Native American Genealogy
Native American genealogy can present some unique research problems, distinct from family trees that are deeply rooted in Europe and Great Britain.
Native American genealogy is simply not a straightforward matter of pouring through the usual church and census records.
Researchers on the trail of their Native American ancestors need to develop an understanding of tribal:
- Naming customs
- Kinship systems
All of which vary greatly between the different nations.
The good news for genealogy beginners’ starting out with Native American genealogy is that there is no shortage of resources for learning the basics of the nation you are researching. Two wonderful sources to start the ball rolling are the National Archives: Native American Heritage and Family Search: American Indian Genealogy
Once you have done your homework, here is another excellent resource you will find enriching.
Native American Genealogy: A recorded history
In the early 1900s, photographer Edward Curtis began to fulfill a major life goal: to record as much of the traditional life of Native American peoples as possible, before it disappeared.
Endorsed by President Theodore Roosevelt and funded by financier J.P. Morgan, Edward Curtis devoted the next thirty years of his life to the project. Travelling across the United States and Canada as far as the Northwest Territories Curtis documented over 80 tribes, for which he earned the nickname “Shadow Catcher”.
What makes Curtis’ body of work so remarkable is his insight that the present is a result of the past, and therefore must play a significant role in the portrayal of a people. To this end Curtis was not satisfied with posed pictures taken on reservations but instead set out to capture life lived or as it was lived in more natural settings.
Due to his efforts, now an invaluable collection of media includes recorded:
- Tribal mythologies and history
- Described tribal population
- Traditional foods
- Burial customs
In addition to this, Curtis managed to capture the images of many notable Indian people of the time, including Red Cloud, Geronimo, Medicine Crow and Chief Joseph.
In due course Curtis shot over 40,000 photographs, conserved 10,000 audio recordings and made what is considered the world’s first documentary film.