The desire to trace a persons Native roots is not easy most of the time and will lead you into new researching territory. The census records, land and military records will still be searched for clues but you will also be digging into the Native rolls and looking into regional records as well.
Start with your family and what you know. However, don’t be surprised if your run into resistance. Many families hid Indian blood and may still be cautious about discussing old family stories. Ask questions and listen carefully to all the stories, no matter how ridiculous they may seem. If possible, record the stories for latter reference. A small reference to a name or location could be just the clue that you were looking for.
It will be helpful to learn about tribal culture, history and migration patterns. If at all possible, try to locate your ancestors tribe. Research the locations where your ancestors were from and possibly resettled. See what tribes lived within the same areas and same time frames as yours.
Be on the watch for naming patterns. Some infants were given names that were connected with their clan. However, later children would receive names that might reflect their personalities or deeds. Some Europeans also gave names to the American Indians they associated with and nicknames were also common.
Census records from 1790 to 1850 included Indians living in settled areas that were taxed and didn’t claim any tribal connection. Indians living on a reservation were not taxed and therefore, were not counted. Also, those Indians living a nomadic life were not taxed or counted.
The 1860 federal census added the “Indian (taxed)” category to the form. Starting in 1870 until 1910, the census had the “Indian” category but reservation Indians were not included until 1890. Most of the 1890 census was lost to fire so the 1900 census is the first that lists most of the Native Americans.
Make use of the online resources available and there are many. Use the mailing lists, query boards and publications. Access Genealogy has a great site that offers a tremendous variety of information for Native American research. GenForum American Indian query board is a great place to start reading and posting queries about your heritage. For publications in print resources be sure to check Native American Print Media Resources for they list close to a hundred publications.
There are many small towns that have not listed their records online. The sources on this post and on this blog is a very small part of what is available. If you don’t find something right away don’t get discouraged. Records are added every day. I once found a great deal of information after waiting 20 years!