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Searching the National Archives for Native American Records

The main repository for Native American tribal records is the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA).

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Type: Article
Resource: GenWeekly
Prepared by: Carolyne Gould
Word Count: 545 (approx.)
Labels: Census 
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Two of the first names that come to mind when the topic of discussion is tribal rolls, are "Dawes" and "Guion Miller." While both are records usually associated with the Cherokee Nation, these records also include information on members of the Chickasaw, Choctaw, Creek and Seminole tribes --- also known as the "Five Civilized Tribes."

The main repository for these and several other tribal records is the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), home-based in Washington, D. C. The NARA groups their records by number and one we are interested in is Group No. 75 which contains most of the records related to the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Other records of interest to our research include Group 279 which covers records of the Indian Claims Commission; Group 48, records of the Secretary of Interior; and Group 49, Old Land Office records, to name just a few.

Most of the main tribal records are physically stored at the National Archives Southwest Region in Fort Worth, Texas. The NARA has begun to digitalize these records and place many of them on line for use by researchers, historians and genealogists. Those records include the following:

  • Final Rolls of the Citizens and Freedmen of the Five Civilized Tribes in Indian Territory
  • Index to the Final Rolls of the Citizens and Freedmen of the Five Civilized Tribes in Indian Territory
  • Wallace Roll of Cherokee Freedmen in Indian Territory, 1890
  • Kern Clifton Roll of Cherokee Freedmen, January 16, 1867
  • 1896 Citizenship Applications

One of the benefits of the NARA records is that once you have searched the site and come up with an application and/or census number for your ancestor, a form is available online to order copies of those records -- just print it out, attach your fee and mail it in. In the case of the Index to the Final Rolls, the cost, as of this writing, is $10 per census card.

The Dawes Commission rolls include 64,177 applications that have been digitized into 10,8874 PDF files, each with multiple names and references. All 634 pages of the Final Rolls have been digitized as well as the 343 pages of the index to the Guion Miller Rolls. There is also complete documentation on the Wallace and Kern-Clifton rolls. Once you get to the site, be sure to click on the link to Search Hints for Genealogical Data, You WILL want to check this out. Trust me on this. If you enter the term "Indian census," NARA will most likely return only one "hit." Using the term "Indian Census Rolls" will get you more than 74,000 hits. I know of cases where surnames were entered and no hits were returned, simply because the correct roll information was not included in the search.

Remember, the records in NARA are not complete. It is a work in progress so you will want to bookmark the site and return occasionally to see if the records you have been searching for have been added.

Searching the NARA records requires the same caveats that always seem to apply to records regarding Native Americans. I know of cases where enrolled members were not on the Dawes or Guion Miller Rolls. There have also been reports of NARA records showing an application being turned down when, in fact, the person's application was indeed approved by the tribe.

Source Information: GenWeekly, New Providence, NJ, USA: Genealogy Today LLC, 2005.

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.

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