Researching American Indians and Alaska Natives

Census Record

Indian Census Rolls, 1885-1940
For researching American Indians at the National Archives, the following records are often used:

Sample from Indian Census Rolls

From Microfilm M595, Indian Census Rolls

Agents and superintendents at American Indian reservations annually submitted census rolls starting in 1885. These rolls include individuals and families who maintained a formal connection with Federally recognized tribes. To research these records, you will need the name of the individual or family.

The questions found on the Indian Census Rolls and the process for collecting the information were not standardized, and therefore vary between years, tribes, and agents and superintendents.

Note: there is not a census for every reservation or every tribe for every year.

Indian Census Rolls can include:

  • Name (American Indian and/or English)
  • Gender
  • Age
  • Birth date
  • Agency /Reservation name
  • Marital status
  • Tribe
  • Family Relation

The Indian Census Rolls, 1885-1940, are available online at Ancestry.com and Fold3.com. Prior to digitization, these records were accessible via microfilm publication M595. Knowing the tribe can help narrow the search results on Ancestry and Fold3. (All National Archives facilities provide free on-site access to Ancestry.com and Fold3.com.)

For detailed information on the Indian Census Rolls and the microfilm publication.

Looking for Information Prior to the 1885 Indian Census Rolls

Depending on the tribe you are researching, there are may be earlier census or annuity rolls available (in general, earlier rolls contain less data). In many cases, the agent only listed the American Indian's name and perhaps the amount of money he or she received. The "roll numbers" on these documents seldom relate to earlier or later records.

Consider researching the Congressional Serial Set to find an individual's by name or information about a tribe. The Serial Set contains records received by Congress, primarily from agencies of the Executive Branch, and reports published by Congressional committees. Documents relating to American Indians often address claims against the government for depredations or treaty rights; some include lists of Indians, but they seldom provide any detailed information about the individuals. These records have been digitized and indexed for online searching at Heritagequest.com.

Use the individual's name or tribe as keywords in the search.

Canít Find Them? Consider these possible avenues:

  • The name may be spelled differently.
  • There may be transcription errors with indexing.
  • The agents or superintendents at the agency may have inadvertently left the individual or family off of the Census Rolls.
  • The individual or family may not have been identified as American Indian on any Federal government records.
  • Tips for successful searches in the Online Catalog and Record Group 75

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