If you’re having trouble finding American Indian ancestors, you’ll be glad to learn reservations took annual censuses between 1885 and 1940 at the behest of the federal government — and Ancestry.com has added those records to its US Deluxe subscription ($179.40 per year).
You can search by name, tribe, birth date, family members and other parameters. Those census rolls, also on microfilm M595 at the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) <archives.gov>, serve as a good starting place for genealogists investigating American Indian ancestry. (To use the film, you have to know what tribe your ancestor belonged to.)
“For the early years, they help bridge a difficult identity transition, listing an individual’s Indian name and English or Christian name,” explains professional genealogist James W. Warren, a specialist in American Indian research.
Some rolls record annual births and deaths – creating a “vital-records snapshot” of the tribe. “And for many years, they list each individual’s number on the previous year’s census roll, helping researchers identify maiden names and make multigenerational connections,” adds Warren.
Despite the federal mandate, most reservations and Bureau of Indian Affairs agencies have record gaps. “But an amazing number of rolls are available,” says Warren. “Combined with other bureau records, the Indian census rolls help make reservation-affiliated American Indians the best-documented ancestors in the United States for this time period.”
If your family belonged to one of the so-called Five Civilized Tribes — Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Creek or Seminole – this collection won’t help you. Instead, use the Dawes rolls, a roster of the tribes’ members from 1898 to 1907. The records are available on NARA’s microfilm M1186 and digitally through its Archival Research Database <archives.gov/research/arc>. (Try Access Genealogy <www.accessgenealogy.com/native/rolls.htm> for an easier-to-search index.)