Capturing Native ancestors in photos

This photo is identified as “Light Horsemen Guarding the Cherokee Outlet Payment At Fort Gibson, Indian Territory. Photo By Macurdy Photo Co., Lehigh, Indian Territory.” The Lighthorse were early Indian law enforcement officers who answered to the tribal authorities.

While we are all familiar with the portraits of Native Americans taken by photographers like Edward Curtis,  finding photos of individual Native Americans can sometimes be challenging. Here are a few collections that give a more realistic portrayal of Native people in their communities. has posted some images from the Oklahoma Historical Society under the collection titled, “Oklahoma and Indian Territory, Indian Photos, 1850-1930” that is searchable by keywords such as the name of the tribe, schools or other agencies. Some are captioned with the names of the subjects, while others are unknown.

This photo is identified as “Chief Charlot and family, Flathead Reserve.”

Additionally, you can find photos of Indian people and communities in the “Library of Congress Photo Collection 1840-2000” also available on The collection is comprised of 340,000 public domain photographs. While not exclusively a Native American photo collection, you can still find images such as this undated photo of Indians on the Flathead (Confederated Salish and Kootenai) Reservation in Montana.

Outside of Ancestry, you can find image collections on the National Archives site here simply titled “Pictures of Native Americans.”  According to the site, “They have been selected from pictorial records deposited in the National Archives by 15 Government agencies, principally the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the Bureau of American Ethnology, and the United States Army.”

Also, don’t miss the portraits in the collection of the American Antiquarian Society. Their collection of Photos of Native Americans, “…spans from 1859 to 1910 and represents thirty-nine tribes in several different formats, including stereographs, cabinet cards, and cartes-de-visite.” Check them out here.