by Ginger Marin

Today, there are 561 officially recognized Indian tribes in the United States. For many Native Americans, family history is something they want to explore. Finding out which tribe their families belonged to, its traditions and the impact on their daily lives is important to them and there are resources available to assist you in your search.

Bureau of Indian Affairs

The Bureau of Indian Affairs is perhaps the largest database of records and histories of Native American tribes in the country, especially for Indians who retained their tribal status. You’ll find information such as pay rolls, annual tribal census data, and data about Indians who lived on reservations between 1830 to 1940. The Bureau keeps records and provides Native Americans with information to assist them in tracing their roots.

National Archives

While the National Archives do not assist people individually in tracing their roots, they do provide a resource for those willing to do their own research. You’ll find family background information such as blood types, gender, family names, residence, and even occupation. This kind of information can be invaluable for people looking to research their own Native American genealogy, or that of others.

Census Bureau

Census records are another helpful means of researching Native American genealogy. However, since there were so many different tribes, and because many of the tribes moved about the country, tracking their beginnings and whereabouts is difficult. The process of tracing Native American genealogy can be extremely time consuming, and sometimes near impossible so many organizations will not assist people specifically, but rather they will provide the information so that you can sift through it yourself. It’s really up to the individual to use the resources that are available and do your own legwork.

The DNA Trace

Scientists can trace genetics, family histories, where people have traveled, and how the tribes eventually came to split up into different groups. This information is absolutely invaluable in discovering how Native American people formed languages, cultures, and families. By studying Native American DNA, genetic family trees and various types of people can be traced. Their history, time line, and population can all be studied. For those who feel they have Native American heritage, or come from a long line of tribal families, DNA testing can help to determine their genetic background in relation to the Native American genes.

Although this testing can help people learn more about their lineage, the modern tribes of today usually require that people have at least one grandparent or great-grandparent who was Native American. If people cannot prove this, regardless of DNA testing, many tribes will reject them nonetheless.

Many people are just truly interested in their family’s heritage and background, and may also want to know for health related reasons. Some people are interested in the benefits that are available from the government and in being able to become part of a tribe recognized by the government. Other people just want to know about their past and where they came from, along with their family histories and traditions. (originally written for thewildwest.org)