Researching Native American Heritage:  A Native American Genealogical Journey

© 2011, 2016 Native American Composition & Performance, Limited

By Jamie K. Oxendine, Lumbee/Creek


Director, Black Swamp InterTribal Foundation


Prelude and Disclaimer has received many a request from groups and individuals for help in investigating ones Native American Heritage. This article is for informational purposes on the logistics and projection of such a task. This is just a beginning in a series on Native American Genealogy.


Regardless of whether you are already a Native American enrolled with either a Federal or State Recognized Tribe, this is a wonderful assignment. There is always new history and information to find out about your Family, Band, Clan, Tribe and Nation. Also, never rely on just the work already done by others, not even your own Nation as there could be much more behind that “individual” Tribal Card that has a world of information to questions for you and generations to come.

Never do this for money, fame, revenge or any other hidden agenda, negative or material purposes. There are too many people that want to prove they are American Indian only to be enrolled with a Tribe to obtain certain benefits. These benefits may range from government assistance in education, food, health, housing, insurance and more to certain rights involving fishing, hunting and possession of protected animal parts. While all of this is good and beneficial for honest cultural reasons and future generations, if any of the previous is your sole agenda stop now and do not continue for these motives only.

It is hoped that when one takes on this work, they are doing it as a love of heart, mind and soul.


Interest in this subject is far from new as it has been a subject of writings as far back as the 17th Century for those seeking family heritage from the earliest of movement of Native American Nations at the onset of White Contact and beyond.

It is a great undertaking and requires a substantial amount of energy, time and unfortunately even money. One must be very patient and seek out possible facts from anyone, anything and everything. Always accept any suitable advice and wisdom from your family, friends, acquaintances and yes even enemies and then investigate each and every clue.

Be of great courage if you are one to accept this challenge. Do not falter even with the worse of road blocks. What you find may be shocking skeletons in the closet to extreme historical wonders.

The author is often asked to speak on searching ones Native American ancestry to many groups across the country. This includes both Native and non-Native historical and genealogical societies and groups from as far south as Florida to as far west as Washington. The one thing that is stressed to each and every group and individual that ask about Native American Genealogy is that of patience and even more patience.

When exploring any genealogy be prepared for many blocks that can hinder your search. Whatever that may be, the best advice is to not lose confidence and to continue your quest for information.

Contrary to anything that you heard in the past, genealogy is a massive mystery and Native American Genealogy is a real and true mystery novel. This is due to the enormous amount of oral history and oral data one must rely on as evidence.

There is a time when the searching may come to a bitter halt. One such case that occurs quite often and can be quite heart breaking and frustrating is when all the research leads directly to showing and even proving what one is searching for only to be turned away on what may be called a technicality of time and place. For various reasons (political, historical, cultural, economic and more) just about every Native American Tribe has a cut off or fine line for establishing an ancestral line and the requirements for enrollment can be even more demanding.

If one is only searching to know of the Native Heritage in their hearts and minds, this is not an issue. But for those determined to try and get enrolled in a Native American Tribe, this can be very frustrating.


Contrary to what seems the most logical place to begin do not go straight to the Tribe that you think you may be related to. One must remember that Tribes are bombarded by calls, e-mails, letters and visits from thousands that want to explore their possible Native American Roots.   Research communication to some 100 Tribes from the Atlantic to the Pacific over a 6 month period from August 2011 to January 2012 clearly resulted in statistics that showed the bulk of all communication to Tribes was about enrollment and or genealogy. For some Tribes, the amount of communication per day is truly overwhelming. It is sad but many Tribes just do not have the ability to handle the massive amounts of requests from those doing genealogy searches.


For the longest time DNA was not an option for the general lay person doing their genealogy. The method was way too complicated and very expensive. Even the idea of DNA testing via the mail was a dream of science fiction as the only approach was a blood test at a reputable lab. Blood work was needed and the cost was very high as this lab technique work was not covered by any insurance for testing human pedigree. But in the 1990s, DNA testing in lineage became easier and less expensive. The dreaded blood donation became a simple cheek swap or hair follicle donation and by the year 2000 the costs was even less than $200.00 for many labs that accepted submissions by U.S. Mail.

What most people fail to think is that while DNA testing my show certain Native American Markers, it could also show other racial markers. Even what was thought to be “Full Blooded American Indians” had DNA markers of other races. If one remembers their Biology 101, it makes simple scientific sense as DNA is the common trait and the building block of all races, creeds, and colors of mankind. But even if one dismisses the concepts of science, they may realize that any belief in one Creator would also show we as humans are all related in one aspect or another.

