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Native American Records

7 Posts authored by: Cody White Expert

(Authors note: the following post discusses, in part, death related records of individuals along with examples.)


Nearly 99 years ago, on October 10, 1922, Hairy Moccasin, a farmer on the Crow Reservation and one the then last living Custer scouts, passed away from tuberculosis.

National Archives Identifier 1135936


We know this because the National Archives holds Hairy Moccasin’s death certificate, among other records documenting his life which can be read about here. In the 1920’s the Office of Indian Affairs (OIA) was working in cooperation with the U.S. Census Bureau to track Native birth and deaths, so certificates were to be generated for both and forwarded to the OIA headquarters for consolidation, before being sent to the Census Bureau. This was not a big departure for the agency; it had been compiling such data in volumes for several decades by that point. This is a unique aspect of Record Group 75: Records of the Bureau of Indian Affairs holdings here at the National Archives. Typically vital records, those documenting the birth and death of individuals, are not found in the National Archives, as said records are created and maintained at the state level. Given the Bureau of Indian Affairs responsibilities in administering tribal reservations, the records often depart from the typically dry bureaucratic nature of federal records and can often be used to track individual’s lives.




What birth and death records exist depends greatly both on the dates of the event and what reservations they were living on. The earliest records were bound registers into which births and deaths were noted.


A 1908 example of a birth register from the Blackfeet Agency (National Archives Identifier 1184791)


A 1908 example of a death register from the Blackfeet Agency (National Archives Identifier 1184791)


In some cases births, deaths, and illnesses were noted together in one volume - often in hospital records compiled by the agency physician. These pages from a 1903 sanitary record note children taken sick at the Zuni Boarding School and if they recovered. (National Archives Identifier 1367071)

The registers begin to fade out in the 1910’s, and soon after certificates start to emerge in the records. These early ones appear to be those filed with the state where the event occurred and a copy saved by the agency. As early as 1923 the OIA began working with the Census Bureau and researchers start to see one of two forms: the state certificate or a generic Bureau of Census one.


Here are two examples of birth certificates from the Albuquerque Indian School. Agencies would either have registered the event with the state, seen here with the New Mexico Bureau of Public Health’s Birth Certificate, or used the Bureau of the Census Standard Certificate of Birth. (National Archives Identifier 292863)


An example of the Bureau of Census Standard Certificate of Death, from the Northern Pueblos Agency records. (National Archives Identifier 1367572)


An example of a state level death certificate, this one from the Montana Bureau of Vital Statistics, as well as an Office of Indian Affairs Death Report postcard, to be filled out and sent to the agency superintendent. (National Archives Identifier 2579504)


The census rolls compiled by agency superintendents can be another great resource for birth and death information. Supplemental census sheets, seen here, would be compiled on births and deaths in between when the regular censuses were taken. (National Archives Identifier 1682588)



Short answer: everywhere! These records are only found at the agency level with the office that directly administered a reservation and so are found at National Archives facilities nationwide. It is very important to know which reservation the person you are researching lived on, to help narrow your records search. In some cases, there are dedicated series of birth and death records and in other cases, the records are filed in larger general administrative records. These administrative records are organized according to the OIA field’s decimal filing system that was fully instituted in 1926. The 700 series covers health and social relations, with 741 assigned to “Births” and 742 “Deaths.” All RG 75 series and many of the individual folder titles can be browsed via our online Catalog here, a great place to see what’s out there and which NARA facility holds the record.

The National Archives continues to digitize and make available online previously microfilmed collections. In the last few months this has included several collections of superintendency records, dating back to the early 19th century. The first three online are from Michigan, Oregon, and Washington.


What are the Superintendencies?


During the 19th century, superintendencies and agencies were the two principal field jurisdictions of the Office of Indian Affairs (OIA). The superintendencies covered a specific area, territory, or state, and supervised the Indian Agents therein. Until 1875, the records of individual Indian Agents, who were responsible for the affairs of a tribe or reservation, were considered their own property and sometimes not saved. In these cases, the superintendent’s records are often all that we have left noting the actions of Indian Agents. Frequently the governor of a state or territory acted as superintendent, and the jurisdictions themselves changed as territories were carved into states, borders shifted, or the need for oversight waned.


The superintendencies were discontinued in the 1870s, with the last shuttered in 1878, and agencies then reported directly to the OIA Commissioner. In the 1940s, area offices were created, once again based on geographic locations like  the superintendencies. These continue to exist today as regional offices.


What’s in the Records?


