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Indian Ancestry

Contributed by Timm Severud Ondamitagos

Thousands of people throughout the United States have some degree of Indian blood. However, unless such an individual has at least one parent legally entitled to membership in a federally recognized Indian tribe, it is improbable that he/she can qualify for special federal services available to Indians or share in assets owned by an Indian tribe. The burden of proof of Indian ancestry rests with the individual claiming possession of Indian blood.

Many people are descended from eastern tribes that disbanded before the present Government of the United States came into being in 1789. As a result, there are no existing Indian groups with which these individuals can affiliate. Others, descended from western tribes, but cannot substantiate their claim to membership in an Indian tribe due to lack of early family records.

Contrary to popular belief, Indians do not receive payments from the federal government simply because they have Indian blood. Funds distributed to a person of Indian descent may represent income from his/her own property collected for him/her by an agent of the United States. Other disbursements to individuals may represent compensation for lands taken in connection with governmental projects, comparable to payments made to non-Indians for the acquisition of land for governmental purposes. Some Indian tribes receive income from the utilization of tribal timber and other reservation resources, a percentage of which may be distributed as per capita among the tribes membership. Individual tribal members also share in the money paid to the tribes by the federal government in fulfillment of treaty obligations. Money available for payments belongs either to the tribe or to an individual and is held in trust by the federal government. In this event, Government checks are issued in making payment to individuals or to the tribes.

To be eligible to receive payment from tribal funds, a person, in addition to possessing Indian blood, must be a recognized member of the Indian tribe whose money is being distributed. Generally, responsibility for establishing this membership lies with the tribe and the individual. Indian tribes establish their own enrollment criteria.

Some early records or censuses of Indian bands, tribes, or groups are on file at the National Archives and Records Service, Natural Resources Branch, Civil Archives Division (Eighth and Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20408). These records, identified by tribes, are dated chiefly from 1830 to 1940. To search records, the Archivist must be given the name of the Indian in question (preferably both his English and his Indian name), his date of birth, and the name of his tribe. Names of his parents and grandparents should also be given. If ancestry is unknown, there are private research sources that are available. The credibility of the research service should be established before securing the service by contacting local offices of the Better Business Bureau.

The Central Office of the Bureau of Indian Affairs does not maintain comprehensive lists of persons possessing Indian blood or enrollment data of every federally recognized Indian tribe. However, copies of census and membership rolls may be on file in the Bureau's field offices. A list of these offices can be obtained from the directory "AREA OFFICES." The Area Office list identifies the states over which a particular Area Office has jurisdiction.

If proof of membership in a particular tribe is desired, inquiry should be made to the particular tribe.

The Bureau of Indian Affairs publishes a list of Federally Recognized Indian Nations in the Federal Register. The latest publication was on February 16, 1995, (60 F.R. 9249).


HOW TO BEGIN Unless you are a king or a president or other notable, finding your ancestors and making sure a "family tree" is kept for future generations may be up to you. The federal government does not do family research, nor does its National Archives collect or preserve family trees. Books on family history and genealogy are collected, complied, and published by private individuals who do so because they are interested descendants.

As the depository of the federal government's records deemed of permanent value for historical purposes, the National Archives houses many records that can be helpful to persons who wish to trace their ancestry. The search, however, cannot be completed at the National Archives alone. Many other depositories should be consulted. Following are suggestions about things to do and ways to go about getting a start at finding your ancestors:

START WITH YOURSELF You are the beginning "twig" on the vast family tree. Start with yourself, the known, and work toward the unknown. You should find out all the vital information you can about your parents, write it down, then find out about your grandparents, great-grandparents, etc.

NAMES, DATES, PLACES, RELATIONSHIPS You will be concerned with pulling from the many and varied documents of recorded history's four key items - "names, places, dates, and relationships." These are the tools of the family researcher. People can be identified in records by their names, the dates of events in their lives (birth, marriage, death), the places they lived, and the relationships to others either stated or implied in the records.

HOME SOURCES The first place to begin is at home. You can find much information in family bibles, newspaper clippings, military certificates, birth and death certificates, marriage licenses, diaries, letters, scrapbooks, backs of pictures, baby books, etc.

RELATIVES AS SOURCE Visit or write those in your family who may have information, particularly older relatives. More often than not others before you have gathered data about the families in which you are interested. You should write a letter, make a personal visit, or conduct a telephone survey to find out about such persons and what information is already collected.

FINDING DISTANT RELATIVES Before launching your research program in libraries and archives, search for distant relatives who may have already performed research. Advertise in the local genealogical bulletins (city, county, or state) where your ancestors lived. The most widely circulated genealogical magazine (which also specializes in getting people together who are working on the same families) is The Genealogical Helper, Everton Publishers, Inc., P.O. Box 368, Logan, UT 84321.

BIRTH, MARRIAGE, AND DEATH RECORDS Some states began to keep records of birth and death earlier, but for most of the United States, birth and death registration because a requirement around the turn of the century, about 1890-1915. Before that time these events will be found recorded generally in church records and family bibles. Marriages will be found recorded in most counties, dating often as early as the establishment of the county.

CHURCH RECORDS A few churches have records of important events in the lives of members but many do not. Investigate the possibility of finding genealogical data in the records of the church to which your ancestor belonged.

