Early photographs are rare enough for most families, even more so for those living on reservations and allotted tribal lands across the west. This makes the Bureau of Indian Affairs Industrial Surveys, taken nationwide to document family's living and farming conditions, a welcome and rich resource.
Edward Kirkaldie and family, Fort Belknap Reservation (https://catalog.archives.gov/id/100382521)
The original records, organized by BIA agency, were sent to the BIA Commissioner in Washington DC. The surveys were then bound and today are found at our Washington DC branch. These unfortunately have not been digitized but some BIA agencies saved local copies and NARA field units have worked to digitize and make these available online, such as those seen here in this blog post.
Blackbull, a 52-year-old Blackfeet, along with his granddaughter. (https://catalog.archives.gov/id/292953)
For a deeper dive into the genesis of the surveys and how to research, read more here;
And for inquires into the overall collection, reach out to;
87 years ago this month President Roosevelt issued an executive order kicking off the then just passed Emergency Conservation Work Act. The rest, as they say, is history as research into ECW and CCC programs, projects, and enrollees continues today by researchers and genealogists alike.
Less well known was similar legislation passed creating the parallel Indian Emergency Conservation Work (IECW) program, later known as the Civilian Conservation Corps Indian Division (CCC-ID). Similar in function yet with several notable differences, the CCC-ID helped make a difference on reservations nationwide and often led to Native Americans obtaining regular employment with the BIA. Learn more about the history, records, and how to research them in this Prologue essay;
(Image source: https://catalog.archives.gov/id/1719639)
The National Archives has embarked on a project to digitize microfilm series and get them into our online Catalog, where researchers can browse, bounce around, or zero in on particular sections throughout hundreds of microfilm rolls in the comfort of their own home. Or coffee shop. Or bar. Or wherever now! As the National Archives Subject Matter Expert for Native American Related Records I’m very excited to start sharing with the researching public those Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) seres going live. And with that, let’s start with the crown jewel, the 962-roll collection “Letters Received by the Office of Indian Affairs, 1824-1881." A staple of historical monograph bibliographies for years, this entire series is now in the Catalog.
Chronicling some of the most contentious eras in American Indian and Federal Government relations, this series spans the removal, treaty, and beginning of the assimilation eras. Each roll has gone into the Catalog as a file unit and is organized by Superintendency or Agency, then organized by date. Superintendencies, discontinued in the later part of the 19th century only to be revived as area offices in the 1940’s, had jurisdiction over a geographic area while agencies, continually in use, were immediately responsible for a particular tribal nation or nations.
What sort of records are in this collection? Correspondence and reports from superintendents and agents of the Office of Indian Affairs but also at times letters from private citizens, American Indians themselves, presidents, congressmen, Department of Treasury officials, General Land Office officials, War Department officials, all serving to show how intertwined the Office of Indian Affairs business with the government at large. Topics covered run the gamut, including education, health, medical care, finances, general administrative issues, agriculture, land, emigration, finances, claims, complaints, instructions, request, and decisions.
If you’re not looking to browse, and have a very specific date or person in mind, you might wish to first consult the “Registers of Letters Received, 1824-1880,” on microfilm series M18 but now also in the Catalog. The 126 rolls of M18 act as an index of sorts for M234 and list the letters received, noting the name of writer and date it was written. Later information included was date it was received, location of writer, summary, and assigned heading. These too have been digitized and can be browsed via our Catalog as well.
Please note, many of these records are in cursive!
“Letters Received by the Office of Indian Affairs, 1824-1881” (M234)
Here is an 1880 letter, a somewhat banal example discussing stationary from the Los Pinos Agency in Colorado. This is a good example to highlight some of the filing issues; at times agency letters were grouped under the overall superintendency, in this case the Colorado Superintendency, so one should note that when researching a specific agency.