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Definitions of Indian and Indian Tribe


Indian Reorganization Act of 1934 allowed people of Indian descent who were not members of federally recognized tribes to apply for recognition as an Indian.  The IRA also allowed tribes to set up their own governments with the rules for determining membership. This Act defined a person as Indian based on three criteria, tribal membership, ancestral descent, or blood quantum.  The applications the federal government used  had five factors to certify individuals who claimed to be more than half-blood Indian: tribal rolls, testimony of the applicant, affidavits from people familiar with the applicant, findings of an anthropologist, and testimony of the applicant that he has retained "a considerable measure of Indian culture and habits of living." We have records in RG 75, Entry 616.


Indian Self Determination and Education Assistance Act of 1975

Gave tribes better self control over their own affairs, allowing them to apply directly for federal grants and programs.


The 1978 American Indian Religious Freedom Act uses a two-part definition that defines an Indian as a person who belongs to an Indian Tribe, which in turn is a group that "is recognized as eligible for the special programs and services provided by the United States to Indians because of their status as Indians."


Indian Arts and Crafts Act of 1990

In the Act, Indian was described as "any individual who is a member of an Indian tribe; or for the purpose of this section is certified as an Indian artisan by an Indian tribe." An Indian tribe was defined more broadly than just to tribes with federal recognition, but also to "any Indian group that has been formally recognized as an Indian tribe by a State legislature or by a State commission or similar organization legislatively vested with State tribal recognition authority."


The 1994 Federal Legislation amendments to American Indian Religious Freedom Act gives another common definition, defining an Indian as one who belongs to an Indian Tribe, which is a group that "is recognized as eligible for the special programs and services provided by the United States to Indians because of their status as Indians."


Supreme  Court Carciere decision- 2010

Defines a tribe eligible to have land put into trust as one that was recognized by the Federal Government under the IRA in 1934.


Ruling by Interior Department allowing the Cowlitz to acquire land and set up a casino, established another precedent…that the landless tribe should be “on an equal footing” with other tribes that already have reservations when being first recognized since 1934 and having the right to get a reservation established for them, which would then be eligible for gaming



25 CFR 151.2 - Definitions.

(b)Tribe means any Indian tribe, band, nation, pueblo, community, rancheria, colony, or other group of Indians, including the Metlakatla Indian Community of the Annette Island Reserve, which is recognized by the Secretary as eligible for the special programs and services from the Bureau of Indian Affairs. For purposes of acquisitions made under the authority of 25 U.S.C.488 and 489, or other statutory authority which specifically authorizes trust acquisitions for such corporations, “Tribe” also means a corporation chartered under section 17 of the Act of June 18, 1934 ( 48 Stat. 988; 25 U.S.C. 477) or section 3 of the Act of June 26, 1936 ( 49 Stat. 1967; 25 U.S.C. 503).

(c)Individual Indian means:

(1) Any person who is an enrolled member of a tribe;

(2) Any person who is a descendent of such a member and said descendant was, on June 1, 1934, physically residing on a federally recognized Indian reservation;

(3) Any other person possessing a total of one-half or more degree Indian blood of a tribe;

(4) For purposes of acquisitions outside of the State of Alaska, Individual Indian also means a person who meets the qualifications of paragraph (c)(1), (2), or (3) of this section where “Tribe” includes any Alaska Native Village or Alaska Native Group which is recognized by the Secretary as eligible for the special programs and services from the Bureau of Indian Affairs.


45 CFR 1336.10 - Definitions.

Alaskan Native means a person who is an Alaskan Indian, Eskimo, or Aleut, or any combination thereof. The term also includes any person who is regarded as an Alaskan Native by the Alaskan Native Village or group of which he or she claims to be a member and whose father or mother is (or, if deceased, was) regarded as an Alaskan Native by an Alaskan Native Village or group. The term includes any Alaskan Native as so defined, either or both of whose adoptive parents are not Alaskan Natives.

American Indian or Indian means any individual who is a member or a descendant of a member of a North American tribe, band, Pueblo or other organized group of native people who are indigenous to the Continental United States, or who otherwise have a special relationship with the United States or a State through treaty, agreement, or some other form of recognition. This includes any individual who claims to be an Indian and who is regarded as such by the Indian tribe, group, band, or community of which he or she claims to be a member.

