Academic journal article The Journal of Chickasaw History and Culture

Research like a Detective

Academic journal article The Journal of Chickasaw History and Culture

Research like a Detective

Article excerpt

Everyone has heard family stories at one time or another. Some stories may be about family struggles, marriages, or births. Though documents may be hard to find at times because they were lost or destroyed, most family stories can be easily traced and verified here in America. However, Native American ancestry can prove more difficult to research. To find what you're looking for, sometimes you have to research like a detective and avoid tunnel vision.

There were times in history that public records kept in courthouses were deliberately destroyed, and natural disasters such as floods, hurricanes, and tornadoes that destroyed buildings, and public documents were lost. Despite the destruction of some documents, there are other avenues one can research. Newspapers, church records, and family Bibles may provide one source for you to utilize, but for Native American ancestry even these may not be specific enough.

Tracing your Native American ancestry can prove very frustrating, and one must enter into it with the mindset that you may not find much. You also have to be realistic and know that you may not be able to research farther back than 1900. Before 1900, the government was more concerned with the assimilation of the Indians, and not with them as individuals. Prior to 1900, there were not many censuses that included the Indians, and when there were, it included the Native name spelled as it sounded phonetically, to an English speaker's ear. The spelling then was open to interpretation. Many Native Americans could not read or write in English and didn't have a written tribal language. Changing names and taking on an English name became commonplace. This later proves tricky, because if a family doesn't know the birth or Native name of their ancestor, then tracing that ancestor can prove even more difficult.

Remember your family stories are not written in stone-they are an oral tradition. Keep in mind that things may not be exactly like they are told, but have important grains of truth sprinkled through them. As generations pass, and family stories are passed down, things can be changed, like in the game "telephone," where there is a room full of students and one person tells a story that is passed across from one student to another until it reaches the last student in the room. …

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