NARA Coast to Coast: Native American records across America
Welcome to “NARA Coast to Coast,” the newest NARAtions feature which will bring you information about federal records from National Archives locations all over the country. I am Corinne Porter, an archivist in the National Archives, Office of Regional Records Services in College Park, MD.
For this inaugural post I decided to go in a new direction. We have had lots of great posts on NARAtions about records for people who immigrated to the United States, but did you know that we also have a wealth of records on Native Americans? I find this to be especially interesting because my great-grandfather was a Seminole Indian. Most of those records originated from the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) which serves federally recognized tribes by administering educational, social, economic and other services for the benefit and advancement of Indian and Alaska Native peoples. Records from BIA field offices and Indian schools spanning the dates of 1830-1970 can be found in most of NARA’s regional archives locations, but administrative records for the agency headquarters are located at the National Archives in Washington, DC.
The field records of the BIA include agency correspondence, reports, vital records, and records relating to land allotments, agriculture, health care and education. They are arranged by Indian agency, reservation or Indian school and thereunder by the type of record. Because the BIA was involved with many aspects of Native American tribal life, they provide an excellent look at Native American communities as well as glimpses of the attitudes of BIA officials and how it shaped their policies. In the BIA records at our various NARA locations across the country, you can find: correspondence between tribal leaders and politicians at Denver, records about a Japanese War Balloon that landed on the Cheyenne River Reservation during WWII as well as contracts for Native Americans that performed in Buffalo Bill Cody’s Wild West Shows at Kansas City; and letters written by the athlete Jim Thorpe at Forth Worth.
These records can also be a rich source of genealogical information. When researching your Native American ancestors, it is helpful to know their name (Native or English), the name of the federally recognized tribe with which they were associated, the approximate dates of their birth and death, and the state or territory in which they lived. Keep in mind that the BIA only kept track of people who maintained their affiliation with their federally recognized tribe, so if your ancestor moved away from their tribe you might not be able to find them in the records. Some of the most useful records for genealogical research are Indian school student case files, agency censuses, employee lists, applications to off-reservation boarding schools, probate records, birth and death records, and land allotment records. Family historians can gather information on births and deaths, marriages, other relatives, tribal affiliations, school enrollments, and unofficial records of degree of Indian Blood. Occasionally actual birth and death certificates, correspondence between family members, and photographs can also be found.
If all this sounds great, but you’re asking yourself when you will ever make it to Anchorage, Alaska to research your Inuit ancestors, I have good news for you! A lot of information about records of the BIA can be found in our online Archival Research Catalog (ARC), and some records have been digitized by Ancestry.com and Footnote.com. If you can’t find what you are looking for online, copies of many of our records can be requested and mailed to you by the National Archives location that holds them.
There is a lot to be discovered in our BIA records and at the National Archives locations all over the country. If there are records in our regional locations that you would like to hear about leave a suggestion in the comments. Stop back next Monday to hear more about our records from coast to coast!
Click here for more information on researching Native Americans at the National Archives: http://www.archives.gov/research/native-americans/.