Does your family lore tell of an American Indian ancestor? Use these essential resources to trace your family's tribal ties.
“Great-great-grandma was a Cherokee princess” tops many a list of genealogy myths passed down in families. Although the Cherokee didn’t actually have princesses, such stories may hold a nugget of truth. Perhaps the clan that hands down this tale does have an American Indian somewhere on the family tree.
More than 4 million people claimed Native American ancestry in the 2000 census. The US government officially recognizes 562 tribes, making them eligible for certain rights and benefits. Starting in the 1850s and ’60s, the government began setting aside land for tribes that signed treaties; the Department of the Interior now oversees about 310 reservations. Each tribe is self-governing, with a unique history and culture. Religious practices, customs and family structures vary among tribes, even among those in the same geographic areas. But not everyone with American Indian heritage is a tribal member (generally, you must have a certain amount of “Indian blood” for membership), and not all tribal members live on reservations.