Native American Research Guide


This is the beginning of a research guide for conducting genealogical and family history research involving Native Americans within North America.

Indigenous peoples of the Americas


Where to Start

The National Archives (NARA) is always a good start to further research on almost any topic of United States research. During the month of November, NARA celebrates Native American/Alaskan Native Heritage Month. Check out these statistics from the U.S. Census Bureau, as well as the reference at their Archives Library Information Center (ALIC) page on the subject and the links below.

Categories (By Geography)

Classification of indigenious peoples of North America

Northern Tier

Area & Tribes Within This Region

This gouping includes all First Nations tribes within the Subartic regions and all Artic tribes of North America (much of present-day Canada, Alaska and Greenland). First Nations is a term of ethnicity that refers to the aboriginal peoples in Canada, who are neither Inuit nor Métis (mixed race peoples of fractional or questionable Amerindian origin). There are currently over 600 recognised First Nations governments or bands spread all across Canada, roughly half of which are in the provinces of Ontario and British Columbia. They are from a number of diverse ethnic groups like, the West Coast Salish, Ojibwe and Haida, the centrally located Iroquois, Blackfoot and Wyandot (Huron), the Dene people in Northern Canada, the Innu, Mi'kmaq, Odawa and Algonquins in Eastern Canada. Many of the Artic-situated Inuits are situated on Greenland.

Books and On-Line Resources


This grouping includes all tribes under the classifications of Northwest Coast, Plauteau, and California.

Geographical Area & Culture

These Indians were left relatively untouched by the white man at first, as they concentrated their Indian upheavals in the southwest and midwestern states (to begin with). The land in this region includes the coasts of Western Canada, Washington State, and Oregon. Life was often harsh around these parts, a land of islands and inlets with a coastline longer than the eastern seaboard from Maine to Texas. It is a temperate and fog-shrouded land, mystical and wooded, with a race of people who lived in Cedar lodges and carved Totem poles to represent their tribal status.

The tribes of this area were master woodworkers, building lodges of cedarwood, boats, and tools. They fed on small game, wild roots, and were expert fishermen. Different families amongst the tribes chose different animal totems to represent their status, some of these wood carved totems reached over 50 feet in height. The Lewis & Clark expidition of 1805 came across the Chinook tribe in this area and was one of the first encounters between red and white in the area. One way of gaining respect amongst a tribe was to organise a potlatch, a kind of free for all party where the host would cater for hundreds of people in a show of wealth, showering them with food and gifts. The potlatch was such a huge event that organising it could often ruin the host, as he would often be left with nothing and the potlatch ceremony could last up to 10 days!

To the Native Indian the area of California was once a garden of Eden. The area of the Siskiyou mountains near the Oregon border, west of the Cascades near the Nevada border, and north of the Mojave Desert that stretches from southern California into Arizona and northern Mexico was a temperate land. It had good soil and sufficient rainfall, with generally good weather. There was, before the Reckoning, little interaction between the tribes of this area owing to a diversity of language in the region. Since food supplies were relatively abundant little warring took place. Because they became rather docile the Californians were easy targets when the Northwestern tribes came in search of slaves. The native people of California lived in simple hide, bark, or lean to houses and subsided on fish, game, and wild plants & berries.

The Indians were first encountered by the Spanish conquisators and later Spanish missionaries, who transplanted a lot of their culture and religions in this new land. In contrast to the more warlike tribes of the plains and elsewhere, many of California's Indians willingly became "mission Indians", working at the Spanish missions and gradually adopting the more elaborate Hispanic culture. As a result by the time Spanish rule had ended in the 1820's the population had been decimated by European diseases and it's culture lost. As rule passed to first the Mexicans and then the C.S.A the Indians began to adopt American and Mexican culture

Tribes Within This Region

Northwest: Calapuya, Cathlamet, Chehalis, Chemakum, Chetco, Chilluckkittequaw, Chinook, Clackamas, Clatskani, Clatsop, Cowich, Cowlitz, Haida, Hoh, Klallam, Kwalhioqua, Lushootseed, Makah, Molala, Multomah, Oynut, Ozette, Queets, Quileute, Quinault, Rogue River, Siletz, Taidhapam, Tillamook, Tutuni, Yakonan.

