Tracing Native Ancestry

How do I trace my Native American ancestry? 
How do I become an enrolled member of a Native American tribe?

Tracing Native Ancestry Twitter photoBoth commonly heard questions at National Relief Charities, the simple answer to each is “it depends.”

To be fair, tracing Native American ancestry is just as difficult as tracing any ancestry.  A great deal of information must be gathered before one can even begin the process of identifying your tribal origins. For example:

  • One step is sifting through family stories and then getting official documentation and records of lineage to identify your ancestors.
  • Another step is completing the long process of genealogical research with accurate, verifiable results and documentation before you should even consider contacting the administrative office of the tribe to which you think you might belong.

In other words, before starting the tribal enrollment process, you must be able to prove through documentation that you are lineally descended from an enrolled member of a tribe. Even then, enrollment is not guaranteed as different tribes have different requirements for becoming an enrolled member. Regarding this matter, the Department of the Interior cites:

“Tribal enrollment criteria are set forth in tribal constitutions, articles of incorporation or ordinances. The criterion varies from tribe to tribe, so uniform membership requirements do not exist.”

It is important to realize this and not expect to call the tribal office and receive your tribal enrollment card two weeks later in the mail.  Enrollment is a very long process and there is truly no uniform way of becoming a tribally enrolled member.

So, my best answer to both of these questions is to be patient and to begin with an open-mind rather than expectations. Take time to learn about your family history and from whom you descend and be prepared to gather a lot of research and take as long as it takes to address the issues and meet the criteria of the tribe.

The U.S. Department of the Interior website offers invaluable advice and ways to facilitate your journey of tracing your  Native American ancestry. It also includes a Tribal Directory with contact information for all federally recognized tribes in the United States. If you have helpful experience with tracing Native ancestry or enrolling in a tribe, we welcome your comments here.

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3 Comments

  1. Johanne L Bertrand-
    Posted April 22, 2015 at 1:38 pm | Permalink

    My Great Grandmother was full blooded Cherokee. But I can’t find out about that. I have her on my Ancestry.

  2. chris mckenzie
    Posted October 31, 2015 at 3:09 pm | Permalink

    I discovered nearly 3 yrs ago that I am about 20 percent first nation. I come from New Orleans but my family are from North Carolina-Faison. How do I search for my early American ancestors,or establish which tribe? I live in England now.

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