I want to sandwich this between our two Native American centric Society Virtual Meetings for March and April 2021. I think some will find the information and links helpful if you are working with NA research. This post is one I originally wrote for the Winter 2020 issue of the Wake Genealogy Watch newsletter. - Cyndi Deal
"But her name is Kizzie and it says she is Native American…," said the friend I am helping to build a DNA family tree. "Does that mean I am Native American? There were rumors about my father being Native American!" Such hope. Such excitement. This in regards to a person purported to be her great grandmother labeled as such in someone else's undocumented tree… - CD
I gingerly explained that though there may have been someone at some point in the distant past that was Native American (NA), there are currently no known records and no NA showing in her DNA ethnicity results to confirm that story. A sister also did not have NA register in her ethnicity.
I also pointed out that anyone claiming NA ancestry in the last three or four generation yet not living on or near a Reservation, was not likely to be full or even halfblooded NA unless they had family documented in the Federal Indian Rolls. Thinking back on the history of our country, the time period most likely for NA and nonNA intermarriage and admixing of DNA to occur was very early (especially true for the east coast and southern states), and most likely involved 4-7 great grandparents or further back. Any traces of NA ethnicity could have long since been whittled down to the level of noise. One per cent or less puts you back 6 generations or more.
Suppose it is not just noise…
Where do you go to research NA ancestry with records that could prove a connection exists? I give you fair warning—
This is not going to be a project where you can ante up a few names and dates and locations, type them into an search engine, then Bam! There’s your answer.
This will require some solid traditional records research with a side of historical context and a concurrent deep dive into the full spectrum of DNA and Genetic Genealogy as related to Native American ancestry. In other words, unless you have close kin living on a Reservation in the 1900s, this is going require a huge investment of time and effort.
I was midway through writing this article when I had the good fortune to hear Roberta Estes speak on this very subject at the NCGS 2019 conference. In her presentation, “Investigating Whether You Have Native American Ancestry,” Roberta told us of her ongoing Native American DNA research projects and her search for the NA in her own ethnicity. She provides a wealth of resources on line at her two blogs and even explains how to access your ethnicity segments at 23&Me and paint them to your chromosomes at DNA Painter.
You will want to check out Roberta’s blogs and resources as a starting place in your DNA research.
Your first step - Prove the family line
Use records research and dna matchesto prove parentage for all relations back to the suspected NA ancestor. Gather all records and written information you can find. Document your sources. Seek out as many DNA matches as you are able and look for possible future target testers.
Research Federal Indian Rolls
If, in your records research, you find links to NA Rolls at this point, you are lucky. You have landed on the doorstep of the proof you seek.
The NA Rolls are held at the The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) and can be viewed with subscription on Fold3.com. If you do not have a subscription, check to see if your local library has one that you can access with your library card. You may be able to research from home or from your local library or state archives.
"The BIA (Bureau of Indian Affairs) gathered, collected, and/or created numerous rolls involving American Indians to identify members of various tribes and bands, including Freedmen. These rolls were created as a result of allotments, legislation, removals, treaties, and other activities. The BIA then used these rolls to create additional documentation--often using the same rolls for multiple purposes. Since the purpose of the rolls vary; the information collected also varies.
They can contain names, enrollment numbers, ages, family relations, locations, and more.”
If you do not find your ancestor directly linked to the Rolls, you will still want to check the Applications for the Rolls. Many applied but were not accepted. Finding your ancestors rejected application gives you more information for your story. So still a win. Just not the one you expected.
The Rolls currently digitized and available thru Fold3 are:
Baker Rolls, 1924-1929 Eastern Cherokee
Indian Census Rolls, 1885-1940 Multiple Agencies and Tribes
Revised Copy of the Wallace Roll, ca. 1890 - ca.1896
Dawes Rolls, 1896-1914 Five Civilized Tribes of Oklahoma
Guion Miller Rolls, 1906-1911 Eastern Cherokee
It is worth noting that when you are checking a particular Roll's detail page, it is useful to scroll down to the bottom of the page where there is a section detailing the earlier rolls used to compile the final Roll of interest.
Indian Rolls not yet digitized include:
Cherokee Emigration 1817-1838
1830 Armstrong Roll (Census concerning Choctaw Removal)
Muster Rolls Concerning Indian Removal 1832 - 1846
Eastern Cherokee Census Rolls Compilation 1836 - 1884
All of these records are held at National Archives in Washington, D.C.
The Osage Annuity Rolls 1870-1960 are held at National Archives in Fort Worth, Tx.
