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Impact of US Governmental Reconciliation with Native Americans on Genealogy

With the help the Ranson Judd Powell papers and other records spawned by a penitent government, we can now trace our family's Native American heritage back four generations in 18th and 19th centuries in the Ojibwe Tribe.


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Resource: GenWeekly
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As a young woman, U.S. Indian Agents sought out the author's mother in order to award her money. Officials had identified her as a descendant of the Ojibwe Tribe of the White Earth Indian Reservation in Minnesota. In the attempt to reconcile itself with aggrieved citizens, the government traced the family trees of Native Americans whom they had wronged in the past. They attempted to rectify their prior mistakes by financially aiding them through the proxy of living descendants. The records they generated lit a spark of interest in our family's Native American heritage. Examining their contents has proved of inestimable value to understanding our family's roots. Many Ojibwe pedigrees, including that of the author's own ancestors, appear on the Web site

This collection of Ojibwe family trees is part of the Ransom Judd Powell Papers, deposited in the Minnesota Historical Society. The records appear on 15 microfilms and are described as: "Ojibwe genealogical and census records, land allotment rolls, transcripts of legal testimony, correspondence, notes, abstracts of title, plats, deeds, and other papers. They stem from Powell's involvement with the Ojibwe Indians of the White Earth (Minnesota) Reservation as (1) a member of a commission established by Congress in 1913 to investigate the blood status of Indian allottees within the reservation, and (2) legal counsel both to lumber companies seeking title to Ojibwe lands and to various individual Indians defending their allotment selections."

In the family tree of number 19, we found our third great-grandfather "Eustache Bellecourt Sr." We knew from previous research in other public records that Eustache was born about the year 1819, but this was as far back as the paper trail would allow us to go. The Ransom Judd Powell Papers state that he was the son of a "Frenchman" surnamed Bellecourt who came down from the direction of Pembina and "married" an Ojibwe Indian named "Sah gah je way quay." Mr. Bellecourt's Christian name seems to have been lost amongst his Native American posterity, as it was replaced by the vernacular Indian name "Che O manhdah gwe ne ne." The pedigree identifies Eustache's maternal grandparents as "No di nah quah um" and his wife "We go baince." The pedigree continues to extend back in time to "No di nah quah um's" mother "Me ke nock," who in turn was the child of "an Englishman" and "a squaw." That Englishman must have been well off the beaten path, as he would have been venturing into what is now the Great Lakes region in the early 1700s. If standard generational lapses of 25 years are attached to this record, this reveals that the oldest ancestor identified in this pedigree was born circa 1700, 119 years further back than we had previously known.

With the help of this and other records spawned by a penitent government, we can now trace our family's Native American heritage back four generations in 18th and 19th centuries in the Ojibwe Tribe. It is highly unlikely that we would have ever found out these people's names were it not for the work done by Mr. Ransom Judd Powell in the early 20th century. The entire collection traces the descendants of 93 families. Find out more at

To find out about other Native American tribes and the records generated, Chapter 14 "Tracking Native American Family History," in the book The Source: A Guidebook of American Genealogy, provides an excellent bibliography and starting point.

1 Maquah is the Ojibwe word for bear. Additional research revealed that Eustache Bellecourt's mother-in-law, also a Native American, the wife of a French Fur Trapper from Qu├ębec, had the maiden name Makwa, a variant of the same term.

Source Information: GenWeekly, New Providence, NJ, USA: Genealogy Today LLC, 2004.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Genealogy Today LLC.

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