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A generation ago the BIA used to tell people to get in touch with the National Archives and give them the name and tribe and birthdate of an individual and we would look the name up on the Indian Census Rolls. We don’t do that anymore; we don’t do genealogy for people anymore, because now it is online and you can do it yourself.

 

There is no database of names of everybody who was Indian. The BIA only kept records of tribes that were under their supervision (that is what “federally recognized” means).  For many years the BIA did not keep a list of names of everybody in a tribe either, or take censuses, unless there was a matter of removal, moving people around.  In 1885, the Commissioner of Indian Affairs sent out a circular to all the agents telling them for now on, they needed to compile an actual census of everybody under their supervision. So from about 1885, to about 1940, there are census rolls that give the names and sex and ages and family relationships and even blood quantum for all those who were living with tribes that were under the supervision of the BIA.

 

If you think you had an ancestor who might be on those rolls, you can look them up yourself. The Indian census rolls are on both Fold3.com and Ancestry.com. You pay a small fee but it is worth it. In the past, you had to know ahead of time what tribe somebody was in because there were 692 reels of microfilm to look through and you had to start somewhere. Now that they are digitized you can simply put in a name. If you come to one of our facilities you can use our computers to do this for free.

 

To search the Indian Census Rolls:

 

Go to http://www.fold3.com/institution-index.php
Select All Titles, and choose Indian Census rolls. These are the censuses of all the tribes except the Five Civilized Tribes, from about 1885 to 1940. They do not include everyone who was an Indian, only those living on the reservations.  You have a choice of putting a name, or you can click on Browse, choose the tribe and search individual rolls yourself. You can check out all their possibilities for the names, and see if any seem to be your relatives. Finding someone on the Indian Census Rolls does not entitle you to membership in an Indian tribe. You have to get in touch with the tribe and find out what the membership rules are and what documentation they want from you.

 

Or you can go to Ancestry.com and put in a name to search their copies of various Native American rolls

  http://search.ancestryinstitution.com/search/group/nativeamerican

Find US Indian census rolls. You can put in a name and see the results.

You can also search the regular census records on Ancestry.

 

Finding an ancestor on one of the rolls may help you figure out what tribe your ancestor came from. But you must get in touch with the tribe for membership. They are the ones who determine if you meet their requirements for eligibility and they are the ones who will decide about membership, and issue you a card if they accept you. The government has nothing to do with this, and does not issue any cards.

 

If you do not find your ancestor on one of these rolls, there probably are not any federal records of them as an Indian. People who left their tribes and lived in the general public were just like other citizens. The best way to research them may be to start with the regular census records, and other local records. Sometimes the federal decennial census may list someone as IN, for Indian, but they do not identify the tribe. There are a few federal decennial censuses that do list some tribal members, and a good place to find out about that would be our pages about Indians in the census

https://www.archives.gov/research/census/native-americans/1790-1930.html

https://www.archives.gov/research/census/native-americans/census-bureau.html

 

and for other information on researching Indian ancestors, check our page

https://www.archives.gov/research/native-americans

 

People who have an Indian heritage are not eligible for any benefits from the government. All benefits come through membership in a federally recognized tribe.

The National Archives has digitized thousands of documents, images, and movies related to Native American history and culture.  This is the third in a series of blogs highlighting the records available online through the National Archives catalog.

 

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(Clockwise from top left) Screenshots from The Rodman Wanamaker Expedition of Citizenship, An Approach to Indian Offender Rehabilitation, Corn Dancers, and Rebuilding Indian Country

 

Motion pictures featuring Native Americans were produced and collected by the federal government for a variety of reasons- documenting events or government functions, advertising, and public education.

 

Many films of the films available in the National Archives catalog were created in order to promote tourism.  Native Americans were incorporated into many national and state parks as tourist attractions and as a result their culture was advertised alongside the natural features of the parks.

 

A Visit to Mesa Verde (1936)- Navajo dances

Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park (1937)- Blackfeet dances

Native of Glacier (1934)- Blackfeet dances

Grand Canyon National Park (1934)- Hopi women weaving and spinning

Arizona and Its Natural Resources (1939)- Apache herding cattle, Hopi making pottery and religious dolls; and Navajo herding sheep, making jewelry, weaving, and cooking

 

In addition to advertising, documentary films produced or collected by the federal government in the 1910s through the 1930s reflected a desire to document Native American life based on a fear that Native Americans were “disappearing” and being assimilated into the wider mainstream American culture.