The Federal Decennial Census for 2010 presented choices and an individual’s response to the race question was based upon self identification.

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 and 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
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 and put in a name to search their copies of various Native American rolls

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


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


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.

California Enrollments  -  background


In 1928 Congress permitted California Indians to bring suit against the US for lands taken from them. They were defined as Indians residing in the State of California on June 1, 1852, and their descendants. The 1928 roll was approved May 16, 1933, and included 23,571 names. The 1928 roll is part of RG 75, Entry 904. The applications are in Entry 576. The funds were not distributed right away, and in 1933 they had to amend the roll to eliminate the deceased and add those born after. We also have it on Microfilm M1853, which is where Ancestry got it from.


In 1944 there was a Court of Claims Award to California Indians. This happened again, with the 1944 funds. The roll had to be updated again in 1948.


There was another amendment in 1950 which allowed some of those who had lived outside California to be eligible. A new roll was approved in 1955. That roll of California Indians was prepared pursuant to the Act of May 24, 1950 (64 Stat. 189), and was completed in 1955 (see records in RG 75, Entry 964A).


There was also an award made in 1964, from the Indian Claims Commission, see Dockets 31 and 37, RG 279. Later, Dockets 186, 215, and 333 were merged with these, and later still, Dockets 80 and 80-D. The merging occurred as different suits brought by various bands were consolidated to represent the Indians of California (but still did not include splinter groups).


The Act of  September 21, 1968 (82 Stat. 860) again provided for the preparation of a roll of persons of California Indian descent and the distribution of certain judgment funds. The new 1968 Act had different standards of eligibility so it had to be an entirely new roll. The deadline for filing an application was December 31, 1969. The completion of the roll was complicated by the existence of numerous “splinter groups” or cases in which a person’s ancestry was derived from groups claiming lands in and outside of California. Some of those groups had already filed claims for lands in California, as well as in adjoining states, and therefore were excluded from sharing in the funds. The 1968 Act provided for the new distribution to include funds residual to the earlier awards.


Entry 576  California Applications.  One file, 10645, was a huge application with many names.  It is filed as Central Classified Files #36818-1945-312 Mission.  It has 416 pages, of which 96 are this application.


The 1972 California Judgement Roll resulted from the 1968 Act. I do not know where the 1968 – 1972 records are, but suspect they may be in our California regional branches. Our California branches can give information on this judgment roll.

Allotments were made and “trust” patents were issued by the GLO, which kept the land in trust for the individual for a period of 25 years after which he could sell the land for himself. Prior to that time, he/she could petition the Secretary of the Interior to release him/her from guardianship and allow him/her to sell the land. The landowner would be issued a “fee” patent that gave him/her the right to sell the land.


Paperwork involved: papers were filed in both the General Land Office and the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Both the “trust” patent and the “fee” patent were issued by and recorded by the GLO.  Applications for a fee patent went from the BIA Commissioner to the GLO Commissioner. Correspondence concerning the process was filed in the GLO by a letter number.  


Files:  The records in the holdings of the National Archives, in Record Group 49, Bureau of Land Management (formerly the GLO) include a series of files called the Indian Fee Patent Files, UD 2297.  These files cover from 1902 through 1911. They contain a copy of the application for a fee patent, correspondence concerning its approval, and sometimes the returned trust patent, with the new fee patent number stamped on this file. The amount of personal information varies from just the name and land description, to quite a lot including mention of heirs and personal descriptions.


The Indian Fee Patents Files in UD2297 actually have several subparts. The first 84 boxes are broken down by year, and by file number.  This file number may be an “application number” but it may also be an incoming letter number assigned by the GLO. Box 1 starts with a few files from the end of 1902 followed by 1903 (1902/31654 - 1903/59823) but I have not identified any predecessors to this series. There is new numbering each year, but it does not necessarily start with number 1, and there are many gaps. 


The second part, “serial patents” in Boxes 85 through 241 consist of files numbered in order, with no year, from 152992 through 2146328. These consist of forms and correspondence, usually amounting from 1 to 4 pages. The types of form include “Report on Cash Sale of Allotted Indian Land When Patent in Fee is to be Issued,” and “Report on Application for a Patent in Fee.” These are followed by two boxes (242 and 243) marked “New Series, 40000 to 61942.


