Relatively Speaking: Were your ancestors Native Americans?

Oct. 14, 2010 at 5:14 a.m.

By Martha Jones

The query I receive most often asks how to prove a person is part Indian. It usually states the person has always been told their ancestors were part Indian and now they want to locate the documents. Tracing Native American ancestry is difficult, but here are some tips to help determine if the family legend is factual or imagined.

First: Find where the ancestors lived - interview living relatives and friends. Ask for certificates, family Bibles, obituaries, diaries, letters, or other sources that may contain birth, marriage, or death information and places. Determine where the ancestors lived at different times in their lives.

Two caveats: Be sensitive when interviewing others. Some tribes believe it is improper to speak of a deceased ancestor. Also, do not believe everything you find online about family lines. Search census, church and vital records for the ancestral family. Two helpful guides are United States Research Outline (30972) and Indians of the United States and Canada (36746). Order them from the Family History Library in Salt Lake City. Phone 1-800-539-5971. Each costs $3.25; shipping is free.

Second: Check the 1900 and 1910 U.S. Federal Censuses found in genealogy libraries and online through and Both subscription sites are free when used at your local library. Tips:

If relatives mention a tribe their ancestors may have belonged to, assume it is correct until you can prove otherwise.

If you do not know the tribe, consider that your ancestor may not have been Indian until you can prove the name of the tribe.

Keep in mind that many Indians tried to hide their tribal identities to protect their lives and property. Search non-Indian records for clues.

Next: Find what tribes were located where your ancestors lived and where the records are kept. In addition, search the records of churches, schools, government agencies, forts, reservations, reserves and tribes which may include your ancestor. If he or she was Eastern Cherokee, go online to search for the Guion Miller Roll at If you ancestor was a member of the Five Civilized Tribes (Cherokee, Choctaw, Chickasaw, Creek, or Seminole in the southeastern U.S.), go to

Third: Identify and locate specific records in the Family History Library Catalog at If you do not have access to this world's largest genealogy library, contact your local Family History Center and order rental rolls of microfilm or microfiche using the book call numbers you found in the library catalog. In Victoria: 3408 N. Ben Wilson 361-575-0055, open Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday from 9 a.m. to noon.

Native American DNA can be tested at Family Tree DNA also claims their Y-DNA and mtDNA (mitochondrial) can verify Native American ancestry for either the male or female side.

Happy researching.

E-mail genealogy queries to VCGS members will research queries requiring extensive study.



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