Skip to main content

Interior Provides Information to Native Americans Tracing Their Ancestry

The Department of the Interior has dedicated a section of its website to providing information to people trying to trace their Native American ancestry.
  • Author:
  • Updated:

The U.S. Department of the Interior has a webpage dedicated to offering helpful tips and information on tracing Native American ancestry.

The Trace Indian Ancestry page has seven subsections including Ancestry, Genealogical Research, Enrollment Process, Benefits & Services Provided to American Indians and Alaska Natives, Cherokee Indian Ancestry, Dawes Rolls and Contacting a Tribal Entity – The BIA Tribal Leaders Directory.

The Ancestry section describes how genealogical documentation is needed for tribal enrollment and that the Bureau of Indian Affairs does not conduct genealogy research for individuals.

In Genealogical Research, Interior answers five basic questions frequently asked by those who want to start doing genealogical research into their past. Interior suggests making use of digital records, but doesn’t suggest any particular private websites. “All the information they have collected is readily available for you to collect, if you know where to go and you’re willing to do the work,” the site states.

This tab on the Interior website also gives people some tips on how to start doing genealogical research—the site suggests starting with yourself, meaning that a lot of valuable information can be found in your own home, like newspaper clippings, birth and death certificates, marriage licenses, diaries and letters. The site then suggests places to look at the local and state level, like school, church and courthouse records. Public libraries and local repositories are another place to be checked, as well as the National Archives in Washington, D.C. on the federal level.

Scroll to Continue

Read More

Once tribal affiliation has been documented, the researcher can start looking at Native American records including those held by the National Archives, and BIA offices if ancestors had land in trust. Keep in mind that the “BIA field offices do not maintain current or historic records of all individuals who possess some degree of Indian blood.”

The Enrollment Process tab on the website provides some insight into the tribal enrollment process by explaining that each tribe has its own rules set forth in their tribal constitutions. To apply for enrollment to a particular tribe once you are able to document your ancestors, simply contact that tribe.

Interior has provided a link to a Tribal Leaders Directory, making it easy for genealogical researchers to contact the tribe they need.

What are the benefits of being associated with a federally recognized tribe? The Interior deals with that question in its Benefits and Services tab. It describes the services offered by the federal government including the Indian Health Service (IHS), as well as other agencies that have people dedicated to serving Native Americans including the Departments of Housing and Urban Development, Justice, Agriculture, Education, Labor, Commerce and Energy.

The Interior website also provides information on where to access the Dawes Rolls, which lists individuals who are part of the Cherokee Nation and were closed in 1907. The site has a separate section on Cherokee Ancestry, which describes how the Cherokee lived in the southeastern part of what is now the United States before the Indian Removal Act when they were moved west to what is now Oklahoma. Some Cherokee did stay in what is now North Carolina and others went into the Appalachian Mountains.

To access all the information on researching Native American ancestry provided by the Interior, visit the Trace Indian Ancestry site.