Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C.
This image from the Library of Congress shows two men seated at tables taking the Census at Standing Rock Agency in South Dakota. It was taken between 1880 and 1900.

11 Places to Search for Native American Ancestors

Myra Vanderpool Gormley
5/14/14

It's a struggle to know where to start when trying to find Native American ancestors. Here are 10 places to begin your search.

1880 U.S. Census

In 1880, enumerator instructions directed census takers to include Native Americans who were “not in tribal relations” and living among white residents on the general population schedules. They were not to record “Indians not taxed”—that is, Native Americans who were nomadic or lived on government Indian reservations. These individuals were enumerated in a separate census that year. This database contains images of 1880 census schedules.

The census can be found for free at Ancestry.com. Not all services mentioned here on Ancestry.com are free—some may require a subscription to the site. Check your local library to see if they have one for patrons to utilize.

Indian Census Rolls, 1885-1940

In 1884, the U.S. Congress authorized an Indian census be taken annually. In 1885, many of the tribes started taking it and continued to do so until 1940. Not all tribes complied. These rolls record the name of the Indian and other information, as well as deaths in previous years—giving date of death. Indian censuses are important because these contain both the Indian and given name of an individual. The later rolls contain more pertinent genealogical data.

Also available online free, but not indexed, most of the rolls done after 1900 are in alphabetical order and were typewritten, making searches easier. Visit AccessGenealogy.com to find them.

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Sharla Laurin
Sharla Laurin
Submitted by Sharla Laurin on
When looking through the census forms, including the Indian Census forms and the Special Indian Census forms, it can be helpful to look through every single year, even though it may seem that the same information is recorded year after year. In my experience of doing the research for a whole extended family, in most years, the same minimal information was recorded, but then when I least expected it, suddenly there would be an Indian name in the proper column for it. It seems the census takers most of the time didn't think this was important or the relatives were not wanting to share the information. Also, looking across the whole page, and on a few pages before and after the one where you find your relative will often reveal other relatives you may not have known about. Really, the Indian Census Forms are so full of information, but you have to put in the time to pull it all out.

howard leslie's picture
howard leslie
Submitted by howard leslie on
My grandma was taken off the Reservation as a baby and given to a white family in Va.around 1895. How in the world do I find her?

cptdisgruntled's picture
cptdisgruntled
Submitted by cptdisgruntled on
Any tips for finding information on Native ancestors in Canada?

vinnetta46's picture
vinnetta46
Submitted by vinnetta46 on
My ancestorsr hail from Hyde County, NC site of one of the earliest reservations in US history. After the Tuscarora War end in 1715 the shattered coastal tribes were given permission to settle in the Lake Mattamuskeet area. The original reservation contained more than 10,000 acres. Hyde County chose to list descendants of these tribes on census records as free people of color. Family history tells me my ancestors were members of this reservation. How can I locate info as to which one of the many tribes including Machapunga (Mattamuskeet), Bay River, Pamlico, and Neuse Coree, Woccon, Hatteras and perhaps other small coastal groups in the war my family belonged to?
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