We always heard that grandpa’s grandmother was a Cherokee princess. Or maybe it was her grandmother…
Verifying Native American Ancestry
Many families in the U.S. have stories that have been passed down through the generations indicating that they had at least one Native American ancestor in their past. In the 2010 U.S. Census over 5 million Americans identified themselves as at least part Native American Indian or Alaskan Native. The question is – are these stories true?
Some people want to prove their native ancestry in order to gain admittance to a tribe or to earn tribal benefits. Others simply want to verify family stories or learn more about their history.
Finding evidence to prove Native American heritage can be difficult. Most families are unable to pinpoint a specific individual who was their presumed Indian ancestor. Other family stories name a Native American ancestor but there is no documentation to prove the claims.
With over 560 tribes legally recognized by the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs, there are more tribes from which your family could descend than most people realize.
Using Records to Prove Native American Ancestry
Many of the records from the past 100-125 years relevant to Native American ancestry were created by the American government in response to tribal efforts to regain lost lands or receive compensation for violated treaties. In order to determine who was to be paid and how much land or money was to be given to each person, government agents drew up long and sometimes detailed lists proving the relationship of the various individuals to the tribe.
The most famous of these are the Dawes Rolls dealing with land distributions in what became known as the State of Oklahoma. These rolls listed over 100,000 individuals who could prove their Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Creek, or Seminole heritage, including freedmen who had been emancipated after the Civil War. The tribal affiliation, family members, and degree of Indian blood (full, half, quarter, etc.) was recorded on the family cards and on the final rolls. Locating an ancestor on the Dawes Roll can provide positive proof of a person’s Native American heritage.
Other less famous rolls and lists exist for tribes from across the country. There is also an extensive collection of Indian Census Rolls, which enumerated those individuals living on reservations from 1885 through 1940. These provided similar information – such as tribal affiliation and degree of Indian blood – as found on the Dawes Rolls.
One challenge is that if your ancestor or ancestral family didn’t register with any specific tribe, and/or assimilated into society around them instead of claiming their heritage, proving a connection to a specific tribe may not be possible, and you may never know for sure that they even were Native Americans.
Using DNA to Establish Native American Ancestry
Our DNA experts can also examine your autosomal-DNA test results and discuss what they indicate regarding Native American ancestry as well.
Although autosomal-DNA testing can tell you if there is Native American ancestry in your DNA and what percentage of Native American DNA you have, there is no DNA test which can tell you the tribe from which you descend or the specific ancestor who was Native American, and no U.S. government-recognized Native American tribes accept DNA evidence for membership purposes.
Our Professional Genealogists Can Help
In spite of the difficulties and complexities of Native American research, Legacy Tree Genealogists can help determine the truth about a family’s Native American past. We have experts in Native American genealogy who can trace your family’s history to determine if and where Native American ancestry was introduced. Complete the form above to request a free estimate and we will contact you to discuss your research goals.