The third part is labeled “unclaimed patents files” and starts over with box 1, #201,450 through Box 19, #1,149,454. The “unclaimed patents” consist of a certificate that identifies the name and the land.  There is no personal or family information.


Some of the file numbers seem to represent correspondence numbers assigned by the GLO. Sometimes you can get this number from the top left hand side of the page or image shown by the BLM when you click on patent.  On the occasions when an Indian Trust Patent number appears on the file it does not correspond to the document file number. In other words, the Indian Trust Patent number is not the file number. The information contained in these documents includes the final fee patent number, and often the original trust patent number. But, they are filed and are only accessible by a number assigned by the GLO. To find the BLM incoming letter number look at Entry 2006  Index to LR re Indian Lands and National Forests, 40 index card boxes, arranged by names.  Look up name and get number of the correspondence.  But this does not always work when you go to the Indian Fee Patent files, for whatever reasons!


The correspondence, if there is any, consists of letters of transmittal accompanying an application for a fee patent, transferred from the BIA to the GLO, reasons for approving an application, and a letter transferring the fee patent back to the BIA, from the GLO. The Fee Patent was delivered to the landowner by the BIA.

Allotment records started in the early 1800s with some of the treaties. Lands were allotted to certain persons under the provisions of the treaty. In 1887 the General Allotment Act was passed and tribes gradually had their lands surveyed and divided up into parcels for each member. We do not have all the allotment records here in DC. Many are at our regional branches. Some tribes were not included in the general allotment act, and we do not have those records here, including a lot of tribes in Oklahoma such as the 5 Civilized Tribes, Osage, Sac and Fox, Miami and Peoria, and the Seneca of New York as well as Alaska natives, and a strip of land in Nebraska adjoining the Sioux Nation in the south. Most of those will be at the Regional branch in Fort Worth. Allottment records for the Five Civilized Tribes have been digitized and are accessible on


The records we have are mostly for the western tribes, and consist of lists of people eligible for allotments, applications for allotments, allotment surveys, correspondence back and forth between the BIA and the GLO about the process, surveys of plats, trust patents, and inheritance records when an allotment owner died. The allotment policy ended in 1934 with the passage of the Indian Reorganization Act. This is a finding aid for records we have here in DC. There are still some land allotment records that remain in the custody of the BIA and the GLO.


The records are accessible by tribe, for the most part.    Record Groups to search:

RG 75 Bureau of Indian Affairs

RG 49, General Land Office/Bureau of Land Management

RG 217, Accounting Offices of the Treasury.


Search path:

First check the list of allotment volumes in RG 75 Entry 343, see box list. Find the tribe and request those volumes or loose papers.


Next check the files in the Central Classified Files of BIA Entry 121, under 313.1, for allotments.  Decide which agency, request the files for that agency and the 313.1 classification number. These will usually be records relating to inheritance where the legitimate relatives have to be identified. You can also find in the CCF under the classification number 312, the records relating to the request for a trust patent to be turned into a fee patent that could be sold to anyone.


Third, check all the separate series of allotments listed in RG 75, and, Entry 102, Special Case 147 (see list of tribes under Special Case 147.) This will have some correspondence related to the process. Use PI 163 or the Guide to search by tribe name for separate series in RG 75. 


Fourth, check the land entry case files under each land office in RG 49, by state (see PI 22). These are primarily for lands outside of reservations, in the public domain.  Check in the lists of types of land entry case files in PI 22, under each state. Indian Trust Patents issued in the 20th century for lands outside of reservations may be found in the Serial Patent files. Get the serial patent file number from the BLM site. These may contain an allotment application. You can also find these records for Minnesota accessible online on There are a few other things listed in RG 49, to wit:

RG 49, UD 698V  Schedule Of Allotment Selections, Turtle Mountain Indians, 1906-14

RG 49, UD 698O  Records Documenting Jicarilla Allotments And Relinquishments, 1909-50

RG 49, UD 698U {Local Land Office Abstracts Of Chippewa And Stockbridge And Munsee Indian Allotments  In Wisconsin, 1871-95}


Fifth, check the allotment rolls in RG 217 (Entries 681-684). Look at the PI index.

One more thing about Indian roll numbers


We usually say that the allotment process ended with the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934. But that applied to the surveying of reservations into allotments. Apparently, a person could still apply through the Bureau of Land Management for an allotment in the public domain for some time after that. The General Land Office took care of issuing allotments on the Public Domain to Indians who were not living on a reservation.


According to CFR 43, Section 2530 on Indian Allottments, a person was supposed to make an application through the GLO for an allotment, and then get a certificate from the Indian Office that he or she was indeed an Indian entitled to an allotment. That certificate was supposed to be attached to the allotment application.  And, here’s the clinker,   “Each certificate must bear a serial number, record thereof to be kept in the Indian Office.”  Obviously, that would amount to a serial number being given to each applicant. However, I have not been able to find any. We do have thousands of Indian Allottment applications filed under various Land Offices in the GLO records, and I couldn’t examine them all. But of the ones I did look at, there was no certificate with a serial number from the Indian Office. But that doesn’t mean there are none!


If you have an ancestor who received an allotment on the public domain, you can look him/her up on the BLM site:  The allottment files listed under various land offices are much more similar to the regular land entry case files. They contain the application, and any correspondence about it. You can get the information and send for a copy of the file, or come in and request it.

Indian Lands Research Part 2


There are different types of land records, and different types of searches. Genealogists want to prove their ancestors were Indian. Indian lawyers are interested in showing the extent of the tribe’s holdings according to the treaties.


The earliest records concern reserve or allotment lands issued in connection with a treaty. The issuance of allotments or reserves as part of a treaty changed after 1871, as the treaty process ended, and again after the General Allotment Act of 1887. The search for records was affected again by changes in the record keeping processes of both General Land Office and Office of Indian Affairs about 1907. In any case, information about Indian Land Records generally requires searching back and forth between the General Land Office and the Indian Office.


There are many different reasons people want to see an allotment file, and it helps to find out what they think they are looking for. It seems that each search is different. We have a variety of records that all relate to the allotment process, both in RG 75 and RG 49, since the Indian Office and the General Land Office worked together on this. This includes Registers of Allotments, Platbooks, Tractbooks, Deeds and Deedbooks, Applications for Allotments, Correspondence Concerning Allotments, Survey Records, Requests for Removal of Restrictions, Trust Patents, and Fee Patents, to name a few.  There are Platbooks, Tractbooks, and Allotment books in the BIA records (Entries 240, 341, 341, 343).  We have lists of these that can be checked by tribe, and under a few miscellaneous categories such as allotted lands on the public domains. They are very spotty, by no means a full set of records. Many more are at our regional branches.


Allotment records relating to treaties and particular tribes are sometimes found separately as series in RG 75 (do a word search by tribe name of PI 163).  Associated records in tract books are arranged by location of land (Township, Range, Section, or Lot number).  In the census rolls, allotments can be found by finding the family and noting the allotment numbers.  In the schedules of allotments, look by allotment numbers. These type records are supplemented by the Indian Reserves Files (RG 75, Entries 522-529). There are Reserves Files A, B, C, and D, and Miscellaneous Reserves Files, and a whole bunch of separate Five Civilized Tribes records of reserves. These all can be worked back and forth through the correspondence.


The public land  allotments were set out and surveyed under the Land Office. Most of the Land Office records of allotting and surveying after about 1910 or so were under the supervision of A. E. Dunnington, Topographer in Charge of Indian Surveys. There is a separate file of Dunnington correspondence in RG 49 (UD 472 E ) Before that, there doesn’t seem to have been any unity.


Reservations allotments were usually surveyed under the supervision of the Indian Office.  Some surveys go back as early as the early 1800s. We have some of the earliest surveys in the BIA records, and others in the GLO records. The list of approved allotees went through the Indian Office and the Allotting Agent, with some changes that went to the Commissioner of the Indian Office and to the Commissioner of the Land Office. The Indian Office transmitted a list of approved allotees to the Land Office, and that list is traceable sometimes in the correspondence, of either office. The GLO still retains some documents called allotment books (so I have been told by an occasional researcher, including one from the BLM).


The Land Office recorded the issuance of trust patents to the allottees. The usual process was for a trust patent to be issued which held the land in trust for the person for 25 years. We have records of people who wished to be judged “competent” so that the patent could be changed over to a fee patent and they could sell it.  We have a series of Indian Fee Patents  in RG 49 (Entry UD 2297). The Indian Office supervised the requests for Fee Patents and transmitted the information of approval to the Land Office, where the Fee Patent was issued and recorded in the Tract Book. We only have the tract books for the western states; the rest are still at the BLM. The copy of the Fee Patent was sent by the Land Office to the Indian Office, where it was issued to the Patentee.  The Indian Office also recorded the early transfer of Indian properties from the original recipient to subsequent recipients by Deeds. We have Deed Books and Indexes by Guarantor and Guarantee to the names in those records, up to 1961. We can check these indexes for information about warranty deeds. (RG 75, Indian Deed and Patents, Entries 489-504) The BIA used to have a Land Titles office under Howard Piepenbrink that used these records constantly and were well versed in their use. They do not seem to be referring to them much any more, for whatever reasons.

After 1907 the Central Classified Files of the BIA have allotments records and heirship records under the subject number 313, and 350 for heirship, which can be accessed through the Index up until 1940 by a persons’ name (only by a reference archivist however). Later in the 20th century, there were separate Probate Files kept. We have an Index for these, through 1961 (RG 75, Entry 652A).


The General Land Office in general did not handle Indian records in the same kind of land entry case files as it did for other people who were getting public land. The files in the Land Entry Case Files that are labeled Allottment Records can be very helpful, as for example, the ones listed under the land office of Helena Montana, which contain 228 allotment applications. These were for allotments in the public domain, and today the allotment applications are sought by people seeking to reaffirm their tribal connections. However, there are very few allotment records to be found amongst the land entry case files. The ones we have are listed under the land offices in PI 22 (RG 49).


The so called Indian Fee Patent Files are not the same as the usual Land Entry Case Files. If you look at the image on the BLM site, you will find another number by which the Indian Fee Patent file is filed (RG 49 UD 2297). But when you look at the record, it hardly tells you anything. You can cross reference numbers for the BIA listed on that same image as I.O. numbers. This means it is part of the Central Classified Files. An archivist will have to look up the year and file number to find out the rest of the information you need, the agency and the classification number.


Some of the allotment files have been removed and filed in the BIA records with Special Case 147. It can be checked separately under the name of the tribe.

The US expanded by acquiring title to lands by purchase and treaty with other governments that claimed them, such as Spain and France.  Of course a lot of this land came from the Louisiana Purchase. {LA P included LA, MS, AR, MO,KS, IA, MN, NE, CO, OR,ND & SD, MT, ID, WA, WY.} But obviously there were already people living in these places and they were considered by law to have what was called “aboriginal title” to these lands. The US had to deal with that by making treaties and finding ways to legally “extinguish the aboriginal title.”

Through treaties with Indian Nations the US expanded its initial land holdings. Usually the first treaty the US made with a given tribe recognized the “aboriginal possession of the tribe and defined its geographical extent.“ “Sometimes the cession of aboriginal title was coupled with a cession of portions of the aboriginal domain.” (See Handbook of Federal Law, Felix Cohen, for information on aboriginal title and how aboriginal land was ceded to and acquired by the US.)


Some lands were reserved for the Indians, beyond which there would be no settlers, and some were open to settlement. Tribal ownership of certain lands was in effect codified by the treaties. Other ways treaties provided for Indian lands was through the establishment of reservations where lands were purchased for the tribes. Sometimes reservations were established also by Executive Order.


The treaties usually specified certain lands as being ceded to the US, and the Indians were either given the chance to get parcels of land for themselves (called “reserves”) and become US citizens, or the entire tribe was encouraged to move to other places.  The legalities of acquiring land this way and “extinguishing” the Indian rights to it are the basis of policies and arguments and lawsuits for the next several centuries.  Many of these are in RG 279, Indian Court of Claims records.


One of the problems that arose was when some of a tribe wanted to become citizens and some wanted to maintain their tribal relations. It was necessary to figure out the tribal assets and divide them up equitably among them. There not uncommonly was a “citizen party” and an “Indian party.” The citizen party would receive per capita shares of tribal funds and the Indian party would have exclusive rights to the remaining tribal fund. Sometimes this involved a migration of the Indian party to Indian Territory. The citizen party stayed and relinquished their tribal rights. Many people who have Indian ancestors today do not realize the ancestors left their tribes and relinquished their tribal rights, in order to become US citizens.  Today’s recognized tribes will not consider them as members.