DEEDS AND WILLS Records of property acquisition and disposition can be good sources of genealogical data. Such records are normally in the county courthouses. Often the earliest county records or copies of them are also available in state archives.

FEDERAL RECORDS The National Archives in Washington, D.C., has records of use in genealogical research. The federal census made every 10 years since 1790 is a good source. The census records are also available on microfilm in the National Archives' regional branches located in 11 metropolitan areas throughout the country (description leaflet available upon request). The National Archives also has military service and related records, passenger arrival records, and others. See the free leaflet, Genealogical Records in the National Archives.

LIBRARIES, SOCIETIES, ARCHIVES Visit the state, regional, local institutions in your area. Libraries, historical and genealogical societies, and archival depositories are all good sources for genealogical and family history data.

HIRING A RESEARCHER If you wish to hire a researcher, write to the following organization that will provide you a list: Board for Certification of Genealogists, P.O. Box 14291, Washington, D.C., 20044.

GENERAL SERVICES ADMINISTRATION National Archives and Records Service Washington, D.C. 10408


About 200 years ago the Cherokee Indians were one tribe, or "Indian Nation" that lived in the southeast part of what is now the United States. During the 1830's and 1840's, the period covered by the Indian Removal Act, many Cherokees were move west to a territory that is now the State of Oklahoma. A number remained in the southeast and gathered in North Carolina where they purchased land and continued to live. Others went into the Appalachian Mountains to escape being moved west and many of their descendants may still live there now.

Today, individuals of Cherokee ancestry fall into the following categories: (1) Living persons who were listed on the final rolls of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma (Dawes Commission Rolls) that were approved and descendants of these persons. These final rolls were closed in 1907. (2) Individuals enrolled as members of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians of North Carolina and their descendants who are eligible for enrollment with the Band. (3) Persons on the list of members identified by are solution dated April 19, 1949, and certified by the Superintendent of the Five Civilized Tribes Agency and their descendants who are eligible for enrollment with the United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indian of Oklahoma. (4) All other persons of Cherokee Indian ancestry.

Category 1. After about a half century of self-government, a law enacted in 1906 directed that final rolls be made and that each enrollee be given an allotment of land or paid cash in lieu of an allotment. The Cherokees formally organized in 1975 with the adoption of a new Constitution which superseded the 1839 Cherokee Nation Constitution. This new Constitution establishes a Cherokee Register for the inclusion of any Cherokee for membership purposes in the Cherokee Nation. Members must be citizens as proven by reference to the Dawes Commission Rolls. Including in this are the Delaware Cherokees of Article II of the Delaware Agreement dated May 8, 1867, and the Shawnee Cherokees of Article III of the Shawnee Agreement dated June 9, 1869, and/or their descendants.

Public Law 100-472, authorizes through a planning and negotiation process Indian Tribes to administer and manage programs, activities, function, and services previously managed by the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Pursuant to Public Law 100-472 the Cherokee Nation has entered into a Self-governance Compact and now provides those services previously provided by the BIA. Enrollment and allotment records are now maintained by the Cherokee Nation. Any question with regard to the Cherokee Nation should be referred to the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma, P.O. Box 948, Tahlequah, OK 74465 (918)456-0671 Fax (918)456-6485.

Category 2. The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians of North Carolina is a federally recognized tribe and has its own requirements for membership. Inquiries as to these requirements, or for information shown in the records may be addressed to the BIA's Cherokee Agency, Cherokee, North Carolina 28719, (704) 497-9131, or the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, P.O. Box 455, Cherokee, North Carolina 28719, (207) 497-2771, Fax (704)497-2952, ask for the Tribal Enrollment Office.

Category 3. By the Act of August 10, 1946, 60 Stat. 976, Congress recognized the United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians in Oklahoma (UKB) for the purposes of organizing under the Oklahoma Indian Welfare Act. In 1950, the UKB organized under a Constitution and Bylaws approved by the Secretary of the Interior. Members of the UKB consist of all persons whose names appear on the list of members identified by a resolution dated April 19, 1949, and certified by the Superintendent of the Five Civilized Tribes Agency on November 26, 1949, with the governing body of the UKB having the power to prescribe rules and regulations governing future membership. The supreme governing body (UKB Council) consist of 9 members, elected to represent the nine districts of the old Cherokee Nation and four officers, elected at large. Information may be obtained by writing UKB, P.O. Box 746, Tahlequah Oklahoma, 74465-9432, (918) 456-5491 Fax (918) 456-9601.

Category 4. Information about Indian ancestry of individuals in this category of Cherokees is more difficult to locate. This is primarily because the federal government has never maintained a list of all the persons of Cherokee Indian descent, indicating their tribal affiliation, degree of Indian blood or other data. In order to establish Cherokee ancestry you should use the same methods prescribed in "Indian Ancestry" and "Genealogical Research" material. (Reference directories "INDIAN ANCESTRY" and "GENEALOGICAL RESEARCH")

File Created: 25 September 2001
Last Modified: Wed, July 23, 2014 at 02:59 PM

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Copyright © 2001, John Wigle. All rights reserved. Any legal information provide on my pages are for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. Please consult your attorney for the specific legal options of your case.