Tribal member and FireLake Arena employee Jeremy Gregson steps into the boxing ring
March 16, 2016
Focus on healthy life decisions over debating merits of medicines
March 21, 2016

Tips on tracing your family history

Like many tribes, the members of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation have a distinct advantage in researching their lineage. The forced requirements to be added to the tribal rolls in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries have, more than a hundred years later, become a vital piece of a puzzle in learning about ancestors and contemporary family connections alike.

Today, many looking into their past to see if they are of Indian descent, and requests for that information are growing. The first rule of pursuing those investigations is to not be discouraged. Before reaching out to CPN, gather as much familial information as possible. The best place to start is  close to home. Elders and relatives are a great way to get information about your extended family. There is also enough information online to help point researchers in the right direction. Start by looking in the areas where your ancestors lived, checking old census forms and newspapers that contain obituaries and other information. Many local libraries have access to these kinds of records, or have a person on staff who is familiar with family research and can help. Utilize multiple sources such as ancestry databases and local historical museums to get the information you need.

The Oklahoma History Center in Oklahoma City has extensive resources of Citizen Potawatomi Nation history through microfilms and other archival resources. Tulsa’s Gilcrease Museum and the University of Tulsa also have Potawatomi historical documents as well. Outside of Oklahoma, the Kansas Historical Society has an extensive amount of information on ancestors of today’s Citizen Potawatomi.

Once you have gathered that information, try to draw out a family tree from you, to your parents, to your grandparents and so forth. Jot down names – including maiden names  – and the years of birth and death if you can find them. Sometimes a person’s name on a tribal roll or census form will be spelled differently, so having as much reference information as possible is helpful. If in doubt, contact the tribal rolls department to see if they have information about the people you are researching. CPN tribal members looking to research their Native ancestry can then fill out a request form supplied by the archival department at the Citizen Potawatomi Nation Cultural Heritage Center. The information for each family’s history are sent to tribal members electronically. The documents contain information individuals can research about their family or certain members of it.

All of the family history at the CHC is an accumulation of tribal rolls information throughout the years. CHC Family History Specialist Czarina Thompson uses this information in her work on a daily basis. It is largely based off of the 1887 allotment process information.

“CPN tribal ID cards have a descendant’s name from the 1887 allotment information and another one from the 1937 tribal census,” said Thompson. “These two names are someone’s key to their CPN descendancy.”

While the work can be time consuming and sometimes frustrating, the tribal rolls and cultural heritage center staff are a resource to be relied on when someone reaches a dead end. However, given the resources and time constraints on staff, the leg work must be undertaken by the tribal member.

“We do not do individual research for people because we’re not genealogists,” said CPN Curator and Archivist Blake Norton. “What we do is provide historical records, retention and preservation but also make this accessible to tribal members. Our main goal is to provide resources for people, not do the research for them.”

While the importance of understanding where one comes from is a motivating factor, another reason to know is that tracing one’s roots can be the difference between becoming an enrolled tribal member or not. While you may find yourself tired of reading old microfiche of census records or hand written tribal rolls from the late nineteenth century, your own descendants ability to call themselves Citizen Potawatomi hangs in the balance. To learn more about the Citizen Potawatomi Nation’s history and culture, visit www.PotawatomiHeritage.com.

To access contact information or forms from the CPN Tribal Rolls Office, visit www.potawatomi.org/services/citizenship.