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U.S. Department of the Interior - Tribes
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Genealogical Research





Do I need to use a computer?

Yes, it cannot be stressed more that the use of a computer is a valuable tool in your effort to do genealogical research. There are many organizations and individuals that have digitized their records, pictures and files and placed them on the online. The ability to gather records, current addresses, phone numbers and other vital information that you will use, make it a necessary tool to use. Computers and the Internet can be accessed at your local public library or local community college, check in your area.

Once on, there are many sites dedicated to the work of genealogical research, we do not recommend or endorse any of them. Also, be aware that these sites are usually private, for-profit and will charge you for their service. All the information they have collected is readily available for you to collect, if you know where to go and your willing to do the work.

You should be familiar with the use of a search engine to find web sites that are of interest to you. Search engines are computer programs that search the Internet for specific words, that you enter, listed in meta tags of the web site. Use words such as Native American genealogy or tracing American Indian Ancestry as search words.

How do I begin the search for my ancestors?

Start your genealogical research with yourself. Do not begin genealogical research in Indian records for this can most often be the wrong approach. Instead, begin research in current, rather than historic records. If an individual is not currently a member of a federally recognized tribe, band or group research should begin in non-Indian records or other public records such as those records maintained by state and local governments, churches, and schools. Individuals should find all the information they can about their parents, grandparents, and more distant ancestors and write such information down. The most important information is vital statistics, including ancestral names, dates of birth, marriages (or divorces) and death, the places where ancestors were born, lived, married, and died. During such research, the goal, especially for tribal membership purposes, is to establish and document the relationships of Indian ancestors and to identify the Indian tribe with which their ancestor may have been affiliated.

Where do I look for information? 

At Home

The first place to begin genealogical research is at home. Valuable information can be found in family Bibles, newspaper clippings, military certificates, birth and death certificates, marriage licenses, diaries, letters, scrapbooks, backs of pictures and baby books. Relatives, particularly older ones, are another good source of information. Persons doing this research should visit or write family members who may have the genealogical information that they are seeking. Someone else in your family may also be working on a family history.

On the local and state level

It is often useful to check school, church, and county courthouse records for information. Researchers should not limit the scope of their search to birth, death and marriage records. Historical and genealogical information can be found in other civil records at the county courthouse such as deeds, wills, land or other property conveyances. Write to the Bureau of Vital Statistics, usually in the state capital to request copies of birth, death and marriage certificates, or divorce decrees. Include the name of the individual, date and place of birth and your relationship to that person. State governments did not keep birth and death records until the turn of the century, about 1890-1915, so searches in state records for ancestors who were born or died before that time may be limited.

In public libraries and other repositories

Visiting the local library is a good starting point for gathering facts about Indians and Indian tribes. A wealth of information exists concerning the history of Indian tribes, tribal cultures, the historic tribal territories, and the migration patterns. Most libraries also have books on how to do genealogical research. The genealogical research books give a good understanding of standard research techniques.

Researchers can also contact genealogical organizations, historical societies, and other private institutions. For example, the Family History Centers are "branch offices" of the Family History Library of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon). This private institution contains a large collection of genealogical documents relating to Indians that may be useful in research.

On the federal level

Records Concerning Public

The National Archives (Archives) in Washington, D.C. has records of genealogical value. The Federal government took the census every ten years since 1790 and is a very good source of information for individuals who are trying to identify their ancestors. Census records from 1790-1920 are available on microfilm in the National Archives' regional branches. Seventeen branch offices are in major metropolitan areas throughout the country. A brochure describing the branch offices is available from:

The Archives at: National Archives and Records Administration, Publication and Distribution Staff (NECD), Room G-3, Eighth St. and Pennsylvania Ave., NW
Washington, D.C. 20408-0001. 

The National Archives also has military and service related records, passenger arrival records, and other records of value to persons involved in genealogical research. A copy of the free leaflet, Genealogical Records in the National Archives is available on request.

The National Archives has various publications for sale. The Archives have microfilmed all censuses. Individuals can purchase copies of the microfilm rolls and associated genealogical materials. Various rolls of microfilm are available for rental at the National Archives. The telephone number for rental and sales requests is:

1-800-234-8861
The National Archives website is www.nara.gov.

Records Concerning American Indians

At some point in the research, the researcher will have identified the tribal affiliation of one's ancestor(s). Now is the time to begin research in records about American Indians. The Native American collection at the National Archives includes special censuses, school records, and allotment records. For more information concerning the special censuses of various tribes, the National Archives offers:

Microfilm Publication M1791
American Indian Censuses
The Special Census of Indians, 1880.

BIA Offices

If your ancestors had land in trust or went through probate, the BIA field offices in selected areas throughout the United States may have some records concerning Indian ancestry. However, the BIA field offices do not maintain current or historic records of all individuals who possess some degree of Indian blood. The records the BIA holds are current rather than historic tribal membership enrollment lists. These lists (commonly called "rolls") do not have supporting documentation (such as birth certificates) for each tribal member listed. The BIA created these rolls while the BIA maintained tribal membership rolls. 

The BIA no longer has extensive involvement in tribal membership. Current Federal policy and case law limits the involvement of the BIA in tribal membership matters unless mandated by congressional legislation, or is required by the tribe's governing document or otherwise requested by the tribe.

When you contact a BIA field office, be prepared to give the name of the tribe, the name(s) and birth dates of ancestor(s), and relationships. You must provide specific information otherwise field offices (and other institutions) probably cannot provide much useful information.

The Privacy Act, 5 U.S.C. §552(a) protects the current tribal membership rolls and lists that the BIA maintains. Submitting a request for genealogical information under the Freedom of Information Act, 5 U.S.C. §552, is not necessary for records compiled and published by private institutions or available in census records declassified by the National Archives.

What do I do if I was adopted?

The Bureau of Indian Affairs cannot help you with your pursuit of opening closed adoption papers. There are organizations that can be found on the Internet that can assist you with information on what information may be needed. The BIA does not endorse or recommend any of them. You will need to obtain legal advice from a lawyer that deals with this area of the law.

Can I hire researchers to help me?

If an individual does not wish to conduct their own research, researchers are available for a fee. Please write to the Board of Certification of Genealogists or the Association of Professional Genealogists and request their listings of genealogical researchers for hire. Their addresses are:

Board of Certification of Genealogists
P.O. Box 14291 
Washington, D.C. 20044

Association of Professional Genealogists 
P.O. Box 40393 
Denver, Colorado 80204