Help a librarian with Native American genealogy question!
January 25, 2012 1:24 PM   Subscribe

I'm a reference librarian trying to help a patron find some information. The father of her children claimed to be Native American, but she is no longer in contact with him. She does have his first and last name and social security number, but no other information. She would like to find out whether he was telling the truth and what tribe he was part of, and share that information with her kids. I've told her that her best bet is to check the tribal rolls in the area that he lived, but she hasn't had any luck there. Any other suggestions?
posted by crowyhead to Society & Culture (8 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I'm not sure if by "no luck" you mean she hasn't gotten a response or the response is non-conclusive, because the information you gave her is spot-on. It's possible that he wasn't a member of a federally recognized tribe but is part of a smaller tribe. Does she know what tribe he claimed to be affiliated with? I assume you've started here and worked down to the tribal directory [which had a bunch of broken links unfortunately but might be good for finding the authorized names, giant PDF from BIA is here]. She could also try searching his birthplace for the 1930s census to see where his parents lived, if possible, and you might be able to tell if his parents were Native American, possibly. This is a longshot, but the 1930 census [there are better links if you have access to Heritage Quest or something else] is available. If they're older folks that might make sense. The BIA has limited ability to be helpful here but if your patron's child's father was Cherokee, or claimed to be, there is some information at the end of this document.
posted by jessamyn at 1:40 PM on January 25, 2012 [3 favorites]

Has she tried the Bureau of Indian Affairs? I believe it is part of their mandate to determine, or at least record, who is eligible for status in a federally recognized tribe.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 1:41 PM on January 25, 2012

Or what jessamyn just said in much greater detail.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 1:42 PM on January 25, 2012

Response by poster: It sounds like the information she received was inconclusive. There are many, many small tribes in the area (Lincoln County, Oregon) and I'm not sure how extensive her search has been thus far. I suspect that she has gone through the likely suspects without success and is looking for an alternative.
posted by crowyhead at 1:58 PM on January 25, 2012

The BIA isn't usually much help in this case. They don't keep a national registry and don't conduct genealogical research. This PDF gives some great advice on tracking down Native American/Alaskan ancestors. I think she might need to reconstruct his family tree, as if she was doing genealogy, and then run those names against likely tribal registries.
posted by Foam Pants at 3:00 PM on January 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

It's also not guaranteed that he was a registered member, even if he was of Indian blood.
posted by cmoj at 3:40 PM on January 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

For another angle, she could try DNA testing. 23andme's Native American Ancestry Finder (under Ancestry Labs) has my mother as 100% European DNA, while I'm 99.94%, and .06% Asian (as Native American's display). Ironically there's a legend on my dad's side of the family about descent from a Native American. We've pinned the legend to the 1870s, found others in the family married to Native Americans, and know from the area that they were probably Catawba Indians.

What you just read is the offshoot of 20 years of research, begun by an Aunt, one little bit at a time. Every little bit helped. None of these are free but they might help:
* 23andme
* Since he has a Social Security Number you can pull the application and, if it was early enough in his life, find out who his parents were. You'd get his address at the time at the very least. The records are part of the public record so you can pull them on anyone. It took about a month per request, but I had one take four.
* Depending on how long ago, she could also try a place like
posted by jwells at 4:28 PM on January 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'd see if she can contact any extended family of his and get more info. He may live in Oregon, and obviously she should start by just calling Confederated Tribes, Siletz, etc, but maybe his heritage is from his grandma. Who is from Oklahoma. So search for aunts, cousins, etc and ask them.

BIA is a possibility but I've never known them to give any answer on an enrollment question.
posted by purenitrous at 8:18 PM on January 25, 2012

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