 

The Romance of a Vanishing Race

Indians of North America: Conduct of Life (1913)- Traditions and dress of several tribes, including Hopi, Blackfoot, Crow, and Pueblo

Indians of North America: War Dance (1913?)- Plains Indian war dances

Winter Farm Life on a Crow Reservation: French General Foch Become Honorary Crow (1919)

Navajo Indians (1936)- Navajo crafts, work, and culture

 

An interesting series of films documents the ceremonies surrounding the National Indian Memorial, both at the memorial’s planned location and across the country.  The ground-breaking ceremony in New York coordinated with ceremonies where Native Americans pledged their loyalty to the United States were held at reservations. (Despite the pomp and circumstance, funding for the memorial never materialized and the planned site remains unused to this day.)

 

Inaugurating the National Indian Memorial (1913)- "Events of February 22, 1913, inauguration of National American Indian Memorial in Fort Wadsworth, New York. Shows U.S. government officials addressing Indians and ground breaking ceremony with Pres. William Howard Taft and Indian leaders."

 

Rodman Wanamaker Expedition of Citizenship to the North American Indian, The: Carrying the Flag and a Message of Hope to a Vanishing Race (1913)

Focus on Ogala Sioux, their declaration of allegiance to the US, and flag raising ceremony at Pine Ridge Reservation.

Footage of flag raising and allegiance ceremonies at Pine Ridge Reservation, South Dakota and Otoe Reservation, Oklahoma.

Flag raising and allegiance ceremonies at Sioux Reservations in Montana and South Dakota,; Fort Peck Reservation, Montana; Standing Rock Reservation, North and South Dakota; and Cheyenne River Reservation, South Dakota.

"Lower Yankton Sioux; Brule; Yankton Sioux; Tuscarora; Tonawanda; Senaca; Cattaraugus; Cayuga; Onandaga; Alleghany; Oneida; Mohawk; Iroguois; Lepan; Mescalero; Geronimo Apache; Isleta Pueblo." [sic]

 

In later decades of the 20th century more films began to focus on contemporary economic and social issues facing Native Americans.

 

["North Star II" Resupply of Alaskan Villages]- Native American coastal villages and industries in Alaska

An Approach to Indian Offender Rehabilitation- Native American cultural awareness program at Federal Reformatory at El Reno, Oklahoma

We belong to the land- Promotes Forest Service and natural resource careers by emphasizing the relationship between Native Americans and the land*

Tahtonka- Plains tribes and their connection to buffalo, Ghost Dance, and Wounded Knee*

The American Indian: After the White Man Came (1972)- History of Native Americans, with a focus on problems faced by Native Americans in the 20th century*

Modern Indian Medicine Men- U.S. Indian Service physician on Pima reservation southwestern U.S

A New Frontier- Agricultural issues facing southwest Native Americans

Rebuilding Indian Country (1933)- Native American life and industry in the 1930s.  Vignettes feature Chippewa, Pima, and Navaho tribes.

 

There are also a number of films available that showcase Native American art and material culture.

 

Corn Dancers: United Pueblo Agency and Indian Irrigation Service (1941)- Southwestern Pueblo culture and education

Santa Fe Indian School in New Mexico- Shows the school and students in class and learning Native American crafts

Tempera Painting by Quincy Tahoma, a Navajo Indian [https://catalog.archives.gov/id/94960]- Art instructional film

Ford News (1934)- Vignette of Navajo and Pueblo making sand paintings and carving

Mexico: Reeds and Palms (1941)- Mexican Indians' cultivation and use of palms and reeds

Mexico: Maguey (1941)- Uses of the maguey plant

 

New York, Pennsylvania, Gettysburg, Chickamauga and Moundsville, Alabama State Parks (1936)- Archaeology in Moundsville, Alabama

Temples and Peace [https://catalog.archives.gov/id/11635] (1937)- Artifacts from Moundsville, Alabama

Dolores Project archaeology ; Archaeological excavation, McPhee Reservoir area (1978)- Archaeological excavations of Anasazi sites

 

Of course, this blog post is far from comprehensive- for any researcher, a thorough perusal of the National Archives catalog is an absolute must.  For more tips on searching for digitized records in the catalog, check out this post on Expanding Your Digital Toolkit.  Researchers interested in records described in the catalog that haven’t been digitized should get in touch with the appropriate National Archives reference unit using the contact information at the bottom of the page.

 

*Two minute previews are available in the catalog for these films.  Researchers interested in the complete films can visit the National Archives office listed in the catalog description or purchase a copy from Amazon (purchase link in the catalog description).