovering your Native American genealogy.
1. Start with what you know
Any search for information on Ancestry.com starts with the basic information you already have access to. So, begin my mapping out your family tree as far back as you can. Speak with family members to fill in any holes you may have.
Keep as detailed a record as you can of any family names, birthdates, tribal affiliations, and any other information that might prove relevant. The more information you start with, the more successful you’ll be at tracing your lineage.
2. Search the Census Rolls
Ancestry.com offers detailed records of the Indian Census Rolls to help you identify the tribal affiliation of an ancestor. If you have information on multiple ancestors, you can find more facts and connect the dots between distant family members. And the census rolls are one area where having more information benefits you. Sometimes, family members will be listed with two names, one in English and one in their native tongue. The more information you have to search for — such as multiple possible names — the better.
The census rolls provide information for the years 1885-1940. You can find information on an ancestor’s name(s), gender, birthdate and age, relationship to the head of the family, tribal name, marital status, and their agency and reservation name. In later years, there may also be information provided for their degree of Indian blood. Please note that you may not find information on an ancestor in these census rolls unless they had a formal affiliation with the tribe.
3. Search the Native American records
While the census rolls offer some of the widest ranges of information on American Indian ancestry, there are many other Native American resources available on Ancestry.com. Once you have information about your ancestor’s name and other biographical data, you can narrow a search that covers multiple sources of records. These include censuses, photos, wills and marriage records from various different tribes and regions.
4. Keep an open mind
You may have been told that your ancestor belonged to one specific tribe, but when performing your search, remember that your information may not be correct. With over 566 Indian tribes with federal recognition, it is highly possible that your initial tribal information is incorrect. Your ancestors may have mixed with other tribes, or perhaps even been adopted by a different one than they were born into.
Tribes were also broken down into smaller sub-groups. These were called bands, which typically followed one leader. They were broken down even further into clans, or family groups.
If you need more information about how to know where to search for records, Ancestry.com has also provided the free e-book The Source: A Guidebook to American Genealogy. Reading through it will give you a good overview of Native American tribal history and research methods, as well as a variety of resources to help extend your family history research.
5. Search the Dawes Commission Indexes
Finally, Ancestry.com provides access to three Dawes Commission Indexes:
- Dawes Commission Index, 1896
- Dawes Commission Index, 1898-1914
- U.S. Native American Enrollment Cards for the Five Civilized Tribes, 1898-1914
The Dawes Commission was established by Congress in 1893, and it was responsible for negotiating agreements with what became known as the five civilized tribes: the Chickasaw, Creek, Cherokee, Choctaw, and Seminole. The Commission also began preparing tribal membership rolls and taking applications for tribal citizenship in 1898.
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