Tracing Your Native American Ancestry, Part II

Posted By BrokenClaw on January 28, 2007

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So what can you do? First of all, don’t expect someone else to do it for you. If the tribe in question still exists, and they have a website, they probably already post a message that they do not do genealogy research.

Message Boards

Some native American sites, however, do have a message board, or forum, where you can post an open message in hopes of connecting with someone else who knows something about your ancestors. One thing the Internet does provide, in addition to the official online records, is the random sharing of information between individuals. In my own research, I found three personal web sites which contained information about relatives of mine that I didn’t even know existed. As more and more people put genealogy information online, you may make a connection with your own.

The disadvantage is, as more and more people put genealogy information online, you have to sift through more and more search results. (If you haven’t already tried it, put your own name in a search engine and see how many sites come up and which, if any, are really you.) Another resource is free ancestry message boards, like the one at Ancestry.com, where you can post inquiries indexed by surname or by location. One note of caution: you have to be very specific about your inquiry and your search. It’s amusing when someone posts a vague message like, “I was told that my great-grandfather, John Conner from Michigan, was part Indian. Can anyone tell me anything about him?” Whenever you make an inquiry like this, you should always include a date of birth, even an estimate, and as much location data as possible, such as town or county where the person was born, lived, or died.

Even so, as with much of the Internet’s public postings, without source citations, genealogy information you find online must be taken at face value. It is often difficult to distinguish between information which is documented independently and information which is merely copied from one database to another, with the potential to perpetuate errors. A prime example of this deficiency is demonstrated by the handful of online databases which included my maternal great-grandfather. None of them listed all of his children, none of them correctly identified his first wife, and most of them contained a significant error.

Obituaries

One valuable source of information is obituaries. They usually include the deceased’s location and date of birth and names of parents, including mother’s maiden name. However, information about siblings, spouses, children, and other relatives must be carefully considered. An obituary is not a genealogy document, and half-siblings, step-children, and second-spouses are usually not differentiated. This practice is even more pronounced among native Americans who are often raised by other relatives. For example, it is not unusual for an obituary to cite a grandmother who was actually an aunt of the natural parent or was the mother of a step-parent.

Even if you don’t have a clipped copy of an obituary among your family documents, microfilm archives are often available to the public at the local historical society or from the newspaper themselves, provided that you know the person’s exact date of death. But again, you have to actually go there and do the research yourself, or pay someone else to do it.

Legal research usually involves the documentation of a death certificate. For simple fact-finding family genealogy research, there is the US Social Security Death Index, which is a public record of individuals who received benefits from the Social Security program. The index is now available free of charge at FamilySearch.org. It usually includes the person’s date of birth and date of death, although the dates are not 100% accurate. Sometimes, only the month of death is recorded. I have personally spent a lot of time zipping through the microfilm of a whole month’s worth of newspapers in search of an obituary. In one such case, the person had died on the 30th, so I didn’t find the obituary until I went on to the next month. With regard to older records, I’ve found that death notices of common folk were not routinely printed in newspapers before the 1920s, and standard obituaries as we know them today did not come until much later.

Another innovation of the Internet is the online transcription of current obituaries. Some of these are available from the newspaper themselves, like the Ponca City News, which was extremely helpful to me in building my Otoe-Missouria Genealogy database. Others are transcribed or extracted by volunteers and submitted to the various sections of RootsWeb.com and FindAGrave.com. Of course, these are mostly recent obituaries, so they would be helpful only in discovering genealogy information from the last few generations.

End of the Line

The Tribal Rolls and censuses of the nineteenth and early twentieth century are the likely endpoint of native ancestry research. If you can trace your lineage to someone on a tribal census, that’s probably where your research will end, because there are few prior records of family relationships. Since native families did not use surnames, decifering relationships from the federal censuses is speculative at best. In the case of my own father’s tribe, as late as 1900 the US Census lists people like “E-no-wa-con-me, wife of Willie Green”.

