Researching Native American Heritage

Researching Native American ancestry can be difficult for several reasons:

  • Multiple legal and other definitions of what constitutes a Native American or American Indian
  • Differing levels of legal recognition of tribes; some may be recognized on the state level but not the federal level, some may not be recognized at all
  • Necessary record collections scattered among various agencies and locations
  • Lack of remote access to necessary records collections
  • Problem of DNA testing as it relates to Native American culture (see DNA tab)

Below is a brief overview of available resources for researching native American ancestry, including a look at the issues with DNA testing.


For several reasons, DNA tests are not always accurate measures of Native American ancestry:

  • Home testing kits are not advanced enough to give an accurate result.
  • DNA is often less important to Native American cultural identity than community relationships, shared experiences, and long-standing traditions.
  • Sovereign tribal nations determine their own criteria for tribal membership; genetics may not be part of the requirements, or they may use different kinds of genetic testing.
  • A person may have a Native American ancestor and not have inherited any DNA from them, or inherited such a small amount that it does not show up in test results.


BPL Resources

Native American Genealogy

Books and other resources at the BPL related to Native American genealogy research.

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Government Resources

Indian Census Rolls

The Indian Census schedules were census rolls that were generally submitted each year from 1885-1940 by the government officials that were in charge of Indian reservations. The information on the rolls will vary by year as the questions changed. Only people who had a formal affiliation with a federally supervised tribe are included in these records.

Dawes Rolls

Also called: Final Rolls of Citizens and Freedmen of the Five Civilized Tribes in Indian Territory or Dawes Commission of Final Rolls.
Lists of people accepted between 1898 and 1914 by the Dawes Commission as members of the Cherokee, Creek, Choctaw, Chickasaw, and Seminole tribes.

More Records and Guides

Further Reading