Tracing American Indian and Alaska Native (AI/AN) Ancestry (2022)

This page will help you trace your American Indian or Alaska Native ancestry and provide you with information about tribal services, tribal contacts, and genealogical research. Some frequently asked and common ancestral search questions will also be answered within this page.

Establishing American Indian or Alaska Native (AI/AN) Ancestry

There are many reasons a person will seek to establish their AI/AN ancestry. When establishing descent from an AI/AN tribe for membership and enrollment purposes an individual must provide genealogical documentation that supports their claim of such ancestry from a specific tribe or tribal community. If the end goal for doing this research is to help you determine if you are eligible for membership in a tribe, you must be able to:

  1. Establish that you have a lineal ancestor (biological parent, grandparent, great-grandparent and/or more distant ancestor) who is an American Indian or Alaska Native person from a federally recognized tribe in the U.S.
  2. Identify which tribe (or tribes) your ancestor was a member of or affiliated with and
  3. Document your relationship to that person using vital statistics records and other records a tribe may require or accept for purposes of enrollment.

Download Certificate Degree of Indian Blood (CDIB) Form

Services And Benefits for AI/AN Ancestry

Indian Affairs supports and assists the tribes as they develop their governmental structures and operations, build strong and safe communities, and provide services to their members. Indian Affairs-funded programs include education, economic and workforce development, social services, justice (law enforcement, corrections, and courts), infrastructure (road, bridges, and dams), housing, realty, agriculture and range management, and natural resources management and protection. Besides Indian Affairs, there are other Federal agencies with programs developed specifically to serve AI/ANs and their tribal communities.

Enrollment In A Federally Recognized Tribe

There are multiple reasons to enroll in a federally recognized tribe. Tribal membership may convey the right to vote in tribal elections, to serve in tribal leadership, to participate in the sharing of tribal assets, to use tribal treaty rights (such as hunting, fishing, and gathering rights) within the tribe’s jurisdiction, to participate in cultural or religious matters, to receive tribal services and benefits, and to exercise other privileges or rights unique to tribal members. These tribal privileges and rights differ from tribe to tribe, as do their unique membership criteria. Follow the link below to review a list of the current Tribal Leaders Directory to find information regarding each tribe's membership requirements and application. Uniform membership requirements among all tribes do not exist as criterion varies from tribe to tribe. However, it can be said that two commonly found requirements for membership are:

  1. Lineal descent from someone named on the tribe's base roll [a "base roll" is a tribe’s original list of members as designated in a tribal constitution or other document specifying enrollment criteria]
  2. Lineal descent from a tribal member who descends from someone whose name appears on the base roll. Other conditions such as tribal blood quantum, residency, or continued contact with the tribe also are common.

Tribal Leaders Directory

Doing Genealogical Research

Start your genealogical research with yourself and your personal family history. Start with current and historical records that you have on hand such as letters, journal, diaries, etc., that belong to you and/or your immediate biological family. If you or a lineal ancestor is not currently a member of a federally recognized tribe, band or group in the U.S., your research can begin with public or other non-Indian records such as those kept by state and local governments, churches, schools, libraries, newspapers, and historical societies.

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Where To Look For Ancestral Information

There are several places that you may be able to find information regarding you AI/AN Ancestry.

