Hardly a week goes by that I don't get email from somebody looking for information about Native Americans in their family tree. It's good that so many people
are thinking about their ancestry these days. Unfortunately I am not a genealogist, and there is no one at our organization who can help you with your family
history. Here is the general advice I have to offer, though, along with a selection of good Native American Indian genealogy links
which may be helpful in your search.
Actually, there are four different groups of people interested in their Native American ancestors, and my suggestions are somewhat different depending which
of these groups you fall into:
1) You are already a tribal member or belong to an American Indian community. Actually, if this was the case you probably
wouldn't be looking for genealogy help from strangers from another tribe in the first place, much less over the Internet. We keep our own family histories pretty
well. However, if you are Indian and you are looking for a relative who was removed from your community by a non-native parent or adoption, or who disappeared
at boarding school, please see the Lost Bird information below. And, if you
have a specific personal question like "Do you know what ever happened to my great-aunt Bea Harjo? She married a Cherokee guy and moved to Tahlequah in
1962 and we lost touch with her," then you might as well send me an email. Maybe I know someone who could
2) One or both of your parents were Indian but you don't know who they were or what tribe you came from because of adoption, boarding
school issues, or a custody battle. First of all, you are not alone. There is a shameful and very destructive history in both Canada and the United States
of native children being coercively removed from their families and people: situations ranging from young mothers being bullied in the delivery room into
giving up their children for adoption, to parents being told their children had died at boarding school so that they could be adopted out to "good" (white) families,
to forcible kidnappings fueled by a black-market adoption system, to, in the most distant past, US soldiers sparing Indian children during massacres and
bringing them home to raise as servants. Less malevolently, since so many American Indians die young and since alcoholism is such a problem in our communities,
many children have been orphaned or removed from alcoholic parents by child welfare services--until recently, there was no effort made to place these children with
extended family or within the tribe, instead sending them to white adoptive parents. And of course, mixed-race children are as vulnerable to bitter custody disputes
as any other children. If you were removed from your native community for any of these reasons, do not despair. There are people there who remember you, and
want to hear from you again. And there are resources to help you, too. If you know which tribe you or your parent
originally belonged to, then by all means contact the tribe; many tribes have reunification programs, or at least they may have birth records in their
enrollment or census department that can help you find your birth family again. Here is a
directory of tribal addresses to help you do that. There are also online resources
and support groups for native adoptees, abductees, or other Indians removed from their tribe as children (often collectively referred to as "lost birds" or
"split feathers.") Here is a link to a list of
resources I have put together on the Open Directory project. There are many more resources than these available offline--the majority of Native American tribes,
organizations and programs do not have websites. One excellent organization I know of is the Lost Bird Society, a Lakota center dedicated to reuniting native
families that have been broken: their address is Lost Bird Society, P.O. Box 952, Pine Ridge, South Dakota 57770. If they cannot help you, they may at least
be able to send you in a useful direction. Please do NOT bother these organizations and support groups with questions about your Indian great, great grandmother
named Mary--these are resources specifically aimed at native children who were removed from their tribe during their own lifetime. If you are interested in the
genealogy of your more distant Native American or Metis ancestors, please see our Native American Heritage
3) Your parent or grandparent belonged to an Indian tribe, but you were not raised in their culture and now they have passed on.
Usually there are two difficulties facing mixed-blood Indians who find themselves in this situation: determining exactly which tribe and band your
parent/grandparent belonged to, and finding acceptance there. When the first is easy, the second will probably be easy as well--if your family's tribal affiliations
were strong enough that they have taught you exactly where you came from, it should not be hard to find them again, or to convince them of who you are.
If you know the name of your parent's tribe or reservation but are having an impossible time finding it, you are probably just spelling it wrong. Many tribal names are in
American Indian languages, for obvious reasons, and these words can be long and difficult for English speakers to remember. Try alternate spellings, or browse a list
of tribes by region looking for a the same name with a different spelling.
Here is a directory of tribal addresses to help you. If your parent or grandparent
was a tribal member, then most tribes will also enroll you as a tribal member. (There are a few exceptions, having to do with missing records, a crime committed,
or certain old laws removing a native woman's tribal status if she marries a white man in some parts of Canada, though I believe those laws have now been repealed.)
Please do NOT bother tribal offices with questions about your Indian great, great grandmother named Mary--they will only be able to help you if your
immediate relative was an enrolled tribal member. If you are interested in the genealogy of your more distant ancestors, please see our
Native American Heritage section below.
If you're not sure which tribe your parent or grandparent belonged to, only that he was "Ojibway" or "spoke some Sioux", then it will be harder for you. Some Indian nations are
very large, and you will not have any more success asking the Sisseton Sioux in North Dakota about a Santee Sioux man from Minnesota than you would wandering
around Fargo asking about some white man in Minneapolis. You need to try and figure out which reservation your relative came from. Knowing his place of birth would
help very much, or the name of the specific place he used to live, or even the names of some landmarks around there. Failing that, you can at least narrow down your
search by region using the maps on this page
("Sioux from somewhere in western North Dakota" will give you less work to do than just "Sioux.") You may also want to check out our collection of
Native Genealogy Links.