But as great as DNA testing may be, it may not be of very much use with regards to trying to become an enrolled member of a Native American Tribe. One must also remember that very few if any Native American Nations use DNA testing for any heritage verification.


Most people know to start any genealogy work with the family. That is the wisest and the best place to begin. Know that some of the stories from the family will be well placed fiction while the other is miss-placed facts. What is left are the small parts that are real and the most intriguing. The task of weeding through the chaff and putting together the puzzle pieces left will be some of the hardest work undertaken. Value this time with family and that especially of any occasion with Elders. Do not belittle even the simplest of information or stories as this is knowledge that is well worth its weight in gold.

After the initial probing of all in the family so to speak, the next move will be the world of records.


One thing that is well forgotten but well documented is that practically every municipality from the smallest village to the largest city in every county in all 50 states have suffered some kind of disaster that has affected record keeping.   This can be both man created and natural created from fires to storms and more. From the local court house to the local hospital records all over have been lost to earth, wind, fire, water and so much more. While this may seem a huge obstruction, the joy is that much of Native American history is oral and can be found with some patience and persistence and may lead to hard copies of proof.

When the author speaks on many of the records to search when doing ones genealogy the response is very surprising. Many seem shocked about certain records that are mentioned.  Actually the list below is very small as one needs to check anything that may have required the signature or mark of an ancestor. One would be very fascinated as to what documents were required to list race before the Civil Rights Act of 1964. In addition, many would be interested in learning about the many government agencies, states and other institutions that kept records of race for identity after the Civil Rights Act and still do to this day. Use this information wisely as the simplest document may be the one that shows Native American Heritage of an ancestor. It is possible that this could be used to prompt more searching and maybe even be accepted by a Tribe to show decent for possible enrollment. Note: key word there is “possible.” Here is just one real example: Many years ago an acquaintance of the author went on this genealogy search. After many years a simple utility bill that listed race of an ancestor lead to a real estate transaction that also showed race that lead to finding that ancestor on the Dawes Rolls for the Cherokee Nation.

Birth Certificates

This includes birth certificate, certificate of live birth, certificate of Indian Blood, family Bible and other family records accepted as facts by the Tribal Government, State Government and Federal Government.


In many ways this may be the real first place to start. This is very true if one does not have much family, or many of the family have passed. This is also a good place to start if family relations are strained. Taxes go back pretty far and yes Native Americans pay and have paid taxes of all kinds.  Taxes however are usually not an indicator of Race.

Other Records

Education (Boarding, Elementary, Secondary and Post-Secondary), Adoption, Cemetery, Census, Death, Divorce, Funeral, Insurance, Law, Marriage, Medical, Military, Social Security, Work Programs

Professional Licenses

Driving (Personal, Business, Commercial, Other), Chemical, Contractor/Construction, Education, Farming, Fishing, Hunting, Law Enforcement, Livestock, Machinery, Medical, Pilot, Teaching,    Weapons


Credit, Electric, Farm, Food, Gas, General Store, Insurance, IOUs, Medical, Mercantile,   Mortgage, Real Estate, Taxes, Telegram, Telegraph, Telephone, Trading Post, Water

The above lists are just a start. They may lead to absolutely nothing, but they may lead to a great deal of information at the sametime. One must take the chance and do the research. Once again the author must stress that the rewards can be very fulfilling.



There are many concerns here and one that is always overlooked is linguistics. That is the study of language and how it greatly changes. The largest issue here is the names and spellings of the Native American Nations. Each of the European Powers and later America all had various names, pronunciations and spellings of Native American groups that has created an unlimited amount of confusion and controversy. What a Nation calls itself and what the European and later American Powers call them can be very different.

Here are a few examples:

Cherokee, Tsalagi and Aniyunwiya are all the same people. Cherokee is the accepted English name, Tsalagi is from the neighbors of that Nation and Aniyunwiya is what they call themselves.

Ottawa and Odawa are the same people, one is the French word for the people the other is the  name of the Nation itself.

Iroquois and Haudenosaunee are the same people. The first is the French word for the people and the 2nd is what the people call themselves.

Navajo and Dine are the same people. One is of Spanish origin and the latter is the name of the  People in their own language.

Some Nations today hold on to the given name by the various powers they have encountered while other Nations are working hard to establish with both the state and federal government the name they are to be known as in their own language.

