The 1887 Dawes Act (a.k.a. the General Allotment Act) created a commission which was charged with creating final citizenship rolls for each of the “Five Civilized Tribes of Oklahoma.”
So why should I look there if my potentially indigenous ancestor was from the southeast?
Because the federal government’s Indian Removal Act of 1830 required all tribes residing east of the Mississippi River to be relocated to lands west of the Mississippi River.
Most of the Choctaw, Creek, Chickasaw, Cherokee, and Seminole tribes were, at times, forcibly “removed” between 1830 and 1850. The forced removal of the Cherokee Nation in 1838 became known as the Trail of Tears. After 1850, less than 10,000 Native American Indians remained in the southeast.
Fast-forward to the late 1880’s. Your southeastern Indian ancestor is likely residing in Indian Territory—present-day Oklahoma, on a reservation.
The Dawes Act allowed President Grover Cleveland to break up the reservation land and hand it out to individuals whose applications were approved. The allotments varied in size and were dependent upon the status of an individual, for example, heads of families received larger sections (1/4) than single adults (1/8).
The most popular Dawes Commission records are the Census or Enrollment Cards, Applications or Enrollment Jackets, and Land Allotment Jackets.
The information contained in each record varies, but names and alternative spellings and parental information are included in all three. The cards and enrollment jackets have more information pertaining to the person while the Land Jackets have specifics relating to the allotment. All three are available online via Ancestry.com. Fold3 and FamilySearch also have some of the records.
Between 1898 and 1914, more than a quarter million applications were made. Just over 100,000 were approved.
An added bonus is that the Dawes records also contain information pertaining to freedmen. Prior to removal, it is estimated that over 10,000 blacks were enslaved by the Five Tribes. After the Civil War, the tribes freed their slaves and the freedmen were given citizenship within that tribe. Information about freedmen can include the applicant's former owners and their parent's former owners.
For more information about Dawes Commission Records, click HERE to visit the National Archives on line.