The earliest treaties were of course for lands in the New England area of the US, and along the edges of the colonies. The “Removal” location would have to be to a place that the US considered that it owned, in the first place, and in the second place, it would have to be considered less desirable for other settlers.  That removal end-location continued to shift as new settlers and prospectors redefined the desirability of public lands.


By 1830, the US was getting serious about lands for settlers and Andrew Jackson spearheaded the whole Indian Removal movement, which was eventually a lot more than just the so called Trail of Tears and the Cherokees.  Almost of the tribes that settled in Oklahoma or Indian Territory as it was then, were removed successively from upper middle states such as Illinois, Ohio, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Missouri, Nebraska, Minneapolis, Wisconsin, Indiana and the southern states of Georgia, Alabama, and the Carolinas. There are many “Removal” records in RG 75, not just the well-known Five Civilized Tribes. These can usually be researched under the name of the tribe.  The records we have are listed in PI163.

I just found this looking through old correspondence, today.
Dear Ms. W:
This is in reply to your letter asking for information about the identity tags you and your family were required to wear in 1930s to 1940 or so. You said they were a little larger than a quarter, and had your name and identity numbers 3234 and 1136, and Tulsa, Oklahoma written on them.  You said they identified you as an Indian, and you wanted to know why President Roosevelt issued them and to what particular Indians. You said you understood they were welfare tags the WPA was to use to provide you with food and schooling. You said a local historian told you they were issued when your family was moved away from the river. You said you wore them in several schools.You said they were a source of discrimination because they identified you as an Indian. You said you would like to know if they identified you as to tribe.  I have searched the Bureau of Indian Affairs records in our custody and have not found anything yet about these tags.  If I should find out anything in the future, I will try to get back to you with the information. In the meantime, I am sending your letter over to our other building where they have the WPA records, to see if they know anything, and they will answer you separately.

Dear Ms W:
This is in reply to your second letter asking for information about the identity tags you and your family were required to wear in 1930s to 1940 or so.  I have continued to look in the Bureau of Indian Affairs records and still have found nothing about identity tags as you described them.  I have found out that there was a program under President Roosevelt called the Indian Relief and Rehabilitation program, and it was associated with the WPA. The purpose of the program was to provide for basic needs, and to help Indians become more self-sustaining, so it could have been the program you were talking about.  You said it was a Welfare Act.  You said you had a lady in Dawson, Oklahoma, who took care of your needs. There were identification cards issued to individual workers who were hired to do projects under this IRR program, such as renovation of housing, digging wells, canning fruits and vegetables, sewing, and so on. The numbers on these ID cards were supposed to be the number of the project and the consecutive number of the person hired.  If someone was working on a project for the Five Civilized Tribes, their project number was 5- 274.  If someone were the 123rd person hired, their number would be 274-123.  The ID numbers were supposed to stay with the person even if they transferred to another project.  But there was no mention of any identification tags.  This is still a mystery.

About Roll Numbers

People are always writing and asking to “find their grandmother’s roll number.” Or they say, my great grandmother had a roll number and threw it away!  Or they say, my husband has Native American heritage and I want to get my son a roll number. Or they say, I got my DNA checked and have Native American heritage and want to “get registered.”

But as far as I know, there was no universal "government registration number."  In all the years (30) that I have worked with the records, I have never found anything like that, meaning numbers assigned to all American Indians that registered them with the government because of their race or cultural identification. 


There were other numbers, like for example a person could have an allottee number for a certain tribe/reservation. Lands were allotted as a result of a treaty, or in general after the 1887 General Allotment Act. The allottee number was important as showing that each person did actually receive an allotment. That number was important when the trust patent was issued, and was often quoted later when the person died, and the land was inherited by his descendants. But an allottee number is not an “Indian Registration Number.”


Sometimes people are thinking of the BIA Indian Census numbers. The agents prepared a list every year between about 1885 and 1940 of all who resided on the reservations in their areas.  There was no permanent list, just the census list for that year. This was talked about as a census, and not an enrollment or registration number. Towards the end, this list got adjusted every year with additions and deletions.  One I just checked had a full list for the year 1934, and then a new one in 1935, and then just additions and deletions for 1936. Then another new full list was made for 1937, and again, deletions and additions after that. Numbers for particular people changed but usually the agent also listed what the person's list number was the year before. Sometimes they also included the allottee number. You can check these on and Ancestry: they are the Indian Census Records. The 1935 list has been taken by some tribes as a sort of "base enrollment" to start from in compiling their own membership lists. 


