our everyday life

How to Prove an Indian Heritage

by Jennifer Holik

The U.S. government only included five tribes on the Dawes Rolls, the American Indian census taken between 1899 and 1906. The vast majority of federal records pertain to the Five Civilized Tribes: the Cherokee, Choctaw, Chickasaw, Creek and Seminole. If you believe you belong to any other tribe, records may be more difficult to locate. If you want to obtain a federally issued Certificate Degree of Indian Blood card, you must prove your Native American heritage and submit an application to the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

Write down the information you know about your family, tracing the family line backwards toward your potential American Indian ancestor. Write down names, birth dates and places, marriage dates and places, and death dates and places. The government will not recognize you as an American Indian descendant without documentation.

Download and print ancestral charts and family group sheets from Ancestry.com (see Resources). Complete these forms with the information you located in Step 1. Begin with the ancestral chart, also known as a family tree. Write your name on the line on the left side of the page and add your birth and marriage information. Next, write the name of your father above and to the right of your name. Then add your mother's name down and to the right of your name on the line provided. Write down your parent's birth, marriage and death dates, if applicable. Continue filling in the family tree, working backwards and adding your grandparents and great-grandparents.

Fill in the family group sheet, one per family. Start with your parents on the top of sheet number one. Below them, add you and your siblings, if you have any. Include as much information as you can about each individual. Complete a new sheet for each family listed on your ancestral chart.

Gather record sources to prove the facts listed for each person. This means to locate a document that proves the birth, marriage or death date you provided for a person is correct. These vital documents also help prove relationships between people in your tree. These source documents will help you trace your Native American heritage. The documents prove your claim to American Indian ancestry. Consult U.S. Federal Census records to continue documenting your family and where they lived every decade. If a family member is marked as being an American Indian, your next step is to contact the National Archives to have the Dawes Rolls searched. These rolls contain the names of all registered Native Americans of the Five Civilized Tribes.

Obtain a membership application for the tribal nation you wish to be associated with. Each tribe has its own membership requirements, which are then forwarded to the Bureau of Indian Affairs. If your heritage proof is found satisfactory, a certificate will be issued.

Tip

  • The National Archives has many records for the Five Civilized Tribes. Contact staff there for help in searching those records and locating additional records to prove heritage.

Warning

  • According to Supreme Court cases, individuals who emigrated or left their country, the Indian Nation, to settle in a new country, the United States, gave up their citizenship for themselves and their descendants. This means that if someone from the Indian Nation declared themselves to be an American Citizen, they gave up their Indian rights. Therefore, their descendants don't have the right to formally claim American Indian heritage.

About the Author

Jennifer Holik, a professional genealogist, has been writing professionally since 2009. She writes for Chicago-area genealogy society publications. Holik has a Bachelor of Arts in history from the Missouri University of Science and Technology.

Photo Credits

  • Jupiterimages/BananaStock/Getty Images