Plateau: Carrier, Cayuse, Coeur D'Alene, Colville, Dock-Spus, Eneeshur, Flathead, Kalispel, Kawachkin, Kittitas, Klamath, Klickitat, Kosith, Kutenai, Lakes, Lillooet, Methow, Modac, Nez Perce, Okanogan, Palouse, Sanpoil, Shushwap, Sinkiuse, Spokane, Tenino, Thompson, Tyigh, Umatilla, Wallawalla, Wasco, Wauyukma, Wenatchee, Wishram, Wyampum, Yakima.

California: Achomawi, Atsugewi, Cahuilla, Chimariko, Chumash, Costanoan, Esselen, Hupa, Karuk, Kawaiisu, Maidu, Mission Indians, Miwok, Mono, Patwin, Pomo, Serrano, Shasta, Tolowa, Tubatulabal, Wailaki, Wintu, Wiyot, Yaha, Yokuts, Yuki, Yuman (California).

On-Line Resources

Great Basin

Geographical Area & Culture

Between the Rocky Mountains and the Sierra Nevada of California and the Cascade range of the North-west lies a vast basin. Bounded on the south by the Colorado river and Arizona, the Great Basin stretches up through Nevada and Utah to southern Idaho, central Oregon and Washington and on up to British Columbia. The southern part of the basin is desolate and unforgiving desert, with the northern region being a little more hospitable. Tribes in this area built their life and activities around mere subsistence. Like the plains Indians they were nomadic people eternally in search of food and water, one of their main meals was jackrabbit - not only good to eat but their pelts were used for clothing. Other foods included mice, insects, berries and pinon nuts.

Interaction between neighbouring tribes was common and many of the northern tribes were excellent horsemen and horse breeders. Like the Californian Indians, but unlike the plains tribes, the Indians of the region welcomed the white man withiut hostility and allowed trapping and hunting on their lands.

Peace was not to last, however, and the mid-nineteenth century saw the first friction between red and white after a preacher and his flock were slaughtered at Fort Walla Walla. The subsequent white retaliation restored peace for another 20 years until the Nez Perce wars of the 1870's which saw a brilliant new leader emerge from the Indian tribes - Chief Joseph

Tribes Within This Region

Bannock, Paiute (Northern), Paiute (Southern), Sheepeater, Shoshone (Northern), Shoshone (Western), Ute, Washo.

On-Line Resources


Geographical Area & Culture

In the forests and canyons of Arizona and New Mexico amid the spectacular red sandstone mesas, there arose one of the most complex of pre-historic North American cultures. The Anasazi people flourished peacefully between 700AD and 1100AD and built cities with multi-story apartment houses, such as the ones at Canyon de Chelly, Arizona. Their culture collapsed around 1350 due to drought and natutal disaster but their cities have been preserved by the dry air of the high desert. Replacing the Anasazi are the tribes that exist today who now live in adobe cities similar to those of the Anasazi - called Pueblos by the Spaniards who first encountered them.

Life in the arid regions was genearlly hard and bred a tougher variety of Indian. The Apache tribes were fierce warriors who inspired fear in all their enemies, whether of red or white skin. The Apache tribes did have a tendancy to fight amongtst themselves over horses, land rights and water. The Mescalara and Chircahua Apaches were famously bitter enemies and many skirmishes took place between the two. Life wasn't all about war however and the trribes of the region found time to become expert potters and built their own adobe houses. The tribes farmed their own corn and squash and hunted deer and rabbit. Horses were a valuable commodity in the region and a mans wealth was measured by the amount of horses he owned - more so than any other tribes of North America. SouthWestern tribes had a knack for stealing horses from the white man which not only earnt them their chief currency but also put one over on the ignorant white men.

Tribes Within This Region

Apache (Eastern), Apache (Western), Chemehuevi, Coahuiltec, Hopi, Jano, Manso, Maricopa, Mohave, Navaho, Opata, Pai, Papago, Pima, Pueblo, Yaqui, Yavapai, Yuman, Zuni.