These records were the closest thing to an enrollment list. They included everybody the agent thought was a legitimate tribal member who lived there on the reservation, and some who did not. It seems to have depended on whether he considered them to be members of the group he supervised in some sort of a permanent way. Although we routinely tell people these censuses were only of people living on the reservations, that was not always the case. There are rolls labeled “non-reservation.” For example, in Nevada and some parts of California, the agents included everyone they considered as under their supervision even though they were living in scattered small communities outside the reservations. If you examine the rolls for Shoshone, Paiute, and Washoe, under the Carson agency supervision, you find people who were living in all sorts of places, referred to as just a county, Inyo County, California, for example, or an Indian Ranch, or Public Domain. Indeed, you can find other allotment records listed under the name of the land office for many of these “public domain” Indians lands in the General Land Office records.  The land office interacted with the BIA to issue trust patents, and later Indian Patents, for these lands outside of reservations. But again, these were census numbers, not registration numbers.


There were other lists prepared every year, such as an Annuity Roll, that listed heads of households and the number of their dependents who were due money from a promised annuity amount as a result of a treaty or agreement.  These annuity rolls go back to some of the earliest treaties. These were not enrollments or registrations either, as they also changed every year according to whoever the head person or principal chief wanted to receive some of the annuity money.


The BIA generally agreed that it was up to the tribe to decide who was eligible to receive their annuity money. This is an important point. The government was not making the decision or registering people. Presence of a name on an annuity list cannot literally be taken as either proof of tribal heritage, or enrollment. Some tribes "adopted" people from other tribes, or non Indians for as long as they were accepted by the group. This is brought out and made especially clear in a Court of Claims Case I recently examined, RG 123, General Jurisdiction Case 166629, about the Weas, Piankashaws, Kaskaskias, and Peorias. The consolidated tribes had split up into two factions and split their wealth. They later disputed the legitimacy of some names on the annuity lists claimed by the other as deserving any of the funds. They sued each other in the Court of Claims. It was testified in the court case repeatedly that the list was up to the tribe and the Office of Indian Affairs preferred to leave it that way. So it was flexible, and changed from year to year. Annuities were not a permanent enrollment list either.


Then there is the possibility that people who think the government registered every Indian were influenced by the Dawes Commission and their responsibility to draw up “correct” rolls of the entire citizenship of the Five Civilized Tribes. Every person who was legitimately identified to be a citizen or freedman enrolled in the Five Civilized Tribes did receive an enrollment number.

These roll numbers are often taken by the current tribal leadership to be an important factor in eligibility for membership in the tribe. And it is true that the government played a part in these roll numbers, but they still were not universal “registration” numbers and did not apply to all Indians. 


The most legitimately permanent lists of members were probably those prepared by the government for certain tribes, when they had won lawsuits against the government. The government wanted to be completely sure they were only paying money to the ones who were actually covered by the lawsuit. These are often called Judgment Funds, especially in recent years, and a person will have a roll number indicating eligibility to receive those funds. This entitlement list may or may not be recognized by the tribe as a membership list. Since 1934, the determination of members has been up to the tribe. Even though someone might have been determined to be eligible to share in funds from a judgement, the tribe still might not accept that person as a member.


Often times the people were solicited to turn in an application for these types of funds, to show how they met the terms of eligibility, and the application might give details such as their actual birth date. There were applications for the Dawes Rolls, and for later enrollments that resulted from lawsuits. There are applications for example, for the 1928 California judgement roll.  But there never were applications universally filed by all tribes for all roll lists.


I have heard of a few more instances in which there were numbers assigned, apparently by the government, but these appear to have been unusual, for some specific purpose, not universal, and not kept permanently.  Maybe some others will know a little more about these instances. There were some tags issued by the military to Indians living at San Carlos, for instance, in the late 1800s.  An occasional person has remembered being given a number in the mid-1900s, that was related to schooling, and seemed to be for people in Oklahoma. Or it might have related to poverty programs, or to the later “resettlement” situations.  


Nevertheless, I still say, there were no so called Indian Registration numbers issued to everybody who was an Indian, by the federal government. This is a myth. However, they do seem to have such a system in Canada! And of course, they also have a National Archives, and people who cross the borders and are “registered” in Canada.  So there is one more source of confusion.