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Wabanaki Genealogy Tip
Native Women & "Indian Rolls

Created 14-OCT-1997

So, you are searching for a female ancestor that you believe is Indian. You think you should be able to write to an Indian tribe and find her name on an "Indian Roll".

Think again - If only it were that easy!

It is not likely that you will find her (or her mother) on any Indian rolls. Most documents only list the heads of households (men and widows) by name. Tribal rolls do not usually include women who married outside the tribe. Governments must provide for their Indians (this means spend money!), so marriage to a white man was an excuse for a government to get out of it's obligation.

She lost her tribal rights when she married outside of the tribe. This applied to all Wabanaki - Penobscot, Passamaquoddy, Maliseet, Mi'kmaq (MicMac), and Canadian Abenaki. This law changed in the State of Maine in 1956. Check the laws in the area you are researching for the status of Indian women who married non-Indians in the time period you are researching.

In most cases, you will need to connect your female ancestor to a male ancestor, through birth, death, and marriage records. This is "white man's way" not Native tradition. Church and town records help, but many have been lost through fire. A separate "Indian Census" can sometimes be found at the end of the normal county census in some areas.

Starting with the 1850 census (in the USA), all the names of people living in the household were recorded. If you can find your female ancestor in a household, than you can look for the head of the household on tribal rolls. If he shows up as Abenaki (or Penobscot, etc.) and you can prove she was his daughter, than you have proved your Native bloodline.

Beware - many Natives recorded themselves as white and therefore do not show up on any Indian documents for the time period. In this case, you have to go back another generation (or more) to make a tribal connection.

If she was Abenaki, her family may never have been recorded on any Indian document. Not all Abenaki went to Canada, many stayed in Western Maine, Northern NH & VT, some went to up state NY, and others have been found scattered throughout North America. Here they intermarried with other Indian groups and non-Indians. Our non-Indian ancestors did a very good job of hiding the identities of their Native spouses.

Today it is very fashionable to be "Native" and some people feel that tribal groups are getting rich. I suspect that tribal offices are swamped with requests to be put on tribal rolls based on the oral tradition that great grandmother Sarah was Indian. Most tribal groups do not have staff historians, genealogists, or computerized records. In many cases historical records are not available at tribal offices.

You should delay writing to tribal groups until you have very specific information. You can not expect other people to do your research. Most documents such as census and roll lists are public and available to anyone willing to search them out.

All too often we can not PROVE our Wabanaki ancestry! But, for most people, we can compile enough evidence to satisfy ourselves that we are indeed Native descendants. Proving it to yourself is much easier than proving it to a government or tribe!

Being Native is about the way you and your ancestors live your lives. It is not about a piece of paper you carry in your wallet!

Written by: Canyon Wolf for Ne-Do-Ba