  1. At Home- The first place where you can begin to do your genealogical research is at home. Valuable information can be found in newspaper clippings, military service records, birth and death records, marriage licenses, divorce records, family bibles, personal journals, diaries, letters, scrapbooks, backs of pictures and other documents. Your relatives and family members may also be a great resource for you, check to see if they can share information with you, or answer any questions you have.
  2. Local and State Level- It is often helpful to check town, school, church, and county courthouse records for information. Historical and genealogical information also can be found in other civil records at local courthouses such as deeds, wills, land or other property conveyance documents. Additionally, local newspaper may have important information regarding an ancestor. To obtain a vital statistic record, you must contact the department, bureau or office that handles vital statistics records for the state where the event took place. Each state has its own rules for who may request a vital statistics record and its own process for requesting one (including any fees it may charge). State vital statistics records offices may be found using the internet.
  3. Public Libraries and Other Repositories- Visiting the local library is a very good starting point for gathering facts about AI/ANs and their tribes. A wealth of information exists concerning the history of tribes, tribal cultures, historical tribal territories, and tribal migration patterns. Most libraries also have books on how to do genealogical research to gain an understanding of basic research techniques.
  4. Federal Level (NARA)- The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) is the repository for all federal records. The records it holds and the information it provides are very useful to anyone interested in genealogical research. One example is census records, which are a very good source of information for persons trying to locate and identify their ancestors in the United States. In the 19th century, the BIA, which was established in 1824, carried out census counts of American Indians living on reservations. NARA has Federal census records from 1790 to 1940, including BIA American Indian census records. NARA also has military service records, passenger arrival records, and other records of value to persons involved in genealogical research including the Dawes Roll if you are researching ancestry from any of the Five Civilized Tribes in Oklahoma.
  5. Records Concerning AI/AN- If you have identified your ancestor’s tribal affiliation, now you can proceed to begin researching records about the tribe. The American Indian records collection at NARA includes special censuses, school records, and allotment records. For more information concerning the special censuses of various tribes, NARA offers: Microfilm Publication M1791, American Indian Censuses, “The Special Census of Indians, 1880”.
  6. BIA Offices- BIA regional offices (and agencies may be additional sources of information on an ancestor if:
  • your ancestor’s estate was probated through the bureau because he or she had land in trust with the bureau and/or received income derived from federal Indian trust lands and/or assets,
  • his or her name appears on a tribe’s base membership roll, a copy of which rests with the regional office or agency that services the tribe, or
  • his or her name appears on a judgment distribution roll developed as part of the settlement of a tribal claim against the United States.

The BIA, however, does not maintain current or historic records of all individuals who possess some degree of AI/AN blood. The BIA holds current rather than historic tribal membership enrollment lists, which do not hold the supporting documentation of the members listed. When you contact a BIA regional office or agency, be prepared to give the name of the tribe, the name(s) and birth date(s) of your lineal ancestor(s), and your relationship to such ancestor(s). The Tribal Leaders Directory includes contact information for all BIA regional offices and agencies.

Tribal Leaders Directory

What If I Was Adopted?

Generally, adoptions of AI/AN children have been handled in state courts under state laws. When you are seeking to open sealed adoption papers, the BIA cannot help you. You will need to obtain legal advice from an attorney that deals with this area of law. If you have questions about the Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978 (ICWA), P.L. 95-608, which allows federally recognized tribes to intervene in certain AI/AN child adoption situations, you can contact a BIA regional social worker in any of the Bureau’s 12 regional offices or contact the National Indian Child Welfare Association for more information.

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Could A Blood or DNA Test Prove AI/AN Ancestry?

Blood tests and DNA tests will not help an individual document his or her descent from a specific Federally recognized tribe or tribal community. The only value blood tests and DNA tests hold for persons trying to trace ancestry to a particular tribe is that testing, if the tribe accepts it, can establish if an individual is biologicallyrelated to a tribal member. Check directly with the tribe you are seeking to enroll to find out if it will accept a blood test or DNA test as part of its enrollment application process.

Getting Help With Research

If you are contemplating hiring someone to research your family history, professional genealogists can charge fees on an hourly or flat-rate basis. For more information on what to consider when hiring a professional, contact your local genealogical association or society, or visit the NARA website. If you do not wish to conduct your own research, researchers are available for a fee. Please search the Board for Certification of Genealogists or the Association of Professional Genealogists websites for their listings of genealogical researchers.

Tracing Cherokee Indian Ancestry

We receive so many requests for information on how to trace Cherokee Indian ancestry, therefore we have included this special section for it. About 200 years ago the Cherokee Indians were one tribe, or "Indian Nation," that lived in the southeast part of what is now the United States. During the 1830's and 1840's, the period covered by the Indian Removal Act, many Cherokees were forcibly moved west to what was then termed “Indian Territory” and that is now the state of Oklahoma. A number of Cherokees remained in the southeast and some gathered in North Carolina, where they purchased land and continue to live to this day. Today, individuals of Cherokee ancestry fall into at least one of the following categories:

  1. Living persons who were listed on the final rolls (Dawes Commission Rolls) of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma, now known as the Cherokee Nation, that were approved and their descendants. These final rolls were closed in 1907.
  2. Individuals enrolled as members of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians of North Carolina and their descendants who are eligible for enrollment with the Band.
  3. Persons on the list of members identified by a resolution dated April 19, 1949, and certified by the Superintendent of the BIA’s Five Civilized Tribes Agency, and their descendants who are eligible for enrollment with the United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians of Oklahoma.
  4. All other persons of Cherokee Indian ancestry.

After about a half century of self-government, a law enacted in 1906 directed that final rolls be made and that each enrollee be given an allotment of land or paid cash in lieu of an allotment. The Cherokee Nation in Oklahoma, a federally recognized tribe, formally organized in 1975 with the adoption of a new constitution that superseded one from 1839. The new constitution established a Cherokee Register for the inclusion of any Cherokee person for membership purposes in the Cherokee Nation. Members must be citizens as proven by reference to the Dawes Commission Rolls, which outlined the membership of the Five Civilized Tribes in Oklahoma – the Cherokee Nation, the Chickasaw Nation, the Choctaw Nation, the Muscogee (Creek) Nation and the Seminole Nation. These are the only federally recognized tribes who use the Dawes Rolls as their base membership rolls.

  • Any questions with regard to Cherokee Nation ancestry and/or enrollment should be referred to:

    Cherokee Nation
    PO Box 948
    Tahlequah, OK 74465
    Phone: (918) 456-0671
    Fax: (918) 458-5580

    (Video) How to Prove Native American/Indian Ancestry | Ancestry

  • For the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians in North Carolina, inquiries about the tribe’s enrollment criteria or information shown in the records may be addressed to the tribe at:

    Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, Qualla Boundary, P.O. Box 455
    Cherokee, NC 28719
    Phone: (828) 497-7000
    Fax: (828) 497-7007

  • By the Act of August 10, 1946 (60 Stat. 976), Congress recognized the United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians in Oklahoma (UKB) for the purposes of organizing under the Oklahoma Indian Welfare Act. Information about ancestry from this tribe and its enrollment requirements may be obtained by contacting:

    United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians in Oklahoma
    P.O. Box 746
    Tahlequah, OK 74465
    Phone: (918) 431-1818
    Fax: (918) 431-1873

  • Persons without affiliation to any of these tribes but still of Cherokee ancestry are best served looking through the Dawes Commission Rolls for their ancestor's listing.

Additional Resources

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Contact Us

Office of Public Affairs - Indian Affairs

1849 C Street, N.W. MS-3658-MIB
Washington, DC 20240

Open 8:30 a.m.–4:30 p.m., Monday–Friday.


How can I trace my Native American lineage for free? › Publishes a downloadable Guide to Tracing Your Indian Ancestry. Has a vast online library, Tracing Native American Family Roots. Provides the online tribal directory where contact information for specific tribes can be found.

How do I know if I am descended from Native American? ›

A DNA test can act as a very helpful tool when looking into your ancestry, in particular, if you have Native American ancestry, but there exist other ways of looking into your ancestral past too. For people researching the potential of a Native American past, you can: Look at available immigration or census records.

How do you prove Native American ancestry? ›

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.

Can Native American DNA be detected? ›

A DNA test may be able to tell you whether or not you're Indian, but it will not be able to tell you what tribe or nation your family comes from, and DNA testing is not accepted by any tribe or nation as proof of Indian ancestry.

Can 23andMe detect Native American? ›

Your results may include evidence of DNA from the native peoples of North, Central, and South America, labeled "Indigenous American." In addition, you may receive a likely or highly likely match to one or more of 8 the genetic groups identified in our analyses within North America.

What percentage of your DNA makes you Native American? ›

Some tribes require as much as 25% Native heritage, and most require at least 1/16th Native heritage, which is one great-great grandparent. If you don't know who in your family was a tribal member it's unlikely that you would be able to meet the blood quantum requirement.

Can you be Native American and not show up on ancestry DNA? ›

The AncestryDNA test surveys over 700,000 locations in your DNA, but there is still a chance that we missed evidence of Indigenous American DNA. This is because you may have inherited genetic markers that AncestryDNA does not use to identify Indigenous American ethnicity.

What race is Native American closest to? ›

Genetically, Native Americans are most closely related to East Asians and Ancient North Eurasian. Native American genomes contain genetic signals from Western Eurasia due in part to their descent from a common Siberian population during the Upper Paleolithic period.

How many generations can claim Indian status? ›

After two consecutive generations of parents who do not have Indian status (non-Indians), the third generation is no longer entitled to registration.