These microfilm collections were not organic series but rather amalgams of various series, microfilmed in the 1970s to bring together related records for each superintendency. They consist largely of correspondence but also feature reports, statistics, daybooks, ledgers, contracts, bonds, and ephemera, such as newspaper clippings or monograph pages. Topics include the negotiation and enforcement of treaties, land, emigration, law and order, annuity payments, intertribal hostilities, military operations, depredation claims, traders and licenses, missionaries and schools, agency building matters, and employees. While most of the letters are from the Commissioner of Indian Affairs or agents within the superintendency, correspondence can also be found with the Army, Treasury Department, General Land Office, missionaries, local citizens, and Native Americans themselves. Generally organized chronologically, each series has a inventory that can be found and downloaded by searching the microfilm number, such as M5, here.


An 1828 letter authorizing funds for a council. Note the War Department return address; while relations with tribes had been delegated to the War Department since the creation of the United States, in 1824 a formal Office of Indian Affairs was opened within the War Department. It remained there until 1849, when it was transferred to the then newly created Department of Interior.

Records of the Michigan Superintendency of Indian Affairs, 1814-1851 (M1) Roll 22, Image 214


Reward circular from 1824 concerning a missing officer in the War of 1812, suspected of being kidnapped by a Lake Superior area tribe.

Records of the Michigan Superintendency of Indian Affairs, 1814-1851 (M1) Roll 12, Image 266


List of Yakima Indian Agency employees in 1866, along with home state and salary. Included with the Indian Agent, physician, carpenter, farmer, miller, gunsmith, blacksmith, and interpreter are four school staff - from our last blog on BIA schools, note Yakima was the site of the first boarding school opening in 1860.

Records of the Washington Superintendency of Indian Affairs, 1853-1874 (M5) Roll 18, Image 379


Excerpt from the Oregon Superintendent’s 1865 annual report, detailing the accumulation of historical records that need to be preserved, so asking for funds for another iron safe “large enough to hold all the records.”

Records of the Oregon Superintendency of Indian Affairs, 1848-1873 (M2) Roll 9, Image 368


Alphabetical List of Superintendencies


Arizona Superintendency (1863-1873)

Arkansas Superintendency (1819-1834, transferred to the Western Superintendency)

California Superintendency (1852-1873)

Central Superintendency (1851-1878)

Colorado Superintendency (1861-1870)

Dakota Superintendency (1861-1870, 1877-1878)

Florida Superintendency (1824-1834)

Idaho Superintendency (1863-1870)

Iowa Superintendency (1838-1846, transferred to the St. Louis Superintendency)

Michigan Superintendency (1805-1851, transferred to the Northern Superintendency)

Minnesota Superintendency (1849-1856, transferred to the Northern Superintendency)

Missouri Superintendency (1813-1848, transferred to the St. Louis Superintendency)

Montana Superintendency (1864-1873)

Nevada Superintendency (1861-1870)

New Mexico Superintendency (1850-1874)

Northern Superintendency (1851-1876)

Oregon Superintendency (1848-1873)

Southern Superintendency (1851-1870)

St. Louis Superintendency (1822-1851, transferred to the Central Superintendency)

Utah Superintendency (1850-1870)

Washington Superintendency (1853-1874)

Western Superintendency (1832-1851, transferred to the Southern Superintendency)

Wisconsin Superintendency (1836-1848, transferred to the Northern Superintendency)

Wyoming Superintendency (1869-1870)

When Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) schools are discussed, often the infamous off-reservation boarding schools, such as the Carlisle Institute, are typically the first to come to mind. However, the BIA ran several different types of schools, so hopefully this blog can act as a quick introduction for those researching individual students, school employees, or education in general.


Reservation Boarding Schools

Girl’s Dormitory at Rosebud Boarding School, Rosebud Indian Reservation, South Dakota, 1897

(National Archives Identifier 76046399)


The reservation boarding schools were those built on the reservation. These were the earliest of the boarding schools, emerging from many treaties in which the text called for the creation of schools or education programs. Within the spate of treaties in the 1850s came the first reservation boarding school, on the Yakima reservation in 1860. From these schools came the idea that educators needed to remove the students even further from their people to fully assimilate them, thus bringing about the non-reservation boarding schools. Yet these reservation boarding schools continued – they were run under the respective BIA agency, so while there may be dedicated series, the records are often mixed in with general agency records.


