The Indian Census schedules are census rolls usually submitted each year by agents or superintendents in charge of Indian reservations, as required by an act of 4 July 1884 (23 Stat. 98). The data on the rolls varies to some extent. For certain years – including 1935, 1936, 1938, and 1939 – only supplemental rolls of additions and deletions were compiled.
There is not a census for every reservation or group of Indians for every year. Only persons who maintained a formal affiliation with a tribe under federal supervision are listed on these census rolls.
This database contains an index to the Indian census rolls from 1885-1940. Information contained in this database includes:
Notes about Searching the Censuses:
When browsing this large collection, it is important to note the following:
Curt B. Witcher and George J. Nixon, "Tracking Native American Family History," in The Source: A Guidebook of American Genealogy, ed. Loretto Dennis Szucs and Sandra Hargreaves Luebking (Salt Lake City: Ancestry, 1997).
Publication Details of Indian Census Rolls, 1885-1940, National Archives, Washington, D.C.
Given the current issues that have arisen from the DNA test by Senator Elizabeth Warren, we are providing some essential definitions that might help clarify the confusion that her claims have caused. These definitions are not legal definitions, but rather are provided to help sort out some misunderstandings that exist surrounding Native American heritage and claims of Native ancestry.
Federally Recognized Tribe
A federally recognized tribe is an American Indian or Alaska Native tribal entity that is recognized as having a government-to-government relationship with the United States, with the responsibilities, powers, limitations, and obligations attached to that designation, and is eligible for funding and services from the Bureau of Indian Affairs.
Federally recognized tribes are recognized as possessing certain inherent rights of self-government (i.e., tribal sovereignty) and are entitled to receive certain federal benefits, services, and protections because of their special relationship with the United States. At present, there are 573 federally recognized American Indian and Alaska Native tribes and villages.
Here is a button link to a list of Federally Recognized Indian Tribes.
State Recognized Tribe
State-recognized tribes are Native American Indian tribes, Nations, and Heritage Groups that have been recognized by a process established under assorted state laws for varying purposes. State recognition does not confer benefits under federal law unless federal law authorizes such benefits. A state recognized tribe may have a well-defined historical and contemporary existence, but due to a variety of circumstances might have been excluded from federal recognition, or (as in the case of the Lumbee) might have been denied federal recognition by an act of congress.
Below is a button link to a listing of State Recognized tribes.
Unrecognized tribes are organizations of people who claim to be historically, culturally or genetically related to historic Native American Indian tribes, but who are not officially recognized as indigenous nations by the United States government or by individual state governments. While some unrecognized tribes might be legitimate and are fighting for re-recognition of their claims that were denied due to colonialist effects like termination or other historical events, many unrecognized tribes have no valid claim and are considered to be fake by federally and state recognized tribes as they might claim to be associated with these, but lack the documentation of an actual connection.
Enrolled tribal Member
Simply, this means a person who is enrolled on the membership list of a federally recognized American Indian tribe. Tribal enrollment criteria are set forth in tribal constitutions, articles of incorporation or ordinances. The criterion varies from tribe to tribe, so uniform membership requirements do not exist. A variety of federal and tribal benefits set aside for tribes and tribal members are available to enrolled members.
Two common requirements for membership are lineal decent from someone named on the tribe's base roll, or a relationship to a tribal member who descended from someone named on the base roll. Other conditions such as tribal blood quantum, tribal residency, or continued contact with the tribe are other common factors that might be required.
Tribal Lineal Descendant
The term "lineal descendant" means an individual who can trace, directly and without interruption, the ancestry of the individual through the traditional kinship systems of an Indian tribe, or through the common law system of descent, to a known Indian who is an enrolled member. Such an individual may be, or may not be, an enrolled tribal member themselves. Nonetheless, certain federal and tribal benefits may be made available to lineal descendants based on their association to their tribe or to an enrolled tribal member.
Lineal descent is a standard that requires that the earlier person be identified as an individual whose descendants can be traced. Lineal descent of a present-day individual from an earlier individual and cultural affiliation to a present-day Indian tribe must be established by a preponderance of evidence and verified by the tribe in question.
Person of Native Ancestry
Because of intermarriage between Europeans and Natives throughout the past centuries, many people might have some measure of Native ancestry in their family tree.
