How to Access Indian Tribal Records & Genealogy

by Jennifer Holik

Start with what you know about your Indian ancestors before pursuing a record search.

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An abundance of Indian tribal records exist for the Five Civilized Tribes -- Cherokee, Creek, Choctaw, Chickasaw and Seminole. Many of these records are held by the National Archives, with the most common resource for tribal records being the Dawes Census Rolls. Early tribal records for any Indian tribe may be scattered or non-existent. Indian people did not have a record keeping system through state and federal government like other U.S. citizens. Thus, locating genealogy and tribal records takes persistence and time.

Step 1

Locate information on your Indian ancestors such as names, birth, marriage and death dates, burial locations, occupations or role in the tribe and names of children in each family. Collect as many details as possible on each individual before conducting a record search. Having more details allows for a more successful search.

Step 2

If you're unsure about details regarding some of your ancestors, consider conducting some online searches. Websites like ancestry.com and familysearch.org might help you access information on family members in older generations. If you can access their names and histories, you might have an easier time tracking down vital records and other supporting evidence that they belonged to an Indian tribe.

Step 3

Search the Dawes Census Rolls through the National Archives for the Five Civilized Tribes. These records contain names of registered Indians, names of those in their household, age at the time of registration, sex, blood (full or part) and census card number. Having the census card number leads to additional tribal records.

Step 4

Contact the specific tribe directly. Many Indian tribes have registration processes so descendants can obtain membership with the tribe. All tribes require proof of Indian descent for enrollment, so genealogy research will need to be conducted. Each tribe has its own specific requirements for proving genealogy, so make sure to do your homework on what exactly you need to prove your ancestry.

Step 5

Locate genealogy records. Search local courthouses and state archives for vital records, probate and land records. All typically have the names of the individual, plus the names and birth places of their parents. In the case of probate records, heirs are often listed.

Step 6

Search local histories where your Indian family lived to access additional genealogy information. Many Indian families published their genealogies or are mentioned in local histories. These histories can be found online and through local libraries or archives.

Warnings

  • Indian tribes did not require record keeping like the U.S. Federal Government. Locating records prior to the movement of Indians off their tribal lands may not exist.

Photo Credits

  • Medioimages/Photodisc/Photodisc/Getty Images

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.