Book Review - Indian Wills, 1911-1921. Records of the Bureau of Indian Affairs: Book One, by Jeff Bowen.
Prepared by Gena Philibert-Ortega.
One of the resources we typically think of when researching Native American ancestry is the various government membership. In some cases Indian Censuses come to mind as well. One source that might be overlooked is Indian wills.
This volume, taken from microfilmed records of the National Archives represent tribes as diverse as the Chippewa, Sioux, Apache, Shawnee, Quapaw, Assiniboin, Leach Lake Chippewa, Confederate Flathead, Ponca, Cheyenne, Crow, Sac & Fox, Nez Perce, Southern Ute, Omaha, and Osage among others. Some 2,000 names (testators, heirs and others) are named in this work. The author writes of the wills, "The wills are not numbered in any certain order . . . The majority of wills are of western origin and a few eastern ones that will be reproduced as more volumes are completed." He goes on to write that three of the wills in Book One were approved by the President of the United States.
Wills in this volume range from the very simplest leaving everything to one person, to those that leave more lengthy instructions. This is a good resource for Native American women as well. One will by Katherine Kirkie leaves instructions for the care of her children and that her husband is to not receive anything. She writes, "My husband Leon Kirkie and his three children from me I also leave out as he has treated me in a cruel and inhumane manner and I do not whish (sic) any of my property both real and personal to go to him." Wills are signed with marks or thumb prints (not shown in the book).
Like any probate record, these wills name the testator, heirs, real estate, executors and witnesses. A good reminder that even if your ancestor didn't leave a will they may be mentioned in the will of another. Wills also include other information such as familial relationships, ages of children, cattle and horse brands, guardians for children and the reasons behind the bequeaths. An index will help researchers find the names they are looking for.
As with any book of transcribed records it would be a good idea to go back to the original source. The author was responsible for the originals to be microfilmed by the National Archives.
This is a bare bones book, there is a brief introduction and then the book goes into the wills. No history or commentary is given. This is a reference book, but even so I found it to be an interesting book to read with great examples of what life was like for these testators as well as good examples of probate materials for a genealogists' edification.
This first in aseries of seven volumes, this work is published by Genealogical Publishing. It's website includes a description of what tribes are represented in each of the books. This reference collection will be important to anyone studying Native American genealogy.
Indian Wills, 1911-1921. Records of the Bureau of Indian Affairs: Book One, by Jeff Bowen. Clearfield, 2009.
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