People have different reasons for wanting to know whether they have American Indian in their bloodline. Some want to know whether the stories they heard about Indians being in their family tree are true; others want the benefits they believe are due to them by proving they have Indian blood. Whatever your reasons, there are ways to tell whether you have Indian in your bloodline.
Interview the oldest members in your family members. Record their statements and write them down as well. Make sure you get the exact, full names; birthdates; birthplaces; marriage dates and death dates of your elders, beginning with your parents, grandparents and great-grandparents.
Research the U.S. Census of 1920 to see where all of your ancestors were living then. Start with the towns where they grew up, as most of the base rolls or Indian census rolls were created between 1890 and 1920. If the ancestor is not on the census roll, look for listings of other relatives. Work through family groups in an organized way and you may locate other descendants.
Check the Social Security Death Index. If you find the names of any relatives, request a copy of the relative's application for a Social Security number. The application should give the names of the relative's parents and the relative's birthplace and birthdate.
Try military records when looking for a male relative who may have fought in World War I, World War II or the Korean War. Start with the World War I draft registration card, which you may be able to get more easily.
Check all hospital, funeral home, cemetery, court, church and employment records. Find out whether the churches kept full records of their members and not just the membership totals.
Look for newspapers published for the tribal group's benefit in the time period you are searching. These newspapers may have microfiche copies at the public library in your relative's town.
Hire a genealogist to find your relatives, as many Indian tribes and their membership records were destroyed. The American Indian population was reduced from about 10 million in the 1600s to 300,000 by 1865 from disease and almost constant warfare between tribes as well as with the U.S. military, which carried out several massacres. If you are black, hire a genealogist for help in learning whether you are from one of the "Five Civilized Tribes" -- the Chickasaws, Cherokees, Choctaws, Creeks and Seminoles. Members of these tribes kept black slaves, and the tribes may have retained documentation.
Items you will need
Digital voice recorder
U.S. Census of 1920
Social Security Death Index
Social Security number application copy
Military records of World War I, World War II and the Korean War
Records from churches, workplaces, hospitals, funeral homes, courthouses and cemeteries
Indian tribe newspapers
If you are black but have high cheekbones or straight hair, this does not necessarily mean that you have Indian blood. Many African-American descendants have straight hair or high cheekbones. Some black Americans do not appear to be American Indian, but they are legitimate Indian tribe members.
If the 1920 census proves fruitless, you can also search the 1930 census rolls, which show the listee's place of residence, marital status and degree of Indian blood in tribes under federal supervision.
- "A Guide to Finding Your Native American Ancestor"; Larry S. Watson; 1995
- "Ebony"; What Does Indian Blood Look Like?; Adrienne P. Samuels; Apr 2008
- "The Journal of American Indian Family Research - Vol. XIII, No. 4"; Larry S. Watson; 1992
- The Great Seal of the Chickasaw Nation: CDIB (Certificate of Degree of Indian Blood)
- The U.S. National Archives and Records Administration; Indian Census Rolls, 1885-1940; March 2008
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