The Grazing Payment Rolls 1923 - 1928 are held at National Archives in Seattle, Wa.
While you are researching at Fold 3, take a look through the Native American Records Collection. In addition to Rolls files, you will find an index to Indian Wars Pension Files 1892-1926, Indian Wars Service Records, War of 1812 Service Records for Chickasaw and Creek soldiers.
Will a Census help?
Answer - It depends on the time frame.
Decennial Federal Census
"Prior to 1900, few Indians are included in the decennial federal census. Indians are not identified in the 1790-1840 censuses. In 1860, Indians living in the general population are identified for the first time. Nearly all of the 1890 census schedules were destroyed as a result of the fire at the Department of Commerce in 1921. Beginning with the 1900 census, Indians are enumerated on reservations as well as in the general population."
Indian Census Rolls 1885 - 1940
There are also extant yearly reservation census rolls submitted by the agent or superintendent in charge to the Commissioner of Indian Affairs starting after 1884.
"The data on the rolls vary, but usually given are the English and/or Indian name of the person, roll number, age or date of birth, sex, and relationship to head of family.
Beginning in 1930, the rolls also include the degree of Indian blood, marital status, ward status, place of residence, and sometimes other information. For certain years--1935, 1936, 1938, and 1939--only supplemental rolls of additions and deletions were compiled. Most of the 1940 rolls have been retained by the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) and are not included in this publication.
There is not a census for every reservation or group of American Indians for every year. Only persons who maintained a formal affiliation with a tribe under federal supervision are listed on these census rolls." View the details and limitations of this record set here.
Visit the Random Acts of Genealogical Kindness site for a very good summary about how NA persons were included in the decennial census records from 1850 going forward. It changed quite a bit over time.
Check School Records
Many boarding schools were set up in the 1800s to teach a skill and assimilate NA youth into the predominate culture. There are many record sets existing from these schools. The students were often given American names to replace their Native ones and then reverted back to their Native names once they returned home making them challenging to track but their records may be useful. Cyndi's List has a page dedicated to these school records.
Contact the tribe
Bear in mind that there are scores of small tribes that are recognized only at state level, like the Lumbee tribe of North Carolina. You should check for records at state level and if you know which tribe the ancestor is affiliated with, contact the tribe directly to see if there are any records that include your ancestor. The National Congress of American Indians maintains a website with a directory of Tribes and Associations. Many have websites.
DNA testing "may" indicate some Native American heritage but cannot prove it. As explained earlier, in most cases, the NA ancestor is so far back that all that remain to be inherited are trace amounts at best. Beyond that Y and Mitochondrial DNA can indicate a Native connection if your results turn up certain haplogroups, but not without full sequence testing according to Roberta Estes. She feels that the best strategy for Y and mt testing is to test as many lines on your DNA pedigree as possible. Autosomal can help connect you to possible NA cousin matches in your close pedigree, but is not reliable beyond six generations. An Autosomal test will give you an ethnicity estimate that may reference an NA percentage. Like the rest, it can give you clues but no proof. I refer you to Roberta Estes' blog post for further insight - Proving Native American Ancestry Using DNA
NA specific Facebook Groups
There are groups on Facebook that are dedicated specifically to research of Native ancestry. They offer a place to network, brainstorm, and collaborate with others to further the research. I especially recommend the Native American Ancestor Explorer: DNA, Genetics, Genealogy & Anthropology group. This is the best group that I have found that is trying to solve the problems using DNA in tandem with records research. There are many knowledgeable members here.
To find other Native American specific groups use the search bar at the top of your facebook page using “native American” or specific tribe as your keyword.
Casting about for other ideas
When all else fails, return to tried and true finding aids. In addition to previously mentioned Cyndi's List, be sure to check FamilySearch wiki - American Indian Genealogy, and Google. A Google search for “Native American Genealogy” turned up this page with a lot of promising links - Tracing Native American Family Roots offered by the National Indian Law Library.
Corralling the Data
As you progress with your research, be sure to keep good notes and record sources. As you begin to collect DNA matches to your potential ancestor, you may need ways to collate and review this data and incorporate it into your traditional research. I recommend the book, Advanced Genetic Genealogy: Techniques and Case Studies, edited by Debbie Parker Wayne. Its breadth of coverage of DNA in tandem with Records research and the many case studies, description of workflow, visualization tools and charts can help you stay on a narrow path as you work through your discoveries, hypotheses and findings.
Best of luck with your ancestor search!