Explore Your Ancestry

Explore Your Ancestry

First created in 1842, the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) was created to oversee the administration and the management of almost 60,000,000 acres of Native American land.  Some 40 years after its fruition, the BIA set out to create 26 non-reservation boarding schools across 15 states and territories within North America.


The first of these schools, Carlisle Indian Industrial School, located in Carlisle, Pennsylvania served as the founding school under the BIA from 1879 to 1918.  While this school was in operation, it served more than 10,000 students across 140 tribes in North America.  The first tribe to enroll their children within the school was the Oglala Lakota under the tutelage of Chief Blue Horse, American Horse, and Red Shirt.  As the school continued to grow and develop it had many prestigious students, including Jim Thorpe who would go on to win several gold medals in the 1912 Olympics.


So how does Native American history factor into all of this? The National Archives has in its possession countless records detailing enrollment of these BIA operated schools.  Before students could enroll and attend these schools, a comprehensive profile sheet was made for almost all of the students detailing many important pieces of genealogical information.  Most BIA operated schools can be located by the state with the years it was in operation and all material that is available.


To explore your ancestry, you will want to first head here, and search by your state under Record Group 75. Once you locate the state and school of your ancestor, you will need to contact the National Archives organization and make a special request for the Indian Student Case Files that they have on file.  So to complete this search you will need to know:

  • School that your ancestor attended
  • State
  • Approximate amount of time they spent at this school


Submitting a Request

To submit a request to the National Archives, you will want to do so in the appropriate way in order to expedite the process and eliminate any potential roadblocks that might pop up along the way. When it finally comes time to submit, have the following information at hand:

  • Individuals name and any other spellings of that name
  • Date of birth
  • names of the parents
  • affiliated tribes


What Can You Expect to Receive?

While there was a formal application process for these BIA schools, admission wasn’t standardized.  Depending on which school you are acquiring with, you may receive a variety of different information and documents.  So what can you expect, the following are a few of the documents that others have received.

  • application for enrollment
  • medical exam forms
  • attendance sheets
  • grades and report cards
  • possible student work examples
  • newspaper clippings
  • any documents associated with student employment

Note: Photographs are very rare in these cases, while some who have inquired have received photos, the National Archives does not guarantee this for everyone.


If you plan on going through this process to explore your ancestry, we would love to hear about it.  Leave a comment below about what you submitted and what you found out, we would love to profile your experience in a future blog post! Happy searching.

Also, keep an eye out for our follow-up post Explore Your Ancestry II where we will talk about other ways to explore your ancestry!