Researching Your Native American Heritage – Tips and Tricks for Genealogical Success


American Indians are among the most challenging ethnic groups to research. Historical prejudice, government policies and lack of documentation make tracing Native American ancestors an ongoing challenge. Luckily, various resources are available to help you on your quest. This article will explore a few of those resources and provide tips and tricks for genealogical success.

Map Your Ancestors

Maps help you find your ancestors’ homes, follow migration patterns, verify land ownership, locate disappeared cities, and more. A Sanborn map, for example, can help you determine whether a homestead was located in the correct county and if it was on property that remained in the same family. Many maps also provide information about street names and numbering systems, which can make it easier to pinpoint the location of an ancestor’s house. A city directory can also be useful for learning property owners’ names. Lastly, photos help you visualize your ancestors in the world they lived in and can reveal clues that a document can’t. Searching for images online is easy and free using sites such as Google Images.

Gather Photos

Gathering photos is a vital part of researching your Native American heritage. They can reveal a wealth of information about an ancestor, including Native American ancestry physical traits who they were and where they came from. First, decide what kind of photos you want to collect. This could be a mixture of digital and physical images. Next, sort the photos into albums or folders. This can help you organize your research more easily.

Organizing your photos is also a great way to keep track of who took them, where they were taken and any other significant facts about them. This can also make it easier to share them with newfound relatives, as you’ll know exactly where they are and who they belong to! One of the best ways to find unknown photos is to search for them online. Many websites feature orphaned photos, and if you have the patience, you may find a photo of an ancestor you recognize!

Learn the Language

One of the most important ways to understand your Native American heritage is to learn the language. Not only will this help you communicate with the tribes, but it will also help you understand their culture and history better.

Learning a tribal language is also a great way to keep the cultural tradition alive. Several studies have found that giving young Natives the opportunity to learn their tribal languages can positively affect mental health and educational achievements in their communities. Fortunately, many resources are available to help you learn the language and make it part of your daily life. A few of these include the Language Exchange, a program that matches you with Native speakers of your choice. Another great way to learn the language is by attending a language class or talking with someone fluent in it. This will help you get the most out of your study, and you will be able to use it in your everyday conversations.

Write Your Stories

American Indian cultures are centered around stories and oral history. These can tell you a lot about your ancestors. These are also great ways to teach about Native American culture and values. Using storytelling to connect students to their cultural heritage can help them build stronger connections with each other and the world around them. Another type of story is the creation myths-stories that explain how each tribe came to be. These myths are an essential part of a tribe’s identity. The myths vary by tribe and are a major component of many Native American stories. Animals play a role in these stories. A spider, for instance, is usually helpful in Navajo tales, but it can also be murderous in the Gros Ventre tales. Once you’ve determined that your ancestors are Native American, look at tribal records and other resources. This will give you a much clearer picture of your ancestors’ lives and help you narrow down where you can find your family.

Start Small

When attempting to decipher family stories, it is vital to start small. Begin by working backward, talking to relatives and documenting recent generations. You can find records about American Indian ancestors in several repositories, including the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) research facilities and federal government agencies like the Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Indian Affairs. Also, search smaller repositories, such as state and regional archives and historical society libraries. For example, the Oklahoma Historical Society has a wealth of information about Native American tribes in that state, especially those forcibly relocated from their homelands. You can also find records about Cherokee ancestors at the Cherokee Heritage Center in Oklahoma City. You can also use genealogical periodicals that cover the region where your ancestor lived to determine if they had any ties with other tribes. Some of these periodicals are available online. They include a list of the names of Indians living in a given area and an index of articles about the tribe.