The U.S. Indian Censuses are among the most important documents for tracing Native American family history -- as well as the place for anyone with Native American ancestry to begin searching for their heritage. Representing more than 250 tribes from some 275 reservations, schools and hospitals across the United States, the censuses typically recorded names, including Indian names, ages, birthdates, tribe, reservation and more.
Details of children born in the 1940s combined with information about individuals born in the early 1800s enable researchers to find parents and grandparents as children in 20th century censuses and trace their family to earlier generations. Clues in the census show where ancestors lived and how families changed over the years.
"The stories contained in these censuses will help Native Americans preserve their tradition-rich personal and cultural identity," says Megan Smolenyak, chief family historian for Ancestry.com. "Crossing tribal and reservation boundaries, these censuses tell personal stories of Native Americans living on reservations across the United States. In them we find influential Native Americans who led their people along side those whose stories are still waiting to be told."
Among the well-known names in the Native American censuses include:
-- Celebrated Iwo Jima flag raiser Ira Hayes was counted on Arizona's Gila
River reservation in censuses from 1930 to 1936.
-- Legendary Jim Thorpe appears 15 times in the censuses -- first as a
three-year-old named Jimmie living in Indian Territory, finally as a 50
year old in 1937.
The census also tells countless personal stories, such as:
-- Jesse Cornplanter of New York's Cattaraugus reservation appears in 16
censuses -- first as a child with his parents, then as a father with a
wife and child
-- Gabe Gobin, a logger on the Tulalip Reservation in Washington, who
appears in 33 years of censuses.
-- Seminole Mary Parker appears as a young teenage in three censuses taken
in the 1930s.
Because the Native American censuses were taken so often, they are among the best censuses worldwide for tracing family history. The U.S. federal census is taken only once every ten years. In addition, because Native Americans were not granted full U.S. citizenship until 1924, the U.S. federal censuses before 1930 are sporadic at best for counting Native Americans. The yearly counts and updates reflected in the Indian censuses offer Native American family historians a more complete and accurate picture of their ancestors than the federal census.