Finally, if you live in Canada, and you identify with other mixed-blood Indians more than your parent or grandparent's tribe, you also have the option of registering with
the Canadian government as Metis. Many Metis people in Canada belong to a specific mixed ethnicity,
primarily French and Cree, with a unique cultural heritage even including the creole language Michif.
However, anyone who is demonstrably of both native and non-native ancestry may register as Metis, and some mixed-race Indians feel that this represents their
true identity better than returning to their parent's tribe would. There are many links to Metis groups in various Canadian provinces on our
Metis page. Hopefully that may be helpful to you as well.
4) Your grandparent was part Indian but not a tribal member, or there is a family tradition that you have Indian blood, or you are
working on your family's genealogy and have just discovered a Native American ancestor you want to know more about.
These questions make up the bulk of the genealogical queries we receive. Many young people are interested in learning more about their roots these days, and in
the process of researching their family tree, it is natural that many of them will come across an American Indian ancestor, and wish to learn more about him or her. Others have
always been told there was Indian blood in their family and are understandably curious to know whether this is true and which tribe it may have been.
Sadly, some other people have the misguided idea that if their great-grandmother was a Blackfoot Indian this will somehow entitle them to claim money, scholarships,
special rights, or other benefits. If this is your hope, you might as well give up on it right now and go buy a lottery ticket. Very few American Indian tribes have any
money at all--in fact, most reservations have standards of living similar to third-world countries--and none of them will give you any money even if you could prove
great-grandma Rose belonged to their tribe. (Shame on you for asking them to, anyway... what kind of long-lost relative shows up at the door with his hand out
demanding things?) The US government provides very few scholarships and assistance programs for American Indians, and they are extremely strict about reserving
them only for members of federally recognized tribes, their spouses and children. I would not recommend seeking any special assistance from the government
unless you live on a reservation and/or are at least 1/4 Indian with the records to prove it. Even then, I wouldn't hold your breath. The government hasn't even got
working phone lines coming in to some of our reservations yet, much less paying for our kids to go to college. And as for tribal citizenship, the requirements for that
vary from tribe to tribe, but unless your parent or grandparent was actually a Native American tribal member (in which case see
above), the tribe will not be able to "look you up" and see if you are a descendent of theirs.
You will need to do this work yourself. Once you have all your genealogical information including your ancestor's full name, presence on any Indian rolls, and exact
relationship to you, then you may contact the tribal enrollment office and inquire about their citizenship laws. Please do not bother them before you have
obtained this information--if you can't even find this information about your own family, then how could they?
Now, if you are still interested in your Native American ancestry once you realize you aren't going to get any money out of it and will have to do the investigating
yourself, there are many resources out there that can help you. First of all, if you know your ancestor's tribe, there may be resources aimed specifically at descendants
of that tribe. This would be the most useful for you, since different tribes were recorded on different rolls and censuses. You can use our list of
Native American cultures to see whether we have information on your tribe and whether there are
any useful links in the 'Genealogy' section. (On our Cherokee page, for example, Laura has collected
many interesting online resources about Cherokee genealogy.) If we do not have useful information there or you aren't sure of your ancestor's tribe, here are some
online American Indian genealogy resources. These sites should at least be able to get
you started on your quest. If these resources are still not helpful or you are feeling overwhelmed or confused by the information, you may want to consider buying the Student's Guide to Native American Genealogy. It is written for people with no special knowledge
of genealogy at all, and is even good for kids. This book can lead you through the whole process of creating a family tree, tracing your ancestors, and searching for Native American
connections in rolls and census information. There's another genealogy book for Cherokee descendants that I've heard good things about, Cherokee Proud. Finally, you could hire a professional genealogist. Here is the
Association of Professional Genealogists and you can search for someone who specializes in
American Indian genealogy in your general geographic area.
I hope these suggestions help you in your search for your heritage. Good luck.
Here are some internet resources that may help you in researching your Native American ancestry:
be a single answer-- it depends on the school. This article may be able to help you.
DNA Spectrum: Many people are interested in DNA testing to reveal more about their ethnicity. A DNA test cannot take
the place of genealogical research, and is not precise enough to tell you which of your ancestors was Native American or which
tribe they came from. However, these tests may be able to confirm your family history of Native American ancestry. There are
many of these ancestry testing companies, but DNA Spectrum is one that we've heard to be particularly reliable.
Native American Ancestor Identification: Send us a photograph and we'll put it up online and see if anyone can identify it for you!
Here are a few good books on the subject of Native American genealogy: