Part of the fallout from the Elizabeth Warren-Donald Trump tweet feud is the reintroduction of Warren’s contested claims of Native American ancestry. Without getting into the details of Warren’s claim, with which I am unfamiliar, this provides an opportunity to discuss how such claims are established (at least with respect to five tribes).
The National Archives maintains a website for researching Native American heritage with various historical documents. In this post, I’ll focus on the “Five Civilized Tribes in Indian Territory” (Cherokee, Creek, Choctaw, Chickasaw and Seminole) listed on the Indian census known as the Dawes Rolls (1898-1914). The “Five Civilized Tribes” are the tribes that were forcibly resettled into Oklahoma (many on the Trail of Tears); being listed on the Dawes Rolls was proof of tribal membership and entitled one to an allotment of land. Of course, even these historic rolls depended on accurate recordkeeping and accurate initial assessment, which was difficult given the circumstances. Careful recordkeeping was but one casualty of the genocide of Native American people.
The Dawes Rolls (and similar materials) now matter for those seeking to establish a claim of tribal membership. The Archives has a helpful tutorial that shows users how to track their ancestors using the example of a man named Napoleon Ainsworth, a member of the Choctaw tribe.
As it happens, Napoleon Ainsworth was my grandmother’s grandfather.