Native Americans and the US Census

Native Americans who were not living on a reservation and were subject to the laws of the land, including taxation, were enumerated along with whites beginning in 1850, but were specifically identified as a group in the 1860 census.

While “Indian” was not added as a category until the 1870 census, and was not present in the 1860 census schedule, nevertheless, more than 40,000 indigenous people were identified among the general population in 1860.

Native Americans who were living on a reservation were not included on the regular census. They were listed on annual census rolls submitted every year from 1885 to 1940 by government agents responsible for the reservations.

"Choctaw Belle", 1850.
Source: Wikimedia Commons. Public Domain.
Choctaw Belle, 1850 painting

Not every tribe or reservation was covered in every year, and the information gathered was not always consistent from year to year. Also, for a number of years in the 1930s, only additions or deletions were compiled, rather than a full census of the people on a particular reserve.

Such a census roll generally listed the agency and reservation name, the native tribe, and the person’s name, gender, age, birth date, marital status, and relationship to the head of the family.

Rolls were not required to be submitted after 1940.

Many of these native American census rolls are available free of charge at the Access Genealogy website.

They also are on the Ancestry website, as are the general census documents and the slave schedules from 1850 and 1860, for those with a subscription.

Alternatively, many local libraries provide free access to the Ancestry suite of databases with presentation of a valid library card.

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