For genealogy this creates some controversy among the people themselves as sometimes they argue their own name. The author has seen this among the Anishinaabe across the Great Lakes many times. Not only are there differences in the names of the various Tribes of the Anishinaabe, there are numerous pronunciations and spellings of the same people. For one researching their ancestry among the Anishinaabe, getting past the correct name may be a hurdle in itself.

But not to fear, with the advent of the internet all state and federally recognized tribes can be found via federal and state government websites. Also, many Native American Nations have their own official website that contains a treasure of resources and information. Some even include materials on genealogy.


If the above paragraph on language can be confusing, it is nothing compared to the confusion from the various names of individuals and the various spellings of those names one will come across in genealogy research. One must remember that most Native American Nations practiced the fine art of name giving and of one having more than one name.

It was not uncommon for one to be known by several names from birth to death. The individual may also be known by several names given to them by other Nations as well as by the White Man. The name for one listed on one document could be different on another document and so on for the same person. A name on the official rolls may be a formal name but the person is known by a nickname or slang name in another dialect or even another language.

Not to be undone but one must not forget that many Native Americans did not write and thus any signature was only a mark. The basic mark was of course the X but many marks were pictorial that was common use among the English, French, Spanish, Dutch and Native American Nations long before the concept of Genealogical Rolls.


Now comes the section that most people are interested in and the one that has the most debate. This is because there are two main factions of thought here: Those that believe genealogy and its research is valuable and needed and those that believe it is a waste of time to adhere to rolls created by the White Man as just another way to have control over another race of people.

Depending on who one speaks to, it can have an effect on searching for one’s Native American ancestry. For example there are over 200 groups in the contiguous 48 states that use the name Cherokee and claim to be Cherokee Tribes. Among the three federally recognized Nations of Cherokee, these groups are often seen as a considerable “thorn” in their side and they often refuse to help anyone claiming Cherokee from one of these groups. This argument also involves the debate of state recognized tribes and any claim those tribes may have to actually being Native American. It creates a very interesting point for the lay person to see the arguments and debates over who is and who is not Native American especially since some rules and regulations on who is and who is not Native American was created by the White Man.


Searching for one’s ancestry is a most notable thing and probing into ones possible Native American Heritage is a most admirable task. It is hoped that one does this for pure knowledge and wisdom as well as to answer many questions that ponder the mind about “Who Am I” and “Who Are My People?” As mentioned before please do not seek this for any monetary payment or fringe benefits.


The author had communication with the following Federal and State Native American Nations over a span of 9 months:

Absentee-Shawnee Tribe of Indians of OK

Alabama-Coushatta Tribes of TX

Arapahoe Tribe of WY

Aroostook Band of Micmac Indians of ME

Assiniboine & Sioux Tribes of MT

Bad River Band of the Lake Superior Tribe of Chippewa Indians of WI

Bay Mills Indian Community of the Sault Ste. Marie Band of Chippewa Indians of MI

