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Indian Census Rolls, 1885-1940
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NARA publication M595 consists of census rolls submitted annually by agents or superintendents of Indian reservations as required by an 1884 Act of Congress. Most rolls include the English and/or Indian name of the person, roll number, age or date of birth, sex, and relationship to head of family. Beginning in 1930 the rolls also show the degree of Indian blood, marital status, ward status, place of residence, and sometimes other information. Only persons who maintained a formal affiliation with a tribe under Federal supervision are listed on these census rolls. There is not a census for every reservation or group of Indians for every year. Some tribes, particularly those in the East, were never under Federal jurisdiction and therefore not included in this publication.
Much of the information on this page is taken from the descriptive pamphlet (DP) published by NARA and prepared by Edward E. Hill, which also includes a list of jurisdications as well as the contents of each of the 692 original rolls of microfilm from which these images were digitized. The DP for M595 can be viewed or downloaded here.
The census rolls vary depending upon the compiler, the location, and the year. Some are handwritten, others typed. While they typically list names, relationships, and ages, there are many instances where more information is given.
The information given in the rolls varies to some extent; but usually given are the English and/or Indian name of the person, roll number, age or date of birth, sex, and relationship to head of family. Beginning in 1930 the rolls also show the degree of Indian blood, marital status, ward status, place of residence, and sometimes other information. For certain years—usually 1935, 1936, 1938, and 1939—only supplemental rolls of additions and deductions were compiled. The 1931 or 1932 census rolls often include separate lists that recapitulated births and deaths for the years after 1924. Most of the 1940 rolls have been retained by the Bureau of Indian Affairs and are not included in this microfilm publication. The preparation of rolls was not required after 1940, but a few later ones were submitted.
There is not a census for every reservation or group of Indians for every year. It was not always possible to take a census on some reservations; and some rolls were lost over the years. Only persons who maintained a formal affiliation with a tribe under Federal supervision are listed on these census rolls. Some tribes, particularly those in the East, have never been under Federal jurisdiction. Because many persons with some degree of Indian blood did not maintain a tribal connection, their names do not appear on the rolls. For the Five Civilized Tribes of Oklahoma (Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Creek, and Seminole Indians), there is only an 1885 census of the Choctaw Indians.
Using the collection
The census rolls are arranged alphabetically by name of agency or other jurisdiction and thereunder by year. For jurisdictions with more than one tribe or band or more than one reservation, there may be several rolls for each year. On the individual rolls family groups are listed together. There is often no discernible order to the listing of families on the earlier rolls, but entries on the later rolls are usually arranged alphabetically by surname of head of family. Supplementary rolls follow the regular rolls for a year.
In the list and the contents filmed after these introductory notes, currently accepted spellings of names of tribes have been used except when it was believed that this would be confusing to the user. In the census rolls themselves obsolete spellings are often used; and the name of a tribe may be spelled several ways in different rolls. Sometimes even the name used for a tribe was changed from year to year.
The records reproduced in this microcopy are part of the records in the National Archives designated as Record Group 75, Records of the Bureau of Indian Affairs. There are other census rolls interspersed throughout this record group. Most of them were prepared for a specific purpose, such as the determination of those eligible for a land allotment or a per capita payment. Three of these census rolls have been reproduced as separate microfilm publications: the 1832 Census of Creek Indians Taken by Parsons and Abbott (T-275); the Census Roll, 1835, of the Cherokee Indians East of the Mississippi and Index to the Roll (T-496); and the 1895 Old Settler Cherokee Census Roll (T-985). Other census rolls are among the Letters Received by the Office of Indian Affairs, 1824-80 (M-234). There are also other lists concerning Indians such as emigration muster rolls, annuity payment rolls, and land allotment schedules, which often contain the same kind of information as the census rolls.
Indian census rolls are also in Record Group 48, Records of the Office of the Secretary of the Interior. Among them are the Final Rolls of Citizens and Freedmen of the Five Civilized Tribes in Indian Territory, which have been reproduced on Microcopy T-529.
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These images were scanned from 692 rolls of microfilm that make up NARA publication M595, Indian Census Rolls, 1885-1940, in Record Group (RG) 75, Records of the Bureau of Indian Affairs.