Pueblo include Acoma, Cochiti, Isleta, Jemez, Laguna, Nambe, Picuris, Pojoaque, Sandia, San Felipe, San Ildefonso, San Juan, Santa Ana, Santa Clara, Santo Domingo, Taos, Tesuque, Zia.

On-Line Resources

Book: Pueblo Indian Folk-Stories by Charles Fletcher Lummis

Midwest Plains

Geographical Area & Culture

The Sioux Nations dominates the plains of the Dakotas, Wyoming, Nebraska and parts of Kansas, Iowa and Colorado, and a few tribes still live in the plains land around the Sioux Nations - from the Mississippi River to the Rocky Mountains and from Canada to Southern Texas. This is an area of vast oceans of plains grass where the tribes hunt buffalo (which were in abundance before the coming of the white man). This was the home of the legendary "Redskins" which have now become typified and immortalised in stories and dime novels, however innacurate they may be. Tribes of the Plains tended to be nomadic and lived in teepees or wigwams (although southeastern tribes of the plains sometimes remained fixed, in semi-subterranean houses) and lived off wild game and sometimes planted corn or other crops.

Of all these the Sioux were the most powerful, having a whole new country to themselves - although many other tribes joined this brave new land and made peace with the Sioux (bearing in mind that in real life most Plains Indians were enemies with at least two other tribes). If it weren't for their own internal squabbling and fighting over land and food then the Native Americans may never have lost their homeland to the white man in the first place. The Sioux dealt with the white man on their own terms, and knew how to fight when it comes to it - General Custer bore testimony to that himself.

The Coyote Confederacy was another strong nation but this group of tribes had more connections with their southern white brothers, occasionally helping out with their war efforts by raiding U.S. Army outposts and supply convoys in return for food and weapons from the CSA. Not all tribal elders looked on this deal with a much relish.

Tribes Within This Region

Arapaho, Arikara, Assiniboine, Bidai, Blackfoot, Caddo, Cheyenne, Comanche, Cree, Crow, Dakota (Sioux), Gros Ventre, Hidatsa, Iowa, Kansa, Kiowa, Kiowa-Apache, Kitsai, Lakota (Sioux), Mandan, Metis, Missouri, Nakota (Sioux), Omaha, Osage, Otoe, Pawnee, Ponca, Sarsi, Sutai, Tonkawa, Wichita.

On-Line Resources


Geographical Area & Culture

The dense woodland that stretched from the Atlantic coast to the Mississsippi River and from northern Tennessee to the St Lawrence Valley took in the rocky coastlines, fertile meadows and an abundance of mountains, rivers, and streams that supported a rich variety of plant and animal life. Of all the tribes of the Americas the Indians of this region were the most politically advanced, and had many meetings and alliances with one another as a means of dealing with mutual problems - such as the coming of the white man. The tribes of this area fed mainly on cultivated plants and small game and many of them lived in bark lean-tos or wooden "longhouses."

Area was composed of members of any of the Native American peoples living at the time of European contact in the area roughly bounded in the north by the transition from predominantly deciduous forest to the taiga, in the east by the Atlantic Ocean, in the west by the Mississippi River valley, and in the south by an arc from the present-day North Carolina coast northwest to the Ohio River and thence southwest to its confluence with the Mississippi River. The Northeast culture area comprised a mosaic of temperate forests, meadows, wetlands, waterways, and coastal zones.

Wars were common between alliances of the area and males became warriors at puberty, after proving their bravery by way of bashing themselves against large rocks watched by the tribe Shaman. During the Anglo-French wars of the 18th Century and the Anglo-American wars of 1776 and 1812 the local Indian tribes were used extensively in the war efforts by both sides. Indian tribes were played off against the enemy and each other in return for food, weapons and the promises of peace afterwards. Most of the time the local Indians were more than happy to oblige, war being the best way to prove ones worth.

With the English defeated in the war of Independance many Indian tribes who were loyal to the Crown were dispersed and moved Northwards into Canada where they were able to maintain their cultural heritage. The remaining Indians were assimilated to a certain degree into "civilised" society - educated by white men and converted to the white man's religion, but this didn't always work well.