Big Valley Band of Pomo Indians of CA

Blackfeet Tribe of the Blackfeet Indian Reservation of MT

Burns Paiute Tribe of OR

Catawba Indian Nation of SC

Catawba Indian Nation of SC

Cayuga Nation of NY

Cher-O-Creek Intra Tribal Indians of AL

Cherokee Nation of OK

Cherokees of Southeast AL

Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe of SD

Cheyenne-Arapaho Tribes of OK

Chickahominy Tribe of VA

Chickasaw Nation of OK

Chinook Indian Tribe of WA

Chippewa-Cree Indians of MT

Chitimacha Tribe of LA

Choctaw Nation of OK

Coeur D’Alene Tribe of ID

Coharie Tribe of NC

Comanche Nation of OK

Confederated Salish & Kootenai Tribes of MT

Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Nation of WA

Confederated Tribes of NV & UT

Confederated Tribes of NV & UT

Confederated Tribes of OR

Confederated Tribes of OR

Confederated Tribes of OR

Confederated Tribes of the Colville of WA

Confederated Tribes of the Coos, Lower Umpqua and Siuslaw Indians of OR

Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde Community of OR

Coquille Tribe of OR

Coushatta Tribe of LA

Cow Creek Band of Umpqua Indians of OR

Cowlitz Indian Tribe of WA

Crow Creek Sioux Tribe of SD

Crow Tribe of MT

Delaware Nation of OK

Duckwater Shoshone Tribe of NV

Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians of NC

Eastern Pequot of CT

Eastern Shawnee Tribe of OK

Echota Cherokees of AL

Elnu Abenaki Tribe of VT

Ely Shoshone Tribe of NV

Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe of SD

Forest County Potawatomi of WI

Fort Belknap Indian Community of MT

Fort Bidwell Indian Community of CA

Fort McDermitt Paiute and Shoshone Tribes of NV & OR

Fort Mojave Indian Tribe of AZ, CA & NV

Four Winds Tribe Louisiana Cherokee Confederacy of LA

Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa & Chippewa Indians of MI

Haliwa-Saponi Tribe of NC

Hannahville Indian Community of MI

Havasupai Tribe of AZ

Ho-Chunk Nation of WI

Hoopa Valley Tribe of CA

Hopi Tribe of AZ

Houlton Band of Maliseet Indians of ME

Huron Potawatomi of MI

Ione Band of Miwok Indians of CA

Iowa Tribe of KS & NE

Iowa Tribe of NE

Iowa Tribe of OK

Jena Band of Choctaw Indians of LA

Jicarilla Apache Nation of NM

Juaneno Band of Mission Indians of CA

Karuk Tribe of CA

Kaw Nation of OK

Keweenaw Bay Indian Community of MI

Kickapoo Traditional Tribe of TX

Kickapoo Tribe of KS

Kickapoo Tribe of Oklahoma of OK

Kiowa Indian Tribe of OK

Klamath Tribes of OR

Koosharem Band of Paiutes, Indian Peaks Band of Paiutes, and Shivwits Band of Paiutes of UT

Kootenai Tribe of ID

Lac du Flambeau Band of WI

Lenape Indian Tribe of DE

Little River Band of Ottawa Indians of MI

Little Shell Tribe of Chippewa Indians of MT

Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians of MI

Lower Brule Sioux Tribe of SD

Lower Sioux Indian Community of MN

Lumbee Tribe of NC

Lummi Tribe of WA

Ma-Chis Lower Alabama Creek Tribe

Makah Indian Tribe of WA

Mashantucket Pequot Tribe of CT

Mashpee Wampanoag Indian Tribe of MA

Mdewakanton Sioux Indians of MN

Mdewakanton Sioux Indians of MN

Meherrin Tribe of NC

Menominee Indian Tribe of WI

Mescalero Apache Tribe of NM

Miami Tribe of Oklahoma of OK

Miccosukee Tribe FL

Minnesota Chippewa Tribe of MN (Fond du Lac, Grand Portage, Leech Lake, Mille Lacs, White Earth)

Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians

Moapa Band of Paiute Indians of NV

Mohegan Indian Tribe of CT

Monacan Nation of VA

Mowa Band of Choctaws of AL

Muckleshoot Indian Tribe of WA

Muscogee (Creek) Nation of OK

Nanticoke Lenni-Lenape of NJ

Narragansett Indian Tribe of RI

Navajo Nation of AZ

Navajo Nation of AZ, NM & UT

Nez Perce Tribe of ID

Northern Cheyenne Tribe of MT

Northwestern Band of Shoshoni Nation of UT

Nottoway Indian Tribe of VA

Nulhegan Band of the Coosuk Abenaki Nation of VT

Oglala Sioux Tribe of SD

Omaha Tribe of NE

Oneida Nation of NY

Oneida Tribe of Indians of WI

Onondaga Nation of NY

Osage Tribe of OK

Otoe-Missouria Tribe of Indians of OK

Ottawa Tribe of Oklahoma of OK

Paiute Indian Tribe of UT

Paiute-Shoshone Tribe of NV

Pascua Yaqui Tribe of AZ

Paskenta Band of Nomlaki Indians of CA

Passamaquoddy Tribe of ME

Pawnee Nation of Oklahoma of OK

Penobscot Tribe of ME

Peoria Tribe of Indians of Oklahoma of OK

Piqua Shawnee Tribe of AL

Piscataway Conoy Tribe of MD

Piscataway Indian Nation of MD

Poarch Band of Creek of AL

Pointe-Au-Chien Indian Tribe of LA

Pokagon Band of Potawatomi Indians of MI & IN

Ponca Tribe of Indians of Oklahoma of OK

Ponca Tribe of NE

Port Gamble Indian Community of WA

Powhatan Renape Nation of NJ

Prairie Band of Potawatomi Nation of KS

Prairie Island Indian Community of MN

Pueblo of Acoma of NM

Pueblo of Jemez of NM

Pueblo of San Felipe of NM

Pueblo of Santa Ana of NM

Pueblo of Santa Clara of NM

Pueblo of Santo Domingo of NM

Pueblo of Taos of NM

Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe of NV

Quapaw Tribe of Indians of OK

Quechan Tribe of CA

Ramapough Lunaape Nation of NJ

Red Cliff Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Indians of WI

Red Lake Band of Chippewa Indians of MN

Rosebud Sioux Tribe of SD

Sac & Fox Nation of OK

Sac & Fox Tribe of the Mississippi of IA

Sac and Fox Nation of Missouri of KS & NE

Sac and Fox Nation of Missouri of KS & NE

Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe of MI

Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe of NY

Salt River Pima-Maricopa of AZ

Samish Indian Tribe of WA

San Carlos Apache Tribe of AZ

Santee Sioux Nation of NE

Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians of MI

Schaghticoke Indian Tribe of CT

Seminole Nation of Oklahoma of OK

Seminole Tribe of FL

Seneca Nation of NY

Seneca-Cayuga Tribe of Oklahoma of OK

Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community of MN

Shawnee Tribe of OK

Shinnecock Indian Nation of NY

Shoalwater Bay Tribe of WA

Shoshone Tribe of WY

Shoshone-Bannock Tribes of ID

Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate of SD

Skull Valley Band of Goshute Indians of UT

Sokaogon Chippewa of WI

Southern Ute Indian Tribe of CO

Spirit Lake Tribe of ND

St. Croix Chippewa Indians of WI

Standing Rock Sioux Tribe of ND & SD

Standing Rock Sioux Tribe of ND & SD

Stockbridge Munsee of WI

Summit Lake Paiute Tribe of NV

Three Affiliated Tribes of ND

Tohono O’odham Nation of AZ

Tonawanda Band of Seneca Indians of NY

Tonto Apache Tribe of AZ

Tulalip Tribes of WA

Tule River Indian Tribe of CA

Tunica-Biloxi Indian Tribe of LA

Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians of ND

Tuscarora Nation of NY

United Cherokee Ani-Yun-Wiya Nation of AL

United Houma Nation of LA

United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians of OK

United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians of OK

Unkechaug Nation of NY

Upper Mattaponi Tribe of VA

Upper Sioux Community of MN

Ute Indian Tribe of the Southern Ute Reservation of CO, MM & UT

Ute Indian Tribe of the Uintah and Ouray of UT

Ute Mountain Tribe of CO, NM & UT

Waccamaw Siouan Tribe of NC

Walker River Paiute Tribe of NV

Wampanoag Tribe of MA

Washoe Tribe of CA

Washoe Tribe of CA & NV

White Mountain Apache Tribe of AZ

White Mountain Apache Tribe of AZ

Winnebago Tribe of NE

Wyandotte Nation of OK

Yankton Sioux Tribe of SD of SD

Yavapai-Prescott Tribe of AZ

Ysleta Del Sur Pueblo of TX

Yurok Tribe of CA

Zuni Tribe of NM

© 2011, 2016 Native American Composition & Performance, Limited

Jamie K. Oxendine, Lumbee/Creek

Native American Speaker

Director, Black Swamp InterTribal Foundation

A Non-Profit 501(c)(3) Native American Organization



  1. Michelle Brown
    10:11 am - 7-4-2017

    Hey Jamie, this is awesome. Thank you so much for sending me this and helping me look for the right places to search. You are a wealth of help and information.

  2. Jean McCord Smith
    9:37 am - 4-19-2018

    FANTASTIC! I used this and was able to get an appointment with the tribe we think we have ties to. Guess what? WE DO! Thanks Jamie you are the best!

  3. Jimmie Johnson
    7:59 am - 10-12-2019

    I used this information and found a relative listed as Indian on his utiltilty bill form the 1920s and I was like WTF they did liste people by race on bills. DAMN! But it helped to show the was to the enrollment office and that started a long process but we are in the list to be evaluated soon. THANKS BRO!

  4. Sandra Richardson
    11:44 am - 1-2-2020

    hey is the enrollment office open yet? i am being patient and i do understand why you have it closed to make sure things are right. just please let me know when it is staring up again.

  5. Tina Rey-Blackhorse
    10:03 am - 6-20-2020

    This is great stuff too Jamie. But if all this how the hell did the Wee Wee bamboozle people?

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