Censuses of Native Americans

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The United States Federal Census

This article is part of a series.
Overview of the U.S. Census
Finding and Reading U.S. Census Records
1790 U.S. Census
1800 U.S. Census
1810 U.S. Census
1820 U.S. Census
1830 U.S. Census
1840 U.S. Census
1850 U.S. Census
1860 U.S. Census
1870 U.S. Census
1880 U.S. Census
1890 U.S. Census
1900 U.S. Census
1910 U.S. Census
1920 U.S. Census
1930 U.S. Census
1940 U.S. Census
Census Indexes and Finding Aids
Using the Soundex with Census Records
Non-Population Schedules and Special Censuses
State and Local Censuses
Census Substitutes
African American Census Schedules
Reconstructed 1790 Census Schedules
Censuses of Native Americans
List of Useful Census References

This article originally appeared in "Census Records" by Loretto Dennis Szucs and Matthew Wright in The Source: A Guidebook to American Genealogy

In some years, separate censuses of Native Americans were taken by the federal government and the Bureau of Indian Affairs. While some early Native American populations were tabulated by missionary priests and colonial authorities, specific examples of such tallies have not been located.

The 1860 and 1870 federal censuses noted only Native Americans living in non-Native American households. Native Americans who were not taxed (living on reservations) and members of nomad tribes in unsettled territories were not counted. It is safe to say that those enumerations of Native Americans made before 1880 are incomplete and frequently inaccurate. Additionally, in many instances, Native American origins are not indicated.

1880 Native American Census

In 1880, a special enumeration was taken of Native Americans living near military reservations in the Dakota and Washington territories and the state of California. The census included the name of the tribe, the reservation, the agency, and the nearest post office; the number of people living in the household, with a description of the dwelling; the Native American name with English translation for each family member; the relationship of each person to the head of household; marital and tribal status; and occupation, health, education, land ownership, and source of sustenance. Some enumerators also added customs and lifestyle data.

The 1880 Census of Indians, Not-Taxed is in four volumes in National Archives Record Group 29. Volumes 1 and 2 cover Fort Simcoe, Washington, and Tulalip, Washington Territory. Volume 3 covers Fort Yates, Dakota Territory, and volume 4 covers California.

1885'1940 Native American Censuses

The 1885 to 1940 Indian census rolls are on National Archives microfilm M-595 (692 rolls). Census enumerations were taken regularly, though not annually, by Indian agents on each reservation from 1885 to 1940. Throughout these rolls are scattered letters written by agents describing why returns were not taken with instructions to enumerators on how to take the census. Vital records are noted in the age column or appended in separate lists.

In 1978, E. Kay Kirkham, Field Operations, Genealogical Society of Utah, updated and corrected the National Archives listing of Native American bands and tribes in these 692 microfilm rolls. He compiled an index for all tribes and bands, with Indian agency, National Archives reel number, and Genealogical Society of Utah call number. Tribes are found under several agencies during the period covered by the census, so it is important to study the history of the tribe before beginning research. Copies of this register are available in the Family History Library's American reference area. Copies can be made on request for use in family history centers to access the lists more easily. There is no master name index to the Native Americans themselves.

Three copies of the census were made: one for the federal government in Washington (now transferred to the National Archives); a second for the Superintendent at Indian Affairs (Bureau of Indian Affairs); and a third for the Indian agency. Many Bureau of Indian Affairs copies were destroyed. Some local copies are still in agencies' possession or have been transferred to National Archives regional archives.

1898'1906 Indian Census Cards Index

Dawes Commission enrollment card dated 1896.

The Indian Census Cards Index was compiled by the Dawes Commission to verify individual rights to tribal allotments for the Five Civilized Tribes (Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Creek, and Seminole). To search this index, send the name of the tribe, name of the individual, approximate date of birth or death, and location to the Director, National Archives'Southwest Region, Box 6216, Fort Worth, TX 76115. Copies of the index are available from the Five Civilized Tribes Center, Bureau of Indian Affairs, Muskogee Agency, Fourth Floor, Federal Building, Muskogee, OK 74401, and through the Family History Library.

In the 1910 census, a special Indian schedule is sometimes found at the end of regular population schedules for some counties. For example, NV 1910 lists tribe, tribe of father, tribe of mother, proportion of Native American blood, and number of times married.

1910'1939 Indian School Census

The Bureau of Indian Affairs took separate Indian school censuses from 1910 to 1939. These include the names of all children between six and eighteen years of age, and their sex, tribe, degree of Native American blood, distance from home to the school, parent or guardian, and attendance during the year. Some schedules are available on microfilm, but most are still in original form in the Federal Records Center for the region where the tribe was located. Unlike other population census records, these often include the mother's surname.

Native American census records can be used to identify relationships, mothers' full names, aliases, ancestral rights, and inheritances. These census records, however, apply only to Native Americans registered with the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Many Native American families never enrolled with the government. These persons are recorded in the regular census schedules, usually without evidence of their Native American ties.

Other miscellaneous records document Native American populations. Supplementary rolls list births, deaths, and sometimes marriages. Deduction rolls give deaths or removals from the jurisdiction. Additional rolls include arrivals and births. Allotment rolls list those entitled to payment and the payments received. For a more detailed description of these and other Native American sources, see chapter 19.

External Links

Search the census on Ancestry.com