Northeast Indian Distribution

Tribes Within This Region

Abenaki, Algonkin, Beothuk, Delaware, Erie, Fox, Huron, Illinois, Iroquois, Kickapoo, Mahican, Mascouten, Massachuset, Mattabesic, Menominee, Metoac, Miami, Micmac, Mohegan, Montagnais, Narragansett, Nauset, Neutrals, Niantic, Nipissing, Nipmuc, Ojibwe, Ottawa, Pennacook, Pequot, Pocumtuck, Potawatomi, Sauk, Shawnee, Susquehannock, Tionontati, Wampanoag, Wappinger, Wenro, Winnebago.


Of the three language families represented in the Northeast, Algonquian groups were the most widely distributed. Their territories comprised the entire region except the areas immediately surrounding Lakes Erie and Ontario, some parts of the present-day states of Wisconsin and Minnesota, and a portion of the interior of present-day Virginia and North Carolina. The major speakers of Algonquian languages include the Passamaquoddy, Malecite, Mi’kmaq (Micmac) Abenaki, Penobscot, Pennacook, Massachuset, Nauset, Wampanoag, Narragansett, Niantic, Pequot, Mohegan, Nipmuc, Pocomtuc, Mohican (Mahican), Wappinger, Montauk, Delaware, Powhatan, Ojibwa, Menominee, Sauk, Kickapoo, Miami, Shawnee, and Illinois.

The territory around Lakes Ontario and Erie was controlled by peoples speaking Iroquoian languages, including the Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga, Seneca, Huron, Tionontati, Neutral, Wenrohronon, Erie, Susquehannock, and Laurentian Iroquois. The Tuscarora, who also spoke an Iroquoian language, lived in the coastal hills of present-day North Carolina and Virginia.

Although many Siouan-speaking tribes once lived in the Northeast culture area, only the Ho-Chunk (Winnebago) people continue to reside there in large numbers. Most tribes within the Sioux nation moved west in the 16th and 17th centuries, as the effects of colonialism rippled across the continent. Although the Santee Sioux bands had the highest level of conflict with their Ojibwa neighbours, the Teton and Yankton Sioux bands moved the farthest west from their original territory. These bands, as well as most other Siouan-speaking groups, are usually considered to be part of the Plains Indian culture area despite their extended period of residence in the forests.[1]

On-Line Resources


Geographical Area

The territory from the Atlantic Coast to the western Mississippi Valley and from the Gulf of Mexico to Virginia in the north was the home of a large array of tribes that spoke many different languages but were united by their lifestyle and a healthy respect for nature and the environment. They were blessed with a mild climate, ample rainfall, and an abundace of fish and berries. The people lived in villages and were primarily argricultural.

The Southeastern Indians were expert potters, fishermen, and basket weavers with the roles of men and women being clearly divided. Men went to war and hunted, whilst women cleared the fields and raised the children. Indians of the Southeast were among the more liberal and marriages were decided by the couple in question, whilst premarital sex was acceptable. Polygamy was also common - but only if the first wife agreed.

Unfortunately this region saw the coming of the Spanish in the early 16th century, the newcomers included the infamous Hernando Cortez who dealt with the Indians harshly and slaughtered tribes in the area before moving into Mexico. During the early 19th century the Indians suffered again at the hands of the White Americans as they were moved onto reservations and had their land taken from them.

Native American territories in the South-Eastern area of North America in 1715

Tribes Within This Region Acolapissa, Asis, Alibamu, Apalachee, Atakapa, Bayougoula, Biloxi, Calusa, Catawba, Chakchiuma, Cherokee, Chesapeake Algonquin, Chickasaw, Chitamacha, Choctaw, Coushatta, Creek, Cusabo, Gaucata, Guale, Hitchiti, Houma, Jeags, Karankawa, Lumbee, Miccosukee, Mobile, Napochi, Nappissa, Natchez, Ofo, Powhatan, Quapaw, Seminole, Southeastern Siouan, Tekesta, Tidewater Algonquin, Timucua, Tunica, Tuscarora, Yamasee, Yuchi.

On-Line Resources

Written Publications


Early Indian Languages of the Native Americans in the continental United States

Readers can view a listing of all maps filed in Wikimedia Commons under the category Maps of Native American tribal territories.

General External Links

References & Sources

  1. Encyclopedia Britanica: Northeast Indian