What percentage of Native American do you have to be? ›

The Bureau of Indian Affairs uses a blood quantum definition—generally one-fourth Native American blood—and/or tribal membership to recognize an individual as Native American.

How do I trace my Indian roots? ›

Interested descendants of passenger Indians would have to call personally at the archives with the relevant documents. They may be issued with a “vault copy” of a document containing the required information about their ancestors. For details, call the National Archives on 033 342 4712.

Do Native Americans share DNA with Indians? ›

Genome sequencing on the arm bone of a 3-year-old Siberian boy known as the “Mal'ta Boy,” the world's oldest known human genome, shows that Native Americans share up to one-third of their DNA with people from those regions, said Kelly Graf, a research assistant professor at the Department of Anthropology at Texas A&M ...

How accurate are DNA tests for Native American ancestry? ›

Despite advances in genetic tests' capacity to pinpoint ancestral relationships, none of the companies can definitively state that ancestral relationships are aligned with any particular tribe. No genetic tests can determine tribal affiliation, nor can they definitively prove Native American ancestry.

Who do Native Americans share DNA with? ›

A recent DNA research on the bones of a boy who lived along the shores of Lake Baikal in Siberia shows that one-third of his genome was that of Western Eurasians, prompting scientists to conclude that Native Americans share much of their genetic material with Middle Easterners and Europeans.

Are all Native Americans genetically the same? ›

A study published in the Cell journal in 2019, analysed 49 ancient Native American samples from all over North and South America, and concluded that all Native American populations descended from a single ancestral source population which divided from Siberians and East Asians, and gave rise to the Ancestral Native ...

Does Native American DNA show up in females? ›

The Native American DNA Sequence is available for both males and females. For males, you can test for Native American ancestry in either your direct paternal (father's) or direct maternal (mother's) line of ancestors. For females, you can only test for native american ancestry in your direct matrilineal line.

What are Indians mixed with? ›

Most Indian groups descend from a mixture of two genetically divergent populations: Ancestral North Indians (ANI) related to Central Asians, Middle Easterners, Caucasians, and Europeans; and Ancestral South Indians (ASI) not closely related to groups outside the subcontinent.

Why is there no Native American in my DNA? ›

Percent chance of no shared DNA

Perhaps your “full” Native American ancestor was one of your great-great- or great-great-great grandparents. And in that case, you really might not have inherited any DNA from them. So that's the strictly genetic reason why you might not have any Native American DNA.

What percentage of Mexican DNA is Native American? ›

For mtDNA variation, some studies have measured Native American, European and African contributions to Mexican and Mexican American populations, revealing 85 to 90% of mtDNA lineages are of Native American origin [53,54], with the remainder having European (5-7%) or African ancestry (3-5%) [54].

What determines if you are Native American? ›

If the end goal for doing such research is to help you determine if you are eligible for membership in a tribe, you must be able to: 1) establish that you have a lineal ancestor – biological parent, grandparent, great-grandparent and/or more distant ancestor – who is an American Indian or Alaska Native person from a ...

How much money do you get a month for being Native American? ›

The bottom line is Native Americans do not get automatic monthly or quarterly checks from the United States government. Maybe they should, and maybe one day they will, but at this time it is merely a myth.

Why do Native Americans have long hair? ›

For Native Americans, long hair equates to POWER, VIRILITY, and PHYSICAL STRENGTH. Beliefs and customs do differ widely between tribes, however, as a general rule, both men and women are encouraged to wear their hair long. Long hair ties the people to Mother Earth, reflecting Her long grasses.

Are Eskimos considered Native Americans? ›

Eskimos are racially distinct from American Indians, and are not, as previously believed, merely “Indians transformed.” In fact, the Eskimos are most closely related to the Mongolian peoples of eastern Asia. Eskimos consider themselves to be “Inuit” (The People).

Who are American Indian or Alaska Native? ›

According to OMB, “American Indian or Alaska Native” refers to a person having origins in any of the original peoples of North and South America (including Central America) and who maintains tribal affiliation or community attachment.

What percentage of Cherokee Indian Do you have to be to receive benefits? ›

To give you an example, the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians require a minimum of 1/16 degree of Cherokee Indian blood for tribal enrollment, while the Bureau of Indian Affairs' Higher Education Grant expects you to have the minimum of 1/4 Native American blood percentages.

What does Indian status entitle you to? ›

Indian status is the legal standing of a person who is registered under the Indian Act . As a registered person, you have certain benefits and rights and are eligible for a range of federal and provincial or territorial programs and services.

