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---- Sunday - December 17, 2017 - 4:19:44 PM - Navajo Nation Time ----

Indian Census Rolls, 1884-1940
Among the Records of the Bureau of Indian Affairs in the National Archives

The practice of making regular census rolls of Indians by the Federal Government did not become general until 1884. Prior to that year "census" or enumeration rolls were made for specific purposes and took the form of annuity payment rolls, rosters or muster tolls of emigrants, allotment rolls, and other enumerations made for various special purposes. Up to 1870 the various Indian tribes had the legal status of separate nations and it was not within the province of the Federal government to take censuses of them without the consent of the tribes involved. For that reason there are comparatively few census rolls antedating 1870 among the older records of the Bureau of Indian Affairs now in the National Archives.

Of the earlier and specialized censuses among the records of the Bureau of Indian Affairs in the National Archives those of the Eastern or North Carolina Cherokees alone possess some degree of completeness. Censuses made by Henderson, Mullay, Siler, Swetland, Hester, and others are included in this group. The "Henderson" Roll of 1835 was actually made by Nathaniel Smith, George W. Underwood, C.H. Nelson, Regin Rawlins, and Daniel Henderson, each enrolling Indians within an allotted area. This roll contains a columnar arrangement for tabulation of data from which considerable information about individual Indians can be derived.

The first true census of the Eastern Band of Cherokees was made in 1848 by John C. Mullay. This roll contains a predominance of entries by Indian name only and is, on occasion, so scant in its data that differentiation between persons of the same name is difficult, if not impossible.

The third census of Cherokees in the east was that taken by Siler in 1851 to determine which persons were entitled to participate in per capita payments under provisions of the Treaty of 1835. A fourth census, also made in 1851, is the roll of the Eastern Cherokees made by Alfred Chapman. The purpose of this roll also was to determine which persons were entitle to participate in per capita payments.

In 1868-69, by authority of an act of Congress approved July 27, 1868, a census of all Cherokees east of the Mississippi was made by S.H. Swetland.

In addition to these rolls there were others. The Hester Roll was made in 1884, the Churchill Roll in 1907, and the Guion Miller and other rolls have been made in more recent years. Originals or copies of all the above mentioned rolls are among the records of the Bureau of Indian Affairs in the National Archives.

A census of Creek Indians was made by Parsons and Abbot in 1832. This census contains the names of heads of families in the several Creek towns. This listing is almost entirely by Indian Name. This census contains information concerning the number and sex of the members of each household. A copy of this roll is among the records of the Bureau of Indian Affairs in the National Archives and, it is printed as Senate Executive Document 512, 23rd Congress, 1st Session (Serial No. 247).

Enumerations were made of various other tribes prior to 1884 but there was no regularity in these censuses and in some cases only one census of the tribe was taken.

Emigration rolls of Cherokees, Creeks, Choctaws, Seminoles, and others contain the names of only those individuals in the tribes who emigrated and usually the listing is of the head of the family only. While there is not a complete set of muster rolls for each migrating band in the National Archives, those among the older records of the Bureau of Indian Affairs do serve to some extent the same purpose as the same purpose as the larger and more nearly complete censuses.

Under the provisions of numerous treaties Indians were entitle to receive certain annuities. Records concerning the payment of these annuities are among the older records of the Bureau of Indian Affairs and range in date from 1841 to 1940. These annuity payment rolls - of which there are some 700 - contain essentially the same information as that usually found in a census. The rolls are chiefly in bound volumes and are arranged according to the jurisdiction or tribe involved and chronologically thereunder.

By 1884 it was realized that some more definite enumeration, was needed. Accordingly Section 9 of an act passed by Congress on July 4, 1884 (Stat. L 98) Provides:

Immediately following 1884, censuses for several years were somewhat individualistic and based entirely on the interpretations made by the agent of his duties in this respect. Most censuses were made on ordinary letter type paper and frequently Indian names only were given, these names were not arranged alphabetically, and often there was little, insufficient, or no distinction between different tribes and bands under the agent's jurisdiction. To correct this situation and standardize the procedure of census taking, directives in the form of letters and circulars were sent to the agents explaining just what was expected and correcting misinterpretations. Letters were addressed to individual agents with suggestions as to how improvements in the mode of enumeration could be made, and circulars were employed to correct general or widespread errors and inform the agents of changes to be effected.

In general the earlier censuses contained only the minimum information required by law, but as the need for other statistical data arose censuses were required to contain more and more additional facts. Thus, in 1909, and subsequently, the requirement was made that the census show "a separate grouping of the Indians residing on the reservation or reservations under your charge" (circular 309); in 1910 it was ordered that in addition to the previously required data, ages, sex and family relationships were to be shown (circular 547); and, in circular 1538 (May 7, 1919) it is stipulated that names of families be arranged alphabetically. Circular No. 1671 (April 18, 1921) contains a strict and definite provision that all persons carried on a census roll as alive and a member of the tribe at the date the census was prepared must be accounted for on the next succeeding census roll. By the same token "No person can be added to a roll without showing good authority for such addition".

Just as the type of information to be included on censuses was standardized and expanded, the form of the census itself was also standardized and made to conform to the needs of the service. Plain sheets of paper were used generally until a simple printed sheet (Form 5-128) came into use around 1890. From time to time this form was revised and continued in use until 1940.

The spelling of names is often a source of confusion in censuses, and the Indian rolls are particularly susceptible to error in this respect. The spelling of Indian names by the census takers was largely based on phonetics and they did not always interpret sounds in the same manner. Even tribal names may vary and such a name as Okinagan may be found written Okonagon or Okanogan, and the name Quileute may be found spelled Quillayute. Whenever possible the spelling used by the census taker has been retained in the following list whether or not it conforms with that of previous or later enumerators. Even spellings considered incorrect today have been used on the list because it is by these spellings that the rolls may be identified, and corrected spelling might conceivably lead to some confusion on the part of persons examining the rolls.

The arrangement of this list conforms to the filing arrangement of the censuses except in a few instances where minor modifications in the listings seemed necessary to provide for clarity.

Following 1940 censuses were no longer required by the Office of the Commissioner of Indian Affairs. It is probably, however, that local censuses have been taken since then, but these would be considered as field records rather than those of the central office. It is known also that among field records in some agencies and jurisdictions there exist censuses copies of which are not now to be found among the organized files of the Washington Office as here listed. Our records contain a few censuses subsequent to 1940. Crow Creek - 1942, Potawatomi - 1942, Rosebud - 1943, Uintah and Ouray - 1944.

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Dated Created: 08/27/2001
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Updated: 12/09/2004
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