Native American Ancestry

Genealogy is a popular growing study amongst all ancestries, but tracing Native American ancestry for fundamental and personal purposes is more difficult than many people realize. Many people may choose to research their Native American ancestry for the purposes of joining a federally recognized tribe or they may just wish to verify family history. Sadly, tracing Native American ancestry is a daunting task.

There are several reasons why it may be more difficult to trace Native American ancestry than other races. Primarily, at the point in time when written records began to be kept, many Native Americans feared persecution and thus avoided putting anything relating to their heritage in writing. Further, some states such as Virginia, passed legislation many years ago that essentially destroyed all records of Native American ancestry by requiring all persons not of Caucasian descent to be classified as “colored”. The lack of adequate records makes it difficult for some individuals to trace their Native American ancestry beyond a certain point.

Though the Dawes Rolls may be of use to people trying to trace their Native American ancestry, remember that many did not record their information there whether out of fear or rebellion and the rolls were closed in 1907. Though many federal and tribal government officials still refer to the Dawes Rolls today, the absence of a name on the rolls is not necessarily proof that a person’s ancestry is not Native American. Still, many tribes require proof of direct ancestry from a name listed on the rolls as a requirement for membership in the tribe.

One of the best places to begin tracing Native American ancestry is within family heirlooms. You might be surprised how much information is recorded and saved in family bibles, photo albums, baby books, and other keepsakes. You might be able to obtain names from recorded family trees, newspaper clippings, birth announcements, death certificates and marriage licenses that have been saved over the years. Communicating with the eldest members of your family is the best way to garner this information.

Another possible source for tracing Native American ancestry is the Bureau of Indian Affairs. While the BIA cannot help individuals trace their ancestry and they do not maintain a central database of records, if you have enough information about an ancestor, they may be able to provide you with additional information. The National Archives is another place to conduct research. Both entities may charge for copies of specific records or publications.

If your purpose in determining your Native American ancestry is for admittance into a tribe, you should contact tribe officials to determine what their requirements are as they vary from tribe to tribe. In order for an individual tribe to be federally recognized, they must prove their continuous existence since at least 1900. Thus, each tribe may require varying degrees of proof of ancestry for admittance.

If you are truly insistent, you may be able to gather enough information in written records to verify your Native American ancestry, however, it may prove to be extremely difficult and time consuming. It is also possible to hire a professional researcher for a fee. Contact names and numbers can also be provided by the National Archives.

Joseph Paige 2006

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