Records Concerning Indians
Do not begin genealogical research in Indian records for this can most often be the wrong approach. Instead, begin research in current, rather than historic, records. If an individual is not currently a member of a federally recognized tribe, band or group research should begin in non-Indian records or other public records such as those records maintained by local governments, churches, and schools.
At some point in the research, the researcher will have identified the tribal affiliation of one's ancestor(s). Now is the time to begin research in records about American Indians. The Native American collection at the National Archives includes special censuses, school records, and allotment records. For more information concerning the special censuses of various tribes, the National Archives offers Microfilm Publication M1791, American Indian Censuses, The Special Census of Indians, 1880.
The BIA field offices in selected areas throughout the United States may have some records concerning Indian ancestry. However, the BIA field offices do not maintain current or historic records of all individuals who possess some degree of Indian blood. The records the BIA holds are current rather than historic tribal membership enrollment lists. These lists (commonly called "rolls") do not have supporting documentation (such as birth certificates) for each tribal member listed. The BIA created these rolls while the BIA maintained tribal membership rolls. The BIA no longer has extensive involvement in tribal membership. Current Federal policy and case law limits the involvement of the BIA in tribal membership matters unless mandated by congressional legislation, or is required by the tribe's governing document or otherwise requested by the tribe.
When you contact a BIA field office, be prepared to give the name of the tribe, the name(s) and birth dates of ancestor(s), and relationships. You must provide specific information otherwise, field offices (and other institutions) probably cannot provide much useful information. The BIA does not conduct genealogical research for the public.
The Privacy Act, 5 U.S.C. §552(a) protects the current tribal membership rolls and lists that the BIA maintains. Submitting a request for genealogical information under the Freedom of Information Act, 5 U.S.C. §552, is not necessary for records compiled and published by private institutions or available in census records declassified by the National Archives.
When establishing descent from an Indian tribe for membership and enrollment purposes, the individual must provide genealogical documentation. The documentation must prove that the individual lineally descends from an ancestor who was a member of the federally-recognized tribe from which the individual claims descent.
* Information from "Establishing American Indian Ancestry" prepared by the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA).