Since I live in the Kittitas Valley of Central Washington State, I thought I would do some research of the local Kittitas Indians as a sample group. What I discovered is very applicable to any research of any Native American tribe across the country. In essence, beginning research into Native American genealogy is approached similarly to any other genealogical research. There are obstacles, like the lack of written documentation and the inexact translation of Native American names, but there are also different sources of information like the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) and since 1930, the organization of separate tribal groups such as reservation representatives and cultural centers.
Outside of petroglyphs, (carvings of rock) Native Americans disseminated most of their history to new generations by word of mouth. This oral history amounts to the greatest barrier in going back into a Native American family tree. Unlike other societies which wrote documents thousands of years ago, Native Americans were not documented until settlers, fur traders, missionaries, and military-sponsored organizations began to write of their clashes with tribes while moving westward. These clashes were not an ideal circumstance to study the Native American culture. Such stories are often a bit one-sided. The earliest documentation of Native American culture that was written down occurred first on the east coast and spread slowly toward the west coast.
With the exception of a few Spaniard-led expeditions in the West, Native Americans on the east coast were met and written about as early as the 1600's with the establishment of Plymouth Rock and Jamestown colonies. In great contrast, the Yakama and Kittitas tribes of central Washington were not written in detail about until early to mid 1800's, only a few decades before Washington statehood in 1889. Thus, the dividing line between doing genealogical research and doing archeology is the line between when the white man met up with the indians in any particular region.
Researching a particular familial Native American line consists of five steps:
If you want to go back further than the 1850‘s, it seems an archeological dig evidence may help. One such dig in 1908 near Thorp, Washington drew the conclusion that most all of the tribes which dotted the Columbia River area and lived on the eastern side of the Cascades had a striking resemblance in culture and clothing to the Plains Indians. Understanding a particular tribe will include understanding the timeline in which the tribe lived. When and what treaties were signed, when reservations were organized, and what allotments and policies were issued by the federal and local governments.
Native American genealogy certainly has its unique set of difficulties, but, taken in general, I enjoyed learning about how Native Americans in my region lived. I think you will find it just as interesting.
Source Information: GenWeekly, New Providence, NJ, USA: Genealogy Today LLC, 2006.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Genealogy Today LLC.
*Effective May 2010, GenWeekly articles that are more than five years old no longer require a subscription for full access.
Would you like to browse through our collection of GenWeekly articles written exclusively for Genealogy Today? Yes, take me there Would you like to keep up-to-date with the latest releases from Genealogy Today, along with news from a variety of other sources by receiving The Genealogy News (a FREE service) by email? Yes, sign me up Would you like to become a Genealogy Today member and be able to manage your research experience, post messages to forums, add comments to resources and much more? Yes, show me how Would you like to tap into our community of over 85,000 members by posting a query and get assistance breaking down your most difficult brickwalls? Yes, show me how Would you like to go shopping in a marketplace of over 700 items, including charts, scrapbooking materials, books and a variety of unique gifts and supplies? Yes, take me there