During genealogical research or by using ancestral DNA testing, a person may find that one (or more) of their ancestors were Native. This connection may have existed many generations ago and is an interesting personal fact. However, having Native ancestry derived from several generations in the past might not qualify a person to become a member of a tribe that is recognized by the federal government, and it doesn’t mean that they are legally a descendant of such a tribe (i.e. lineal descendant).
In such a case where a person does have Native ancestry, but lacks a recent historical or current connection with a tribe, it is often frowned upon for a person to claim to be associated (or representative of) that tribe. Upwards of five million Americans might possess some measure of Native ancestry many generations ago, and it can harm tribes, tribal members and lineal descendants when someone with no actual connection to the tribal community claims to have a connection.
Some people who are of Native ancestry, but who do not qualify as tribal members or lineal descendants may see term Metis – commonly used in Canada – that is often used to designate persons who have both European and Native blood and want to use that term to designate or identify themselves. In most cases this is an incorrect thing to do, since the Metis are an actual recognized, sovereign indigenous group with their own membership and kinship systems governed under the Metis Nation and its provincial affiliates in Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta, and British Columbia.
The Metis Nation uses a membership definition that includes such factors as historical Proof (e.g. evidence of ancestral land grant or “scrip” granted under the Manitoba Act or the Dominion Lands Act, census records, or other documents), having ancestors who resided in the Metis homeland of western Canada and the northern US, and holding distinction from other Aboriginal peoples as a Metis.
Below is a button link to the Metis National Council citizenship definition.
Today we found out Elizabeth Warren MIGHT actually have an Indigenous ancestor. Information was revealed that her DNA test showed that she (probably) had an Indigenous ancestor. But what does that really mean? Does it suddenly grant her a pass to call herself “Indian”?
The problem with using genealogy and genetic ancestry testing to find your mysterious Indigenous ancestry that was always part of your family lore is that such new discoveries whitewash the lived experiences of actual Indigenous people. Sure it’s fun to find out you have an ancestral “Indian grandma” who lived back in the 1700s – and it’s great to find out that granddad wasn’t pulling your leg (entirely) when he told you that his great grandma was an Indian princess (of sorts). It seems like harmless fun, and it is in many ways because it helps bring flavor to an otherwise boring existence as a regular white person living in a modern, complicated world.
Ancestry genealogy and genetic ancestry testing is often described as “recreational genetics,” but rather than viewing it as a recreation, or a hobby, many consumers don’t take these things lightly and the problems start when people use the (often tenuous) data to reshape their personal identities. Even worse is when they alter their whole existence and change how they report their race or ethnicity on governmental forms, college or job applications, and medical questionnaires, or in the most extreme cases use their “discovered” Indigenous identity to impose themselves into the discussion of indigeneity while using their white privilege to amplify their newfound “Indigenous voice” above Indigenous people.
By using data – genealogical or genetic DNA – white people have found they have a tool that they can use to assert, imagine, exaggerate, or even completely invent a claim to Indigenous identity for tactical purposes to enhance their own personal voices with the cultural/racial capital of selective indigeneity. By finding that one (or perhaps two) Indigenous ancestors is seen as a way forward to expressing oneself in a whole new identity even though that identity has been effectively erased until it was dredged up from the past using modern-day genealogical and ancestry DNA tools.
For example, if you go back 14 generations (approximately 350 years), each person has a maximum of 16,384 direct ancestors. It is entirely likely that somewhere along the line someone exists in that small city of ancestors who might have been Indigenous. That’s cool. But the consideration that needs to be examined is what happened in the subsequent generations since this Indigenous ancestor? Did your family remain close to their indigenous community? Did they preserve the language; did they maintain the kinship ties to their Indigenous relatives? If the answer is no, and your ancestors assimilated into the great melting pot of European-dominated society, then what right do you really have to claim loudly that you are indeed an indigenous person deserving of a place at the table?
The Bureau of Land Management (BLM), General Land Office (GLO) Records Automation web site has some great information available. They provide live access to Federal land conveyance records for the Public Land States, including image access to more than five million Federal land title records issued between 1788 and the present.
Some of the Native American and Metis-related records you can search on their database include: Escheatment of Indian Land; Indian Allotments; Indian Homesteads (trust and fee patent); Indian Trust Patents; and more!