Finding genealogy data prior to the late 1800s becomes increasingly difficult. The only exceptions would be the chiefs who had periodic dealings with the government, whose families and descendants might be recorded in the public record. One such example is the Kilbuck family, whose descendants today trace their lineage back nine generations to the Unami Delaware Chief Netawatwes, who signed the 1718 Treaty of Conestoga, and was the father of John Kilbuck and the grandfather of Chief Gelemend, aka William Henry. Remarkably, there doesn’t seem to be one particular web site which fully documents this line. Nevertheless, as I told one mother who wrote about her daughter’s interest in her unknown Susquehannock ancestor:

Perhaps the best legacy is merely her appreciation for the thousands of Native Americans who once lived here, and the knowledge that at least one of them lives in her today.

Comments

7 Responses to “Tracing Your Native American Ancestry, Part II”

  1. James White says:

    I was told my family on the Barton side is Indian. They had lived on the Reservation in the 1800. Do you have any information on the Barton’s? Plus my Black line is Indian. They had all left and went to Mo. and most of them lived in Black River, MO.

    • BrokenClaw says:

      James, I appreciate your interest in your native ancestry. However, I don’t do research into tribes other than my own. As a word of advice, whenever you post an inquiry such as this, you need to include the first name of the earliest ancestor you know, along with an estimated birthdate and a more specific location. For instance, a quick check of the Indian censuses on Ancestry.com show over 400 Bartons. And there were about 3,000 people named Black in Missouri in 1930.

      I would recommend you try the message boards at http://boards.ancestry.com as mentioned above. But again, you need to start with more than just a last name.

  2. Whitney says:

    I am interested in my family heritage, and what my aunt told me was that my g-grandfather was 1/2 choctaw and 1/2 Irish. Then my g-grandmother was full cherokee. On my moms side, it goes a little further back, my ggg-grandmother was either half or full cherokee (g-grandpas side). Then my ggg-something is cherokee and choctaw(g-grandmas side). Then somewhere else in there is either blackfoot or blackdutch. I am trying to get as much as I can on my Native American heritage and its harder than it looks. I have no idea where to go to find their numbers. No one knows what they are, not even their own kids. If anyone knows anything about how I could go about doing this, please help me out.

    Thanks,
    Whitney B.

    whitneyblack@sbcglobal.net

  3. Dorothy Franks says:

    There are eight generations that I have traced in my genealogy. I have at least three bloodlines of Indian (Choctaw, Cherokee and Creek). My 1st gen grandmother on my grandfather’s is listed as a Choctaw indian in the U.S. Census Records. My 3rd gen grandmother on my grandfather’s side is Cherookee (vintage photo), and my 3rd gen grandmother on my grandmother’s side is Creek (oral history). I have features of the Indian, but not sure how to prove it. Can you tell me if the DNA testing really proves anything and if it is worth the money?

    Dorothy

  4. Paul carter says:

    Can you give me a web site that does DNA tests for the Native American people,I am at a brick wall,I want to know more,about my ancestors,who may have been part or full blood native American,my people were from North Carolina,Virgina,South Carolina,Kentucky and Tennessee,I have Melingeon,German Irish,Scott,,alos kin to a Free woman of Color,I dont know what that means but she owned land in Virgina,my Grt Grt Grand Mother looks like a full blood from her Picture,her people were from Tennessee,but called themselfs Black Dutch. Paul Carter

  5. MICHELE says:

    I AM A DECENDENT, WHO HAS LEARNED OF MY NASHIONALITY.MY GREAT GRANDMOTHER WAS A RABIDEAU,PHOSINA. MY GRANDMOTHER IS LEONA BUSHY AND WE CAME FROM IRONA NY, OUT OF THREE RIVERS QUIBEC.IT WAS A LONG TIME A GO BUT I LOOK VERY MUCH INDIAN AND WOULD LIKE TO KNOW MORE OF MY FAMILY.
    GRANDMA IS VERY OLD AND WON’T TALK ABOUT IT. IF YOU WOULD PLEASE CONTACT ME ON THIS E-MAIL I GREATLY APPRECIATE IT.
    SINCERLY
    MICHELE A. DEHAYES
    TAMPA FLORIDA

    • BrokenClaw says:

      Michele, I’m sorry, but I don’t see how I can help you. There are plenty of resources online about how to go about tracing your ancestry. The most basic things are finding out what was your grandmother’s maiden name, where and when she was born, can you locate her and her parents on the censuses, etc. I have no experience or resources for researching New York and Quebec.

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