What benefits do you get if you're Indian? ›

All American Indians & Alaska Natives, whether they live on or off reservations, are eligible (like all other citizens who meet eligibility requirements) to receive services provided by the state such as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), Supplemental Security Income (SSI), the Food Stamp Program and the ...

What is the average Native American Height? ›

However, Boas found that the height of the average Cheyenne was a whopping 5'10”; the Arapaho about 5'9”; the Crow 5'8-1/2”; Sioux 5'8” and the Blackfeet a fraction under the Sioux; the Kiowa were 5'7” and the Assiniboine a fraction under the Kiowa.

Can you join a Native American tribe without being Native American? ›

Every tribe has its own membership criteria; some go on blood quantum, others on descent, but whatever the criteria for "percentage Indian" it is the tribe's enrollment office that has final say on whether a person may be a member. Anyone can claim Indian heritage, but only the tribe can grant official membership.

Is there a blood test for Native American? ›

People think that there's a DNA test that can prove if somebody is Native American or not. There isn't. Which members of tribal communities are most affected by the use of DNA tests? We have a lot of adopted children in our communities.

Are Native Americans genetically related to Chinese? ›

Ancient DNA from a 14,000-year-old skull found in south-west China reveals that the individual was a member of our species, Homo sapiens, and had genetic ties to the east Asian ancestors of Native Americans.

Where did Native American indians originate from? ›

The ancestors of the American Indians were nomadic hunters of northeast Asia who migrated over the Bering Strait land bridge into North America probably during the last glacial period (11,500–30,000 years ago). By c. 10,000 bc they had occupied much of North, Central, and South America.

How much Native American do you have to be for free college? ›

Before you apply for any grant program dedicated to Native American students, you must first be able to prove, with accepted documentation, that you are at least ¼ American Indian.

How do you find out how much Native American you are? ›

Tribal Blood Quantum Calculator and Requirements
  1. 50 Percent / One-Half Blood Quantum (One Parent)
  2. 25 Percent / One-Fourth Blood Quantum (One Grandparent)
  3. 12.5 Percent / One-Eighth Blood Quantum (One Great-Grandparent)
  4. 6.25 Percent / One-Sixteenth Blood Quantum (One Great-Great-Grandparent)
  5. Lineal Native American Descent.
8 Jan 2018

Can a non Native American join a tribe? ›

Every tribe has its own membership criteria; some go on blood quantum, others on descent, but whatever the criteria for "percentage Indian" it is the tribe's enrollment office that has final say on whether a person may be a member. Anyone can claim Indian heritage, but only the tribe can grant official membership.

What percentage of Native American do you need to be to collect? ›

The Bureau of Indian Affairs uses a blood quantum definition—generally one-fourth Native American blood—and/or tribal membership to recognize an individual as Native American. However, each tribe has its own set of requirements—generally including a blood quantum—for membership (enrollment) of individuals.

Do Native Americans have to pay taxes? ›

Members of a federally recognized Indian tribe are subject to federal income and employment tax and the provisions of the Internal Revenue Code (IRC), like other United States citizens.

How Native Do you have to be to get status? ›

Most tribes require a specific percentage of Native “blood,” called blood quantum, in addition to being able to document which tribal member you descend from. Some tribes require as much as 25% Native heritage, and most require at least 1/16th Native heritage, which is one great-great grandparent.

Do Native Americans celebrate Thanksgiving? ›

Indigenous Peoples in America recognize Thanksgiving as a day of mourning. It is a time to remember ancestral history as well as a day to acknowledge and protest the racism and oppression which they continue to experience today.

What blood type are Native American? ›

All major ABO blood alleles are found in most populations worldwide, whereas the majority of Native Americans are nearly exclusively in the O group.


1. My Native Moms DNA Results | 23 and Me
2. Settler Colonialism & the Mechanisms of AI/AN Inequality in Child Welfare Across U.S. States
(The University of Utah College of Social Work)
3. Health Insurance Marketplace for American Indians and Alaska Natives (AI/AN) and Tribal Sponsorship
4. 2017 National Education Association (NEA) American Indian/Alaska Native (AI/AN) Observance
(National Education Association)
5. The Healing Way: Transitional Recovery and Culture in AI/AN Communities
6. American Indian & Alaskan Native SAPST Training

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