Skip to Main Content
It looks like you're using Internet Explorer 11 or older. This website works best with modern browsers such as the latest versions of Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and Edge. If you continue with this browser, you may see unexpected results.

Genealogy Resources: Native American

Tips for Native American Research

Start with yourself and work backwards. Form a well documented understanding of each generation.

Research the historical context of your ancestors' lives. What tribes may have lived in the area during your ancestor's lifetime?

Glossary of Terms

There are many unique terms you will encounter while researching Native American heritage. A few of them are included in this list:

Blood Quantum: A blood quantum is the percentage of Native American ancestry that an individual has. For example, if one parent is half Native American and the other parent has no Native ancestry, their child's blood quantum is 1/4. 

CDIB Card: Certified Degree of Indian Blood. This card is issued by the Department of the Interior's Bureau of Indian Affairs. It identifies an individual's Native American blood quantum and tribal affiliation. 

Federally Recognized Tribe: A Native American nation that has a government-to-government relationship with the United States. These nations possess tribal sovereignty. There are currently 574 federally recognized tribes.

Five Civilized Tribes: The Cherokee, Choctaw, Seminole, Chickasaw, and Muscogee-Creek Nations are known as the "Five Civilized Tribes." The name came into use in the mid-19th Century referencing the higher levels of appeared assimilation of these tribes.

Freedmen: Freemen include the former slaves of the Five Civilized tribes and their descendants. Many individuals on the freeman rolls have mixed Native American and African American ancestry as intermarriage was more common between these group than elsewhere in the United States at that time. 

Indian Territory: This region of what is now Eastern Oklahoma was established in 1834, by the Indian Intercourse Act to provide a specific area, outside of any state, for Native Americans that were forced to leave their homes as a result of the 1830 Indian Removal Act. This differs from the reservation system.

Intruders: This term is used to describe the individuals of European descent who lived in Indian Territory. Some received special permits; others were in the area illegally. 

Reservation: An area of land managed by a Native American Nation rather than by the state government in which they are physically located.

Roll(s): There are a number of tribal rolls that have been created through history to enumerate Native Americans of different tribes. Many of these rolls are used today as a reference point for documenting Native ancestry. Citizens enlisted in tribes today are not added to historical rolls.

Sovereignty: Federally Recognized Tribes possess the right to self-government. This includes independent constitutions, governments, courts, and other services.  

Resources in the Genealogy Center

The Waco Genealogy Center has many resources available to help you with your research. Here are some selected titles from our collection. For resources about a specific tribe please search our catalog here.

Researching Native American Heritage

Researching your Native American ancestry, is similar to any other type of family history research. You want to start with yourself and work backwards in time. Document each generation using primary sources such as birth certificates, death certificates, marriages records, and census. Move back through time one generation at a time. Find answers to the following questions:

  • Where & when was he/she born?
  • Where & when did he/she die?
  • Where did this person live during their life?
  • Name of parents
  • Name of spouse
  • Name of children

Once you have found answers to those questions, look for additional clues in the records you have found.

  • On the census 1860 and later -- what race is listed?
  • Did your ancestor live in a location strongly connected to tribal history?
    • Living in Indian Territory before 1898?
      • In 1890 approximately 70% of the population were non-Native
      • By 1907 approximately 90% of the population were non-Native
  • Did your ancestor receive annuities through the tribe?
  • Did your ancestor attend an Indian Boarding School?

Marriages between those with European heritage and Native Americans in the early to mid-1800s were typically a result of one of the following:

  • They lived in an area with few European families and reasonably peaceful interactions.
  • Person of European descent working as a:
    • Government agent
    • Trader
    • Minister
    • Teacher
    • Craftsman

If you are able to identify which ancestor was Native American, the next step is to determine possible tribal affiliation. To learn more about what tribe a person was a part of, learn about the history of the place where they lived. What tribe or tribes were in that area at that time? Here are a few resources that can help with that research:

  • County/town history books
  • Historic maps marking tribal locations
  • Tribal history books

After you identify your ancestors' tribal affiliation, you can look for records created specifically for that tribe. Types of records to look for include:

  • Tribal Government Documents
  • Indian Census
  • Bureau of Indian Affairs records
  • Indian Boarding School Records
  • Chattel Mortgages
  • Annuity Rolls
  • Treaties
  • Petitions
  • Dawes Packets
  • Bureau of Land Management records

There is not one single repository to find all of the information available. You will likely need to check with a variety of libraries, archives, and online resources. Places to find these records include:

  • Waco Genealogy Center
  • National Archives
  • State Libraries and Archives
  • Tribal Libraries and Archives

If you are interested in applying for tribal citizenship, you will need to understand the requirements for the specific tribe of your ancestors. Every tribe has different requirements outlined by their constitution. These requirements are federal law. Typically, you will be required to provide proof of a direct line relationship to a person who was recorded on a specific tribal enumeration.


Library Databases

Ancestry Library Edition and Fold3 are research databases that provide access to Native American records in addition to other valuable genealogical material.


DNA can be an interesting tool to use to help learn more about your ancestry, but is not a substitute for researching using records. There are currently no Federally Recognized Tribes that accept DNA tests as proof for tribal enrollment. There are currently no DNA tests that can definitively identify specific tribal affiliation.

The Central Texas Genealogical Society has a DNA Special Interest Group that meets on the second Thursday of every month at 4 PM at the West Waco Library & Genealogy Center. These meetings are free and open to the public. For more information about this group or other genealogy group meetings please click here.