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Tracing Your Native Roots

Tracing your Native roots can be challenging, whether you're hoping to gain tribal membership or fill in your family tree. There are many roads to take, literally and figuratively, but patience is rewarded.

Important Terms:

  • HENDERSON ROLL: This is a Census Roll of Cherokee Indians East of the Mississippi for 1835. It is very difficult to read but there is an Index available.

  • DAWES ROLL: This is a tribal membership roll created by Congress for each of the Cherokee, Choctaw, Chickasaw, Creek, and Seminole tribes. The Roll was closed in 1907 with over 101,000 names but in 1914 Congress added 312 more members. If you are looking for an ancestor from one of these tribes, you must find them on the Dawes Final Roll to gain tribal membership.

  • GUION MILLER ROLLS: This roll was completed in 1910 and lists those who were Eastern Cherokee during the Treaties of 1835-36 and 1845 or their descendants. The Census Records for 1790-1850, however, did not include a category for Indians. For an Indian to be listed during those years they had to have been living in a White or Black settlement, and even then they would have been listed as White or Black. In 1860 Indians were included in the Census only if they paid taxes. In 1870 non-taxpaying Indians were added, but it wasn't until 1890 that anyone living on a reservation was added to the Census. Unfortunately, the entire 1890 Census was destroyed by fire so 1900 is the first real Census to include Indians both on and off the reservation.

  • AGENCY ROLLS: Reservation agents throughout the country created membership rolls for tribes in their areas.


Beginning Your Search:

Make a list of all the names of your birth family. Begin with yourself and work back, listing your parents, each of
their parents, and so on. When you have listed every generation you can remember, start asking everyone in your
family if they can fill in any names you don't have on your list. Include any nicknames or Indian names as well. As
you make your list, write down where that person was born, died, is buried, or where they lived at specific times. In
your search you will most likely need to do research at the Oklahoma Historical Society's Archives. Below is a
list of information they will need in order to help you. Since their only location is in Oklahoma City, and they are not
able to do your research for you, you may have to go there. It is important to make the time to be prepared when
you get there.

Searching the Five Tribes (Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Creek [Muskogee] & Seminole)


  • Which family member was Native American or living with a tribe in Indian Territory during 1900? With which tribe did he/she live? Anyone applying for the Dawes Roll had to physically live with the tribe on tribal land. If your ancestor lived outside of the tribal area during enrollment, then he/she did not qualify for enrollment. If you have another family member who is on a tribal roll, such as an aunt or uncle, verify his/her parents’ names and birthplaces. While that information may not help you get on a tribal roll, it may help fill in names or information that you did not have previously. If you found your ancestor on the 1900 U S Census (available in the Oklahoma Historical Society's Research Library, the Hampton Public Library and others) and listed as White, then he/she was probably not enrolled in a tribe. If your ancestor lived in Indian Territory during 1900 then he/she may be listed on the 1900 Indian Territory Census-Indian Schedule located on the first floor in the Research Library.

  • The Oklahoma Historical Society's Research Library and Archives have copies of the final Dawes Roll for the Five Tribes. If you have a name of an ancestor you believe to be Native American, check the final rolls. Always cross check other tribal rolls. Sometimes a person may have inadvertently ended up on a roll for the tribe that their spouse belonged to or the roll for a tribe living nearby.

  • If you find your ancestor on a Dawes Roll then you need to get a copy of their enrollment card. The Oklahoma Historical Society's Research Library and Archives has the Dawes Rolls, as does the Southwest Branch of the National Archives in Ft. Worth, Texas.

Plains and Woodland Tribes


  • Check the 1900 U.S. Census at the Library for your ancestor.

  • Check the allotment rolls for your ancestor in each agency you are researching. These are available in the Archives. If you find your ancestor listed on the roll it will have a description of their allotment which you need to copy. Agency rolls may be listed by tribal name or by agency. Once the information above is located, the Archives can direct you in the next step in tracing your Native American ancestor.


  • Native American Records. The collection contains 3.5 million documents and 6,000 volumes representing 66 of the 70 Native tribes that reside in Indian Territory. (Osage records can be found at the Southwest Branch of the National Archives in Ft. Worth, TX). Other resources include the 112-volume Indian-Pioneer History, a collection of oral histories done by the Federal Writers Project in 1937.

  • Indian Confederate Records and Union Muster Rolls.

  • Indian Archives Index. Section "X" Vertical Files include genealogies, biography files, & information on both Indian Territory and Oklahoma Territory. They contain news clippings, information on Native Americans, pioneers, etc.

  • Oral Interviews 1937-1938 and oral histories (written, audio, and video). Oral histories include many subjects and individuals with over 5,000 interviews and recorded events. Extensive indexes are provided by name.

  • Manuscript collections. These are unpublished collections of public and private papers, scrapbooks, business

  • records, collections of scholars, and more. Guides to collections and limited indexes are available.

  • Newspaper archives from state and tribal sources. The Newspaper collection contains 28,000 microfilm reels of state newspapers from 1844 to the present. Some indexing is available. Newspapers are often a good source for marriage and death notices.


Our thanks to Donna Jones, the Oklahoma Historical Society, and Oklahoma Indian Legal Services, Inc. for this information.

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