Genealogy »

Guide to Tracing Your Indian Ancestry


Start with yourself! Write down everything you know, then interview your parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, and so forth.​

From there you'll be able to search the census records and the rolls, and you'll be able to order birth/marriage/death certificates.

Today there are over 570 federally recognized tribes. Each of these is a sovereign nation with their own rules, regulations, and laws pertaining to tribal enrollment. Check with your tribe/nation to see if they maintain a culture center or genealogy department. Some examples are:

  • Cherokee Heritage Center - Park Hill, OK
  • Chickasaw Cultural Center - Sulphur, OK
  • Otoe-Missouria Cultural Center - Red Rock, OK​

Helpful Websites

Some websites below that may be of assistance:​

Access Genealogy


Family Search


USGenWeb Project



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Frequently Asked Questions

What records are available to be searched?

Every tribe/nation is different and not all of them maintained the same types of records.​​ Further, indigenous languages were originally oral, not written, therefore some tribes/nations do not have very many older records, if any at all. It is best to contact your tribe/nation to determine which records are available.

What if I do not know what tribe or nation my family is from?

For those who do not know, it is best to trace your family back to the 1900 and 1910 US Censuses. These censuses asked additional questions of Indians about tribal affiliation. If your family was not asked these additional questions, then it suggests they did not maintain tribal affiliation and are not going to be on the final rolls. From there find out where your family originally comes from and learn what tribes/nations originally lived in that area and what records may exist for them.

What about DNA testing?

DNA testing is one of the newer areas of genealogical study and research, and is continually evolving as researchers learn more. A DNA test may be able to tell you whether or not you're Indian, but it will not be able to tell you what tribe or nation your family comes from, and DNA testing is not accepted by any tribe or nation as proof of Indian ancestry.

What about adoption?

If you or your ancestor was adopted, the best advice would be to contact a professional genealogist in your state. S/he will be most familiar with the adoption laws​ in your state and will be able to advise you on what routes to take. Just as with every tribe/nation, every state has their own laws regarding adoption records.​