How does one identify a Native American from records?

+17 votes
Fairly reliable rumor has it that there are a number of Native Americans in a family tree I am working on. However, I have never seen anyone in the tree listed anywhere with any specific tribal affiliation. There are several people whose antecedents haven't been traced back to Europe. Are there places to look or people to contact for more information about tribal affiliations? In the case of this family, the people involved lived in New England and Maritime Canada.
in Genealogy Help by J Briller G2G6 Mach 1 (12.4k points)
retagged by J Briller
You may want to extend your search using google (search specific names) because sometimes, some communities have published documentation referencing the names and even family trees. In Canadian census data, ethnicity is sometimes mentioned as well. That being said, if there does not seem to be any evidence to suggest someone belongs to an Indigenous community, then they likely don't, or you may need DNA connections to confirm.
Canadian census data usually includes 'ethnic origin' - but people didn't always admit to indigenous ancestry; there was a lot of shame for some people, so they claimed their white ancestry.  And the census takers didn't always include people living on reserves or isolated communities - or these could be listed separately.  I always start with Library and Archives Canada - they have a useful guide to tracing indigenous ancestors, and all the census records are available there for free (up to 1921, the last year they are publicly released).  They have lots of early records - before "Canada".  Please let us know what progress you make, as there are many people in a similar situation.
I know that the HBC forbade their workers from marrying the native women for a time - of course there being no other women around they did anyhow - some of those families are recorded and many are not - I was lucky in that many of mine were - look at any possible spelling change for family names in the Red River Ancestry page you mentioned before - I found Cree and Saulteaux (Ojibwe) family

The HBC eventually allowed and kept track of the First Nations wives of the Employees in the later years
In the Canadian census records my Aunt’s husband was listed as John Oji.  Oji stood for Ojibway. He later changed his name to a  French sounding last name.

9 Answers

+18 votes
Best answer
There is no single, or even good, resource for early Native Americans in New England. Few Indians remained after the 17th century, and those who did  usually lived in their own small communities or in northern Maine or Vermont and on the Cape and Islands of Massachusetts. The first step is to trace your ancestor to a place and at a time where there were Native Americans and then to look for contemporary records.  For tribes that have received Federal recognition via the Bureau of Indian Affairs, reading the documents from their application on the BIA web site can be very helpful since they usually included a detailed tribal history and explain how the tribal roll was assembled.  There are often lists of names which can be helpful.  Sometimes early U.S. census records can help, but most Indians were not included on the U.S. Census until the 20th century. If you are finding your ancestors on an early U.S. Census the odds are high that they were not Native Americans.
by Kathie Forbes G2G6 Pilot (886k points)
selected by Amanda Phillips
+6 votes
Very hard to determine in my own family tree.  Usually when they married they were given an "English" name, so to speak, or their Christian name, with no record of a name change.  I did find out that the US offered land in the Midwest of the USA right after the civil war to any Native American that wanted to become a citizen, but they had to leave their tribe.  I assume they also were given a new name in documents, with no mention of their tribe, unfortunately.  Makes me wonder if that was the only time that happened??  So far, the best I have had to go on is word of mouth passed down from generations and a few pictures that make it obvious the ancestor was of Native American Heritage.
by Michelle Jeardoe G2G1 (1.8k points)
My question is along those lines as well. I keep running into road blocks with mine. I do know some of the history of the "Boarding Schools ". With that being said I remember asking my great grandmother about our native history and she nor my grandmother would answer. I also know I have a rare blood disorder that is hereditary and was told by NP that it could be found in Native Americans.
+7 votes
Well, if they were in the Maritimes, suggest you tag Acadian project.  

As far as the rumours go, well, must say they are not always that reliable, even when they appear to be.  My own mother used to say she was 1/4 Irish.  Nope, not at all.  My Irish ancestor is on my father's side.

That said, in Acadian era of colonization there were indeed marriages and or children with the native people, there are 2 or 3 tribal names associated with the area, MicMac and Abénaqui are 2 I am aware of.

Beware some sites on internet that try to turn all sorts of people into natives of this continent in early days due to lack of documentation on where they came from.
by Danielle Liard G2G6 Pilot (676k points)
How do I add a tag after it has already been posted?
You'll see edit by your name up there.
you edit the original post, the line to add the tags shows up for you then
+9 votes -

[From the transcript Indians of Massachusetts: GAY HEAD TRIBE
in Mass. Senate No. 96 publication, March 1861.]
[Digitized and prepared for the web by C. Baer, 1999]

A report to the Governor of Massachusetts Under the Act 1859

Book(s) Libraries/WorldCat

by Arora Anonymous G2G6 Pilot (167k points)
edited by Arora Anonymous
+5 votes
On the Canadian side, Church records for BMD are a good place to look and sometimes indicated First Nations or Métis parentage.  French terms used in the past include "amerindien", "sauvage", "autochtone".  If there was no family name included, might indicate an indigenous person. Depends on the timeframe of the records.
by Living Rocca G2G6 Mach 6 (60.6k points)
edited by Living Rocca
+4 votes
by Living Rocca G2G6 Mach 6 (60.6k points)
+4 votes
by Living Rocca G2G6 Mach 6 (60.6k points)
+4 votes
by Living Rocca G2G6 Mach 6 (60.6k points)
+6 votes
As previously mentioned, in the US the BIA (Bureau of Indian Affairs) is an excellent place to start your research. So is NARA (National Archives and Research Administration) and local state, county and city/town library and archives. Some city/town websites have an entire historical section dedicated to ancestry and the natives who once inhabited the area.

The Dawes Rolls and other related Rolls are excellent and valuable sources - the rolls give not only names and tribal associations, but also blood quantum's too.

"Indian school" records/files for the US are mostly available, those are another good place to search for info. Index cards for tribal affiliations and enrollment are another potential research resource - BUT there's several categories, such as those index cards that have been "accepted" and those which were "rejected". So be sure to search ALL categories.

If you know what tribe or band you're specifically looking for, you can always search them up and contact the tribe directly asking for further information and clarification (council members, genealogical services, administration services, etc.). From my experience, most are more than happy to assist, especially if you explain your reason why.

And of course, don't forget the US State census'! The US census library is available online at various sites and lists indigenous peoples separately for certain time periods. Libraries and archives hold copies, as well as some bigger genealogy sites like and family (if I remember correctly).

There's Land and property allotment records are the other reliable records held at various institutions, including libraries and archives, as well as some local district Courts.

Lastly, some treaties also contain the actual names of the native signatories (particularly when transcribed online) - be it their given indigenous name or their birth name or both. So as a last resort, looking up local area historical treaties can sometimes be a help.

I recently went through this experience in depth trying to locate several family members and not too distant ancestors from tribes in Michigan, Indiana, Oklahoma and Illinois. I had no clue where I was going nor where to start, as I'm from Canada and am familiar with the resources up here only. BUT with patience, much research, and some reaching out to others for assistance in the US, I managed to be able to succeed in finding what (and who) I was looking for!!

So I truly hope you do find what you're looking for as well!
by Christine Brousseau G2G5 (5.6k points)

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