Tracing your American Indian heritage can be challenging. Your ancestor may have moved frequently and, most likely, few written records were kept. However, your task isn't impossible. With a good research strategy, you may be able to narrow down your search area and find primary resources to unlock some of the mysteries of your ancestors.
One key to your research is old family stories that have been passed down from generation to generation. Interviewing your family members is a good way to find out what tribe your ancestor belonged to and the geographic area in which that ancestor lived. After you have this information, a trip to your local library is well worth the effort to find a history of the tribe and where it migrated throughout time. From this research, you can then concentrate your search on a specific geographic area and gain a much better chance of success in finding records of genealogical value.
Fortunately, the government of the United States did compile some records on American Indians. For example, you can find annual census lists of American Indians, dating from 1885 to 1940, in the National Archives — as well as digitized copies of the censuses on Ancestry.com (see Figure 8-4). You can also find probate and land records at the federal level, especially for transactions occurring on reservations. You can also find in federal repositories school records for those who attended schools on reservations. Additionally, the Bureau of Indian Affairs has a vast collection of records on American Indians. For more information about American Indian resources available from the National Archives and Records Administration, visit www.archives.gov/research/alic/reference/native-americans. html.
You may also be able to find records on your ancestor in one of the many tribal associations in existence. To find out how to contact tribes recognized in the United States, go to the American Indian Tribal Directory at www. indians.org/Resource/FedTribes99/fedtribes99.html.
For more information about researching American Indian records, see the following resources:
1 The Source: A Guidebook of American Genealogy, edited by Loretto
Dennis Szucs and Sandra Hargreaves Luebking (Ancestry, Inc.). In particular, see Chapter 14, "Tracking Native American Family History," written by Curt B. Witcher and George J. Nixon.
1 Native American Genealogical Sourcebook, edited by Paula K. Byers and published by Gale Research.
1 Guide to Records in the National Archives of the United States Relating to American Indians, written by Edward E. Hill and published by the National Archives and Records Services Administration.
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