Locating American Indian ancestors may be possible if they were members of one of the Five Civilized Tribes living in Oklahoma. These tribes developed a relationship with the United States government long before other tribes. Because of this long-standing relationship, tribal records exist for most of the 19th century. These records are available and can be used to discover and document American Indian ancestors.
The Five Civilized Tribes consist of the Cherokee, Choctaw, Chickasaw, Creek and Seminole tribes. These tribes were removed to Oklahoma in the late 1830's and early 1840's from their homelands in the southeastern United States. Each tribe was given land in what was then known as Indian Territory.
Rolls were taken from the time of arrival in Oklahoma, and some pre-removal rolls exist. Rolls will vary by tribe and date, and the information on each roll varies depending on the reason the roll was taken. Some rolls are only lists of names.
Between 1898-1906, the Final Rolls of the Five Civilized Tribes were taken to determine individuals who qualified for membership in the tribes. This roll is what is used today to determine tribal enrollment.
The Genealogy Center has tribal records of the Five Civilized Tribes dating from the 1850's to around 1910's. This microfilmed collection of materials is generated by the tribal governments. Included are census records, accounts of legislative sessions, court dockets, correspondence, election records, treasurer's records, materials relating to land allotment and leases and school records. The records are not indexed, but each film rolls has a description.
To be on the Final Rolls, or Dawes Rolls, your ancestor had to be living continuously with the tribe in Oklahoma. The first step is to determine the name of an ancestor who was living in Indian Territory between 1898-1906 and who will be on the 1900 federal census. Knowing the approximate age of the ancestor at that time the roll was taken and the names of any family members (parents, children, spouses) who may have been listed with them will be helpful in verifying the correct family on the rolls. If you are not sure of the age of your ancestor or other names of family members, you may need to acquire more information from other family members, or find a later family member on the 1930 or 1940 federal census and trace backwards to the 1900 from there.
Next, you need to find your ancester on the 1900 federal census for Indian Territory. As part of the questionaire asked by the census taker, the race of your ancester will be noted in one of the columns. If your ancestor is listed as "white" or "w," then it is unlikely they will be enrolled in the Final Rolls. Once you have verified your ancestor as non-white and living in Oklahoma in 1900, you will use the Final Dawes Rolls Index to find their census card number, or CC#. You may search by your ancestors name, and the index will provide you with the tribe, blood, and CC# along with other relevant information. The "blood" section will be members with Indian blood. The "minor" and "newborn" sections are names of children who enrolled. The "by marriage" section will be the names of whites who were married to tribal members and the "freedmen" will be the names of the former slave families who were adopted into the tribes. Be sure to check the age of the person listed in the results of your search to verify it is the correct person. You may also see what other family members were listed on the card with your ancestor.
Now you are ready to look up your ancestor's enrollment card and application packet (for all tribes except Creek) in our Fold3 database (only available at the Genealogy Center). Under "Native American Archives" browse the Dawes Enrollment Cards or Dawes Packets (you will search both the same way). Select your ancestor's tribe, their group (noted under "Tribe & Enrollment" in the index), card number, and then name. The census cards were the enrollment cards that were filled out for each family member who enrolled. Besides names of other family members, census cards contain the name of the father and mother of each individual, the former slave owner's name of the freedmen families, the place of residence of the family and earlier rolls that the family was listed on. These census cards may also help connect to earlier rolls of the tribe.
The information on the census card was taken from the application made by each enrollee. Applications exist for both accepted and rejected applicants. These packets usually include a transcript of the interview with the enrollee, which can provide interesting and useful information about your ancestors.
The University of Oklahoma College of Law has digitized documents from the U.S. Serial Set pertaining to American Indian and Alaskan Natives. You won't be able to search for a specific ancestor but if you are interested in the history of the U.S. government's relations with the tribes they are a valuable resource. They are available for free online.