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NARA Coast to Coast: Native American records across America

by on August 16, 2010


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.

Cheif Tendoi with interpreter Geoge LaVatta at Fort Hall Reservation, ca. 1923

Chief Tendoi with interpreter Geoge LaVatta at Fort Hall Reservation, ca. 1923

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/.


Comments

emma March 15, 2011 at 3:52 pm

The photo image is not of Chief Tendoy, but his son, who was a Tendoy. Chief Tendoy died in 1907 in the Lemhi valley…

ALFREDA April 11, 2011 at 9:00 pm

Where do I find manifest lists of S.E. Indians who were prisoners of war, shackled by irons, killed, whipped, starved, etc. by the U.S.? from 1823-1856?

Meredith D. (admin) April 14, 2011 at 5:05 pm

Alfreda,

We will have to conduct some more in depth research on this topic in order to determine what information is available in our records. Please send a request to archives1reference@nara.gov; our reference staff will be able to research your request and provide you with more guidance.

Meredith (admin)

Alfreda Doonkeen June 20, 2011 at 12:28 am

Please advise from above statement.
We will be in Washington from the Week of June 26-30, 2011. Staying at the Hyatt Bethesda,MD

nrosamilia June 21, 2011 at 2:18 pm

Hi Alfreda,

We’re glad you’re planning a visit! You can find our hours and directions for getting to the Archives in DC on this page: http://www.archives.gov/dc-metro/washington/. More detailed information for researchers can be found here: http://www.archives.gov/dc-metro/washington/researcher-info.html. And you can always email questions beforehand to archives1reference@nara.gov to get a jump on your research. Good luck!

Nichole (admin)

johnny arter July 25, 2011 at 11:55 pm

yes im trying to go about seeing how much indian in my blood line my mothers name was twylia jean williford so if any way possiable i would greatly appreciate the response

Nichole (admin) July 26, 2011 at 3:43 pm

Hi Johnny,

The best way to find the information you’re looking for would be to send a detailed request to our general reference email: inquire@nara.gov. Be sure to include everything you know about your mother – where she lived, birth and/or death dates, tribal affiliation, etc. They can route your question to the appropriate reference staff.

Nichole

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