The Challenge of North American Indian Genealogy. Part Two

“The Challenge of North American Indian Genealogy. Part Two: Native American Resources,” by Denise R. Larson

In last week’s issue of “Genealogy Pointers,” Denise Larson discussed the origins of Native American tribes and clans, their lineage patterns, and naming practices. Part Two, below, examines Native American genealogical resources, including Indian claims, contacting a tribal representative, and some specific tribal records. More . . .

Records of Indian claims provide genealogical leads

In response to Indian claims of illegally seized lands and demands for land allotments and annuities, the U.S. government appointed the Dawes Commission (1893) and the Guion-Miller Commission (1909) to investigate the claims and compile lists of plaintiffs and tribal members. In a twist of fate, the resulting reports provide genealogical insights that might have been lost if not written down by the government agents. American Indians had only oral traditions and no written word. A recital of the ancestors of a person was traditionally made during important ceremonies such as marriages and funerals. As diseases ravaged the tribes and clans were scattered through war or relocation, family lineages were in danger of being lost. A parallel could be drawn with the devastation in Europe caused by the Black Death (aka The Plague) that spawned widespread use of genealogy and pedigree charts to prove–or disprove–claims on estates by survivors.

The Final Rolls of Citizens and Freedmen of the Five Civilized Tribes in Indian Territory [and] Index to the Final Rolls was published by the Dawes Commission in 1907 and reprinted by Genealogical Publishing Company in 2007. Applicants had to provide proof of bloodlines and tribal affiliation. The work is considered one of the finest printed sources relating to the genealogy of the Five Civilized Tribes.

A good source of information about the Delaware tribe is Delaware Trails: Some Tribal Records, 1842-1907, by Fray Louise Smith Arellano. The hefty 527-page volume includes 20,000 individuals or households and much more than land records, e.g., censuses, medical and school attendance records, and family groups.

Finding your ancestor’s tribe

Today, membership in a recognized tribe can provide cultural, social, educational, and financial benefits. Towards this end the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) provides on its website ( “Tracing Your Indian Ancestry,” produced by the National Archives, and an online Tribal Leaders Directory (, under “How Do I . . .”) with contact information. After gathering names, dates, and family connections through regular genealogy methods of document gathering and interviews with relatives, genealogists should consult the commissions’ reports if applicable to the family tribe(s). Then it’s time to correspond directly with a tribal representative. Contacting the tribe will help researchers determine the requirements for membership in the tribe.

In the BIA Tribal Directory, a PDF, the tribes are listed in alphabetical order, by state, and by BIA region. Contact information such as address, telephone number, and e-mail or website is given. A search by state will show which recognized tribes are residents therein.

Author Jeff Bowen has written fourteen volumes of Applications for Enrollment of Creek Newborn, Act of 1905. Bowen’s material comes from the microfilm of the original applications for enrollment in compliance with the Dawes Act. This amazing author has also compiled application and other-source information, including wills and probate records from the Bureau of Indian Affairs, for the Cherokee, Chickasaw, Seminole, and Blackfeet tribes.

John E. Ernest devoted a tremendous amount of time and effort to his comprehensive work The Complete Seminole, a 586-page compilation of land allotment records of the Dawes Commission and valuable census card information.

Myra Vanderpool Gormley wrote Cherokee Connections to assist in the process of applying for membership in the Cherokee tribe. The author has included a history of the tribe, the seven clans, and tribal divisions, as well as maps and some tribal folklore. Gormley also recently authored the companion Genealogy at a Glance: Cherokee Genealogy Research.



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