The simplest and easiest way to trace Native American ancestry is to apply the same principles as used in research with no Native American connection. A genealogist should go ahead and do the same type of meticulous research: census records, pensions, land deeds, wills, probate, etc., with a presumed Native American ancestor. The clues to the Native American connection may well surface through these records.
In my family, tradition has always held that my great-great-great grandmother, Elizabeth Hart, born in 1798, was a Creek Indian. To date, the only indication that has been found concerns my great-great grandmother, Nancy Hart, born in 1832. In a deed in Marion County, Georgia, dated 1866, land is given to her by her husband, Henry Fowler, to be held in trust for her and her daughter, Mary Magdaline, by a neighbor, Francis Brunett. This is not proof of Native American ancestry, but it indicates that Henry Fowler was worried about the land being in Nancy's name. This may or may not be a clue to Native American ancestry. The family line is still being researched in the traditional way, not through purely Native American venues.
As a rule, marriages between the settlers and Native Americans often faced disapproval or social ostracism. Consequently, the married couple usually is found in a frontier area with relatively few families around them, often kin to them, or in an Indian village. Once the ancestor is located in one of these two places through regular genealogical research, then the Native American connection may begin to be traced.
In order to adequately search for Native American ancestors, it is necessary to have a rudimentary understanding of the southeastern tribes dating back to the earliest times when the area was controlled by the French, Spanish, and English. The five main tribes in the southeast were Cherokees, Chickasaws, Choctaws, Creeks, and Seminoles. These tribes lived in conjunction with settlers for many years before federal record-keeping came into being.
Records for Native American research in colonial times exist in the United States, England, France, Spain, Canada, Mexico, and Scotland. Many efforts have been made to document these records, but the sheer volume of them is monumental. An understanding of the political and social history of the southeastern United States is instrumental in finding and using these records. It is important to know the history so not as much time is wasted in fruitless searching in an area that is not germane to your ancestor.
Trade records, called so because they documented the trading between the trade companies and the Native Americans will yield an amazing amount of information. Trade defined the relationship between the competing governments and the Native Americans. Whichever country had the best goods to trade was the country that the Native Americans dealt with at the time. These trade records list names of people who were involved with the trade in all capacities: traders, wagon drivers, carpenters, storekeepers, clerks, recorders, cooks, and others. Also listed in these records are many of the problems that occurred in the trading posts. These problems, ranging from personal to health related, will often be accompanied with names and dates.
Some of the best papers are found in the Journals of the Commissioners of the Indian Trade; September 20, 1710-August 29, 1718 by William L. McDowell, Jr. Also by McDowell are the following: Documents Relating to Indian Affairs, May 21, 1750-August 7, 1754 and 1754-1765. These papers will contain a wealth of information for the genealogist. Although not currently available for sale through www.amazon.com, the books are available in many research and genealogical libraries.
Another collection of trading papers includes the papers of Panton, Leslie and Company. A guide to the collection is found in Indian Traders of the Southeastern Spanish Borderlands: Panton, Leslie & Company and John Forbes & Company, 1783-1847 by Coker and Watson. This publication is currently listed for sale on www.amazon.com. These papers are available for purchase on microfilm. They are also available in research and genealogical institutions.
In no way is it to be assumed that these two sources are all inclusive in Native American research. Rather it should be noted that these are a beginning place to go in your search for your ancestors in the times before the removal. After looking through these records, the researcher will gain a clearer understanding of why there are so many traditions of Native American ancestry. The early southeastern United States was an amazing collection of settlers and tribes who were constantly moving back and forth between two cultures.