When I give presentations on researching Native American ancestry, there are three ‘w’s that I list as being key to an accurate search.
The second ‘w’ stands for “where” — as in where did your ancestor live? Knowing this information is important for two reasons. The first is that tracing him/her in the census gives you an idea of where they came from and how they migrated. Secondly, once you know where they were you can look in the area and see which tribes were really there. Luckily, the BIA provides a couple of detailed maps of where tribes are today. While many of their current homes are not the same as they were hundreds of years ago, most of these tribes have been in their current locations for at least 100 years and this can be a starting place in order to locate possible records if you determine your ancestors lived with, near or as a member of one of the tribes.