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How to Research Your Native American Genealogy

Have you ever heard from a relative that you are part Native American and would like to understand a more about your heritage and try to piece together the truth by finding documents that validate that information?

This article will help you with your genealogy quest. When you research anyone in your family start with what you know and work backwards in time so you can piece together the right information. This includes, names, dates, places, and what tribe to follow so you can find your ancestry through historical genealogy documents.

Discover your Genealogy through a Brief History of the Indians in North America

Before the 1500’s Indians were living in North America peacefully. When the French and Spanish started to occupy the land, they became friendly allies and traded food, animal hides, clothes, and tools.

But as the colonial era began, English settlers arrived; creating competition, hostility, and greed for the land. This changed the dynamics for the people of North America, especially for the Indians. When the English colonies started to arrive in troves, their need for more land and wanting control of the Mississippi and Tennessee River for trading and transportation prompted the purchase of the Louisiana Territory which was owned by the French. This piece of land was 828,000 square miles west of the Mississippi River. On April 30, 1803, the Louisiana Purchase more than doubled the size of the United States. It was with this purchase that led to the famous Lewis and Clark expedition which lasted for two years and later led to the acquisition of the Oregon Territory in 1846 for pioneers to settle across North America.

Map of the USA in 1804

The English Colonies Acquire More Territory

The United States government quickly worked on gaining more land by forcing the Indians to sign more than 40 treaties which led them to squabble over what land was owned by the United States as the original 13 colonies and the Native Americans stood their ground by disputing the treaties and staying on some of their lands until they were forced to leave.

In the mean time, counties were being formed and white people were moving into the same areas which is an important tip to discover your genealogy. In 1829 gold was discovered in Georgia, which launched the forced removal of Cherokee Indians. The Cherokee Nation brought suit in the U.S. Supreme Court trying to remain an independent nation, which ended with the sale of the eastern lands and the Cherokees agreed to move beyond the Mississippi River to Indian Territory.

Forced Removal through The Trail of Tears

Not all Indians were ready to relinquish their land and they did not move as quickly as the United States Government would have liked, so those who were reluctant, were forced from their land. As a result the Indians endured hunger, disease, exhaustion, and death, this extraction became known as the Trail of Tears. Those that escaped the extraction did so by hiding in the hills or taking shelter with sympathetic white neighbors. The descendants of these people live scattered throughout the original homelands and among the extracted routes. From 1831 to 1838 over 46,000 Indians were moved east of the Mississippi from five of the southeastern nations.

Clues to Follow and Find your Native American Heritage through Genealogy Research

Discovering your ancestry is a time consuming task and needs to be done when you are alert so you don’t miss anything by being in a hurry or too tired to follow the little clues. It may take years to uncover the one piece of information that will lead you to a document that uncovers missing family data. This is especially true for Native American genealogy because of the population count and the number of available historical documents. In 1850 there were more than 400,000 Indians and by 1890 there was about 62% of that population.

Tips to Get Started with your Genealogy Research

Ask yourself the following questions to gain perspective on your family history:
  1. Where did your ancestors live at a particular time and what Indian Tribes occupied land in and around the same area at the same time? If there are no Indians, did your ancestor just move from an area that did have tribes?
  2. If you find an ancestor living in an area where Indians were, you need to find out what kinds of documents existed for that area and time, as well as, do some Native American research on that tribe and understand as much as possible about them.  Your genealogy search needs to include their history, and finding information about where they lived over a span of time.
  3. Follow the land formation and county changes over the years you are researching.  This can help you discover genealogy information and documents leading to your family history.
  4. Try to find your ancestor in a document, such as a census record before 1880.  If they are listed as being black or mulatto there is a chance they are Native American.  By 1900, if they were living amongst the white population, they may have been enumerated as white, making your research a bit tougher.
  5. f you already know the Indian Tribe and if they were part of the five civilized Nations from 1893-1914, you can begin your Native American genealogy research by looking at the Dawes Rolls, Champman, or Guion-Miller Roll which contains over 200,000 names who were eligible for tribal membership and an allotment of land.
  6. 6. Understanding the extraction routes can help you discover your Native American genealogy heritage. Follow the trails and think of all the possibilities. Was your ancestor on their way to Oklahoma? Did they ended up at their arranged destination or abandoned the trail?
  7. If you find you have relatives in Oklahoma territory, it is a good idea to watch this video below, it shows the land and county formation changes which can be important to finding genealogy documents.
  8. If you can’t uncover any information, maybe a DNA test can help you uncover your Native American genealogy.