Here are a few questions and answers around Native American family research.
Q: I can’t find my ancestor on any of the rolls (Dawes or other). What does that mean?
A: Keep in mind that rolls or payment rolls are only a list of specific individuals that lived at a particular place at a particular time. If your ancestor isn’t listed, then they most likely didn’t live in that area at the time the roll was taken or may have never lived there at all. Focus on the records that are specific to the time and
place of your ancestors. Also, if your direct ancestor isn’t listed, look for siblings or parents that might have been enrolled. Just be sure that if you find a familiar name that it is really your ancestor and not just someone with the same name. Which leads to the next question . . .
Q: I found my ancestor’s name on the roll. Now, what do I do?
A: Before you move ahead with your research, be sure that the person listed on the roll and your ancestor is one in the same person. Many of the European surnames listed on the Final Roll of the Five Civilized Tribes (Dawes Roll), for example, are very common and confusing your “Smith” with the wrong “Smith” on the roll is a typical mistake. Be sure that you have other evidence that your ancestor actually lived in the same area as the person on the roll and that the members of the extended family and parents of the enrollee match yours.
Q: I found an ancestor on the roll, but their application is listed as “rejected.” What does this mean?
A: The bar for proving Indian heritage on most payment rolls is set high. This helps assure that the people who are truly entitled to the benefits of treaties or court settlements due to the tribe receive those benefits. If you have an ancestor listed as “rejected” it means that the agency in charge of the roll or the tribe itself found no supporting evidence that the ancestor in question was a tribal member or that they did not meet the requirements of sharing in that particular payment or other distribution.
Q: How can I learn about the history/culture of the tribe of my ancestors?
A: As with genealogical information, if you want accurate details about the tribal history and/or culture, go straight to the source. Call the tribal headquarters or visit their website and many tribes will be happy to point you in the right direction. Also, if the tribe has its own newspaper, you can often find good, credible articles on history, culture, and genealogy in those pages. Be very cautious about information on the internet that doesn’t come from the tribal people themselves. There’s a lot of bad or inaccurate historical and cultural information that is being put out there by people who don’t really know or understand tribal history and culture.
Q: What if I need some help proving my Indian ancestry?
A: I always recommend that people looking for help tracing Native American family seek out the assistance of someone who is very experienced in research of the particular tribe from which you descend. That person will have knowledge of the well-known and less well-known sources that can help you learn more about your specific ancestor. If there’s not someone with this specialty in your area, you can always call the enrollment department of the tribe itself and ask if they or someone at the tribal complex can recommend a suitable researcher. Be very careful about contacting people on the internet who claim to do research. There is a great deal of bad information floating around out there and inexperienced researchers will often perpetuate that bad information rather than looking for the real answers. Also, if you are willing to pay for help, be sure you get recommendations on the credibility of the researcher in question before you enlist their services. Sadly, there are known cases of people calling themselves researchers who will provide any information, true or false, for the right price.