Native American Probate Records from the 1800s?

One of my ancestors was Native American. He died in the 1860s, and I’m trying to see if there was a will or other information about his estate or assets. Are there any records from his probate? If so, how do I find them?

Thanks for any information you can provide!

  • Dear Roots Punk,

    Thank you for posting your request on History Hub!

    The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) does not have probate records for every Native American, only probate records that the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) created and transferred to NARA’s custody. The BIA did not become involved in probating Native American estates until after Congress passed the General Allotment Act (also known as the Dawes Act) in 1887. Congress did not specifically authorize the Secretary of the Interior—and through the Secretary, the BIA—to determine the heirs of deceased American Indian allottees until June 25, 1910 (36 Stat. 855).

    Even then, the BIA was not involved in probating all Native American estates. They only addressed those in which the person had land in trust with the BIA or received income derived from federal Indian trust lands or assets. For more information about BIA probates, please see the BIA's What Is a Probate? page, particularly the response to the question "What assets will the Secretary probate?"

    Consequently, BIA probate records in NARA’s holdings date primarily from the early twentieth century onward and relate to estates where the person had federal Indian trust land or assets. These records are in Record Group 75 and are described in the National Archives Catalog

    However, if your ancestor’s estate went through probate in the 1860s or another time prior to the twentieth century, then the local county court most likely handled it. Records might be stored at the local county courthouse. 

    We hope this is helpful. Best of luck with your family research!