Does your lineage lead to the first Americans? Connect your family tree to its native roots with our five-step guide to unearthing American Indian ancestry.
I grew up in a generation that both romanticized and vilified Native Americans. Watching actors such as Jeff Chandler and Donna Reed assume Indian faces, I remained blissfully ignorant of centuries of true-life miseries. Back then, claiming Native American roots would have been as unthinkable as choosing to play an Indian in backyard gunfights.
During the years I traced my own roots, I knew nothing about American Indian genealogy. Since my family was from Northern European stock, I figured I had no need to cross the threshold into researching the first Americans. But all that changed a couple of years ago, after I discovered that my great-niece came from a mix of African- and Native American heritage.
Society's view of American Indians has changed a lot since I was growing up, from movie roles to the role-playing in America's backyards. For my great-niece — and millions of others — American Indian roots have become a source of pride. According to the 2000 census, the number of people who identified themselves solely as Indian and Alaska Native grew by 26 percent from 1990, to about 2.5 million. Add to that the option of declaring a multiracial identity and the number jumps to 4.1 million.