Non-Reservation Boarding Schools

Albuquerque Indian School, New Mexico ca. 1885 (National Archives Identifier 292865)


The non-reservation boarding schools started in 1879 and were built apart from reservations, often located at former army fort sites. The student body tended to be diverse, with students from a variety of tribal nations. These schools operated independently of BIA agencies, reporting directly to the commissioner, so non-reservation boarding schools will often have their own dedicated record series in our collection and are therefore the most researched and referenced. That said, given their separate nature, if one was shuttered prior to the 1940's, and many were closed from 1910 through 1940, often no records were directly saved and what is left is whatever smattering of related records were saved by other BIA agencies and offices.


Day Schools

Pueblo of Sandia Day School, New Mexico, 1936 (National Archives Identifier 2669383)


Day schools were by far the most numerous and least controversial, given they were based on the traditional concept of a student going to school during the day and returning home at night. As BIA education efforts were standardized, day schools became somewhat equivalent to elementary schools, feeding students into either boarding schools or local high schools. You could have dozens of day schools on one reservation. Records for individuals attending these schools often moved with the student to their next school, so finding strictly day school student case files is rare. As with the reservation boarding schools, records of these schools are usually mixed in with general agency records.


Mission Schools

St. Ann’s Mission Day School, North Dakota, Undated (National Archives Identifier 118972317)


Mission schools were the earliest attempts at Eurocentric education and assimilation of Native Americans and some of these schools date back before the Revolutionary War. Early on, many were boarding schools but later switched to the day school model. Mission schools were not run by the BIA but rather by various church denominations so researchers often erroneously assume that mission schools are not documented in our collections. While our holdings do not provide the level of detail we have for other schools, mission schools were required to submit monthly attendance reports to their respective agency, so depending on the agency these were sometimes saved. Many of these schools and the accompanying churches are located deep in tribal lands, as part of the allotment process during the assimilation era granted allotments to schools and churches.


Public Schools

If an individual does not appear in any BIA school records, there is a strong chance they attended a public school and due to curriculums and prejudices, the assimilation aspect was often just as acute as at BIA schools. As with mission schools, the local BIA agency required reports from public schools so proof of attendance and some limited information may be available, if these reports were saved. Public school records sometimes show up in BIA financial files; since reservations are exempt from property taxes, some school districts required the BIA to pay for each student, setting off a complicated formula for that exact cost.


The growing prevalence of students attending public schools can be seen

in this excerpt from a 1931 report of the Fort Belknap Agency.

The National Archives continues to digitize and make available online previously microfilmed collections. One of the most recent collections to go live, the Office of Indian Affairs Superintendents' Annual Narrative and Statistical Reports, is a rich resource for researching American Indian history.


Prepared and sent annually to the Office of Indian Affairs Commissioner by superintendents of various jurisdictions (which could be agencies, schools, hospitals, etc.), the files consist of two parts: a narrative report and a statistical report. These reports were filed separately but later consolidated for the microfilm publication, and are organized by jurisdiction and thereunder by year. The years covered vary - there are no statistical reports prior to 1920 because they were considered temporary up until then.


The narrative reports document the operation and accomplishments of each jurisdiction, broken up by topics such as health, industry, law and order, and land. Drawings, photographs, maps, and even news clippings can often be found. Overall, they provide a snapshot of reservation life for that particular year.


Excerpt from Klamath Agency’s 1920 narrative report noting the 1918 Flu Pandemic.

(Source here, image #279)


Excerpt from the Greenville Indian School’s 1919 report, showing a pie eating contest. (Source here, image #887)


The statistical reports are more standardized than the narrative reports, prepared on forms provided to the superintendents. As with any government agency, the forms become increasingly detailed and more statistics requested as the years progress. The information found in these includes general population, school enrollment, health, and agricultural statistics.


List of students showing their tribal affiliation from the 1920 Genoa Indian School statistical report. For off-reservation

boarding schools such as Genoa that closed in the 1920s, often no records directly from the school were saved, so these reports are

all that is left to detail the school’s operations. (Source here, image #117)


So if your research finds you examining the general conditions for a particular reservation, a hospital, or a non-reservation boarding school, feel free to dive in and browse - with 173 microfilm rolls of usually more than 1,000 pages each now digitized and online, there’s still a lot to be discovered!


The microfilmed reports were organized alphabetically by jurisdiction, thereunder by date. Each microfilm roll is now a file unit in our Catalog, so either search for jurisdiction or browse down through the list of results.

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 (



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. (


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:

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)


“Registers of Letters Received, 1824-1880” (M18)


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.