Your Native-American ancestors will usually be found in the standard genealogical sources of the general population kept at the federal, state and local level. These include censuses, vital records, land and court records, etc. However, persons of native ancestry will usually not be identified as Native-American in most of those records, which poses a challenge in research. Most census records asked only whether individuals were Black or White. Your native ancestors would have been listed as White. Most other types of civil records do not ask for race or ethnic distinction. Many native persons felt stigmatized and preferred to pass as Caucasian and reported themselves as such.
In more recent decades, that stigma has fortunately lifted. Persons of native ancestry feel proud of their heritage and seek a sense of tribal belonging. But the challenges are numerous in establishing tribal affiliation through ancestral connections, with the available historical records. Many Native Americans were not officially members of any particular tribe. The tribes themselves did not create lists or rolls of members. The concept of official tribal membership evolved through the federal government’s involvement. In order to negotiate treaties or assign land to certain tribes, the government sought to enroll clusters of Native-Americans into tribal groups. The Bureau of Indian Affairs was created for this purpose, creating tribal lists, sometimes referred to as ‘censuses’. These rolls are woefully incomplete and haphazard. Not all tribes have lists, and some have them only in isolated time slots. Names were not recorded at regular intervals, such as in the federal censuses.
Most Native-Americans used their native names until the latter part of the nineteenth century, when they began adopting Anglicized names. There are some lists which give their former names and their new, Anglicized names. The best records of native peoples were kept in Indian Territory of Oklahoma, before and after statehood (1907). If your ancestors lived in that area in the late 1800’s or early 1900’s, they would most likely be found in the Dawes Rolls (created in 1898 to 1914) or the Guion-Miller Roll (created in 1909). The tribes included in these rolls were Cherokee, Creek, Chickasaw, Seminole and Choctaw.
A listing of several Native-American rolls in varying locations and time periods can be found in the FamilySearch.org Wiki. Heritage Consulting has an excellent Native-American research specialist who is very familiar with the various available records. She is aware of the complications inherent in tracing native persons, and navigates the various sources, whether on microfilm, print, or online. It is challenging research, but at Heritage Consulting, we welcome the opportunity.