Library of Congress Navajos
Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division
This image from the Library of Congress is simply titled "Navajos" and is from 1905.

Digitized Tribal Records Making it Easier to Research Native Connections

Kristi Eaton

As a professional genealogist, BIllie Fogarty helps people understand their ancestry and where they come from. With the release of more than 1.5 million tribal records recently digitized and placed online, Fogarty is having an easier time helping people identify and learn about their Native American roots.

“They are wonderful to look at,” Fogarty said of the newly released records.

Last fall, partnered with the Oklahoma Historical Society to digitize and release 1.5 million records relating to tribes in Oklahoma. The majority of the records focus on what are known as the Five Civilized Tribes—the Cherokee, Choctaw, Chickasaw, Creek and Seminole nations. The records include Census rolls, marriage and citizenship records, land records and a collection of photographs, according to Brian Peterson, senior manager for content acquisition and relationships at the Utah-based Peterson said a significant portion of the people using the records are looking for American Indian ancestry because they are interested in applying to become a member of a tribe.

Fogarty and other genealogists have long used the Dawes Rolls in their research, but the new digital versions are providing new information and new details. “By having those new images, we are able to pick up the pencil marks and the notations that are on there that we did not see before,” Fogarty said. “So it has led to other records, some of the prior rolls and Census rolls that are on there.”

The land allotment records have also been helpful, Fogarty said, because “it’s like looking at a brand new record because of the added detail we can now see.”

Many of the people who reach out to Fogarty who have lost connection with a tribe are mostly interested in the Five Civilized Tribes, she said. Other tribes seem to be more closely connected and have held on to their tribal identity, but because there was a lot of intermarriage among the Five Civilized Tribes and Europeans, many lost their connection, she added.

There is often family lore that people have Native American ancestry, and that drives people to start researching their family’s past, said Matthew Deighton, spokesman for “It’s an interesting switch in dynamic and it’s very progressive and a good switch,” he said. “You look at 50, 60 years ago, people tried to say that they were just one race or one ethnicity. But now it’s exciting for everyone to have diversity, and it’s something that we look for and celebrate. I think it’s a great switch in that mindset in our country.”

That switch in thinking can also be seen at the Oklahoma Historical Society, where Laura Martin, deputy director of research, said they receive daily phone calls and questions from people interested in trying to trace their American Indian ancestry. Martin said it’s nice to be able to share the new digitized records with those people. So far, it’s unclear how many people have accessed the digitized records, but Martin said the Oklahoma Historical Society is working with on a tool that will help the organizations see how many people have visited the records since they went live in November 2014.

RELATED: Find Your Relatives: Expands American Indian Collection

“We are extremely pleased with the amount of traffic and number of telephone calls we have received as a result of the placement of Indian records on Ancestry,” Martin said. “I feel we are servicing a greater number of patrons and we are able to highlight the records available at the Oklahoma Historical Society.”

Peterson, with, said the new treasure trove of records helps fill a gap and removes roadblocks for people coming to trying to find something out about their family. That’s a key mission for him in acquiring new collections, he said. “This just happened to be a way in working with the Oklahoma Historical Society that we could do this with a particular population, that being the Native American population,” he said.

Though other states including South Dakota, North Dakota, Arizona and New Mexico have large American Indian populations and deep tribal histories, Peterson said there are no plans for similar partnership efforts in those states that he can immediately comment on.

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miller_em's picture
Submitted by miller_em on
Does anyone know if the current DNA tests - which can trace lineage way back when - are a means which can be used to recognize and/or legalize NDN status?

Steve Gagne's picture
Steve Gagne
Submitted by Steve Gagne on
miller_em -- I don't see how that would be useful. The white man's DNA and blood quantum tests are in no wise accurate enough, or even relevant, to answer the essentially political questions of NDN tribal identity and affiliation. . And none of the tribes is advanced enough yet to consider adopting the members of all other tribes into a legal "super-tribe". As it is now, a bunch of macintoshes (red on the outside, white on the inside) are busy trying to disinherit and disaffiliate people of legitimate native lineage and heritage for the sake of monopoly money from casinos and mineral development; none of them is seeking to grow the tribes; none of them is looking to establish natural alliances with the 50-60 million mixed-blood Americans and Canadians, nor the Latin Americans; none of them is seeking to free the natural waters of this world for the benefit of all. Not one of them is walking the Red Road. . "2. The Lord looks down from heaven upon the children of men, to see if there are any that act wisely, that seek after God. 3. They have all gone astray, they are all alike corrupt; there is none that does good, no, not one. 4. Have they no knowledge, all the evildoers who eat up my people as they eat bread, and do not call upon the Lord? 5. There they shall be in great terror, for God is with the generation of the righteous. " Psalm 14, RSV . It is time to become the Grandfathers to the next 7 generations. This will take a moral vision, creativity, and the energy to restore the Red Road. Not more of the same ol' same ol'. "He that hath ears to hear, let him hear."