Native American Heritage in Special Collections

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The Library’s Special Collections include a wealth of materials on Native American history, culture and genealogy. Many of these materials are located in our Seattle Room and require a trip to the Central Library to view them in person. We promise that it’s worth it.

For a dynamic read that examines the role of Native peoples in Seattle not as a vanishing people but as active participants in shaping the city try Native Seattle: Histories from the Crossing Over Place by Coll Thrush.

Perhaps you love maps (we have plenty of those!). In addition to the wide variety of Seattle and Washington maps we have in the Seattle Room there is this fantastic one from 1876, Map Showing the Distribution of the Indian Tribes of Washington Territory.

Interested in reading some folk tales? Folk-tales of the Coast Salish is a collection of oral narratives originally published in 1934 by Thelma Adamson, one of the first women to conduct ethnographic fieldwork in the Pacific Northwest, and republished in 2009 with a new introduction. We’ve got both the original and the reprint.

Maybe art is more your thing. You will love the 50th anniversary edition of Bill Holm’s classic work Northwest Coast Indian Art: An Analysis of Form. View the original 1965 work next to the new edition with its color illustrations. The works examined include carved wooden screens, chests and boxes, rattles, crest hats and many more that exemplify the beautiful and complex art of Pacific Northwest Indians.

In 2018, the sesquicentennial of Edward Curtis’ The North American Indian will be celebrated. Stay tuned! The Seattle Public Library had the foresight to buy a subscription to his works and have preserved those volumes. They are available to view by appointment. To learn more contact Special Collections by email at Ask a Librarian. A tip – be sure to let us know which volume you would like to see.

If you simply can’t make it to the Central Library to visit the collection, we promise we haven’t left you out. Special Collections Online is treasure trove of incredible photographs, maps, books, periodicals, oral histories, art and ephemera. One example of what you might find in this extensive and growing collection is this photograph, Princess Angeline’s House.

Princess Angeline's house

Researching your Native American Heritage can be both complicated and rewarding. Part of the complication is that traditionally, genealogies were an oral tradition. Written records were created only in the late 19th century and early 20th century so, if your Native American ancestor enters your family tree in the 1700s it can be very difficult to trace that connection. While there are many guides out there, we particularly like this one from the National Indian Law Library – Tracing Native American Family Roots.

The Library’s subscription to Ancestry Library Edition is an invaluable source of records needed to research your family history. It can be used in any Seattle Public Library location. In addition to U.S. Federal Census records – available online every ten years from 1790-1940 – you can also find U.S., Indian Census Rolls, 1885-1940. Ancestry Library Edition (must be in a library for full access) has a number of records helpful in Native American family research available online grouped together under American Indian Records.

Here are a couple titles in our print collection that might provide some help in your research:

Dawes Roll “plus” of Cherokee Nation, 1898 compiled by Bob Blankenship this book is a combination of the Dawes and Miller roll including information on the 1906 surname changes brought about by marriages, divorce, or adoption. All 36,714 Cherokee Nation citizens are included.

Native American Genealogical Sourcebook edited by Paula K. Byers is a nice overview of what kinds of records are available for Native American genealogical research.

There are two Genealogy Librarians at the Central Library that can help you get started on your family history journey. You can get help by visiting us at the Central Library, sending an email or making an appointment. We love questions!

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