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Genealogy Research

Sealaska Heritage Institute seeks to encourage the study of Alaska Native genealogy and clan history. SHI receives numerous requests from individuals who want to learn about their ancestors and clan membership. As we are aware, Southeast Alaska Natives trace their clan membership through the maternal line. In addition to seeking genealogical and clan information from family, as well as from your clan leader or clan members, the information below is designed to serve as a basic guide and to assist those interested in discovering more about their ancestors and clan heritage.

How to Conduct Basic Genealogy and Family History

Genealogy requires work, research, and patience, but given a few preparatory guidelines an individual can often find a great deal out about their family and clan’s history. Four general tips that apply to those beginning to conduct genealogical research are listed directly below.
 

1.   Identify what you know about your ancestors

You’ve probably seen photos or heard stories about your ancestors or concerning your clan’s history. Use this information as a starting point. Talk to relatives, clan leaders, and people who may recollect information about the family and clan or those who have family records in their possession documenting your family and clan’s history. Collect and compile all this information as a starting point.
 

2.   Decide what you want to learn

After you have learned all you can from family and clan members, you will next need to decide what you desire to know. Some people interested in genealogy often desire to create pedigree charts, such as a family tree showing a family line going back generations. This is largely a matter of collecting names, and birth, marriage, and death dates. Others are interested in stories about family and the lives of their ancestors, as well as clan history. If not learned about from family members and clan leaders, information of this nature will often be found in published works held in libraries or in unpublished records kept at archival repositories.
 

3.   Select which records to search

Your questions will be answered more fully if you choose the right records to research. If you want to know when a person passed away, search newspaper obituaries, cemetery records, death certificates, and other similar documents to determine this information. If you want to know about clan history visit libraries and archives and inquire about rare publications, Alaska Native periodicals, or audio recordings. To obtain access to these records you’ll need to determine what entity keeps these records, whether library, archive, city office, or other.
 

4.   Obtain and search the record

Contact the research entity that may have the records you desire to view. Examine their website for tips on how to find the resources you need. Plan your visit and search the records for pertinent information. Take notes and understand that conducting genealogy and researching clan history takes time and effort, but it can be very rewarding.

Sources for additional introductory genealogical research
 

Starting Genealogy and Family History Research (National Archives)                                                                                                                 

Research Outline: Indians of the United States and Canada (FamilySearch.org)

Researching and Sources of Interest

It is important to understand the nature of the records you will be working with and the rules governing their use at archival repositories or libraries. Most archival repositories will not let you check out archival materials, but in most cases photocopies of records can be generated for a fee. Libraries and archives will generally have resources that assist you in searching their numerous collections, such as finding aids (descriptive inventories) for archival collections.

It is also important to know the history of the organization or state where you’ll be researching. For example, Alaska was purchased from the Russian Empire in 1867, it became a U.S. Territory in 1912 and a state in 1959. Most U.S. records will not start until at least 1867. Jurisdictional Districts in Alaska were created between 1897 and 1901, the first territorial censuses for Alaska were taken in 1870 and 1880, and the first federal census was taken in 1900. According to privacy laws, census records are only available to the public 70 years after they were taken. Thus as of 2010, available census records for Alaska are for the years of 1870, 1880, 1900, 1910, 1920, 1930, and 1940.

For researches interested in information on Alaska Native birth, death, and marriage records, in some instances these can be found at the Alaska State Archives, which contains official state records of Alaska. This repository also stores historic church, school, court, and other state records of interest to genealogists. Overall, the Alaska State Archives has a large and impressive collection of records and it is best to visit the archive in person to inquire about their collection holdings. The Alaska State Archives does, however, host a website specifically tailored to assist genealogists with research, which can be found by clicking here.

The Alaska State Library seeks to collect materials that document all aspects of Alaska life, and the library is a great place for genealogical resources. The library contains runs of all Alaska newspapers, most in microfilm format, which can be viewed by the public. This includes some rare Southeast Alaska Native periodicals, such as the Voice of Brotherhood,
The Tlingit Herald,
The Thlinget, and others. In some cases books about Alaska and certain Alaska towns will contain information of great value to genealogy researchers. A record of all books available in the United States can be found at worldcat.org and if the local libraries do not own a specific book you desire, books can often be loaned to you though a local library (referred to as an Inter-Library Loan). The library also maintains a webpage to assist those conducting genealogical research, which can be viewed by clicking here

The Alaska State Library’s Historical Collections Division seeks to collect materials that document all aspects of Alaskan life, but this department specifically stores the library’s rare books and archival collections. They may have collections of interest about specific Alaska Native individuals, such as in the Tlingit Indian Genealogy Notes and Information Collection, or the AJ Mine Personnel Index which includes the ethnicity, age, birth place, and parents or spouse of a person working in the mine. Information about visiting the Historical Collections Division can be found by clicking here.

The Sealaska Heritage Institute seeks to collect materials that document the Tlingit, Haida, and Tsimshian people. We have some collections on specific individuals that may concern a family member or their role in a specific event or organization, such as the Alaska Native Brotherhood and Sisterhood, as well as records documenting the land claims struggle which are found in our Curry-Weissbrodt Records Collection. We also have certain Southeast Alaska Native newspaper runs, including Voice of Brotherhood, The Thlinget, Yahkii, and Haa koosteeyée ayá, as well as books on Southeast Alaska Native history and life. Contact us to inquire about researching at our facility, and about donating genealogical resources to our library.

Sources for Additional Study on Southeast Alaska Native Genealogy

In addition to the above, there are many places where researchers can look to find genealogical information. Some of these are listed below.
 

1.   Kenneth Lea’s Tlingit, Haida, and Tsimshian Genealogy

This website contains the most comprehensive collection of genealogical information on Tlingit, Haida, and Tsimshian people. It has been compiled by Kenneth Lea and is regularly updated. Researchers can search for individuals alphabetically by surname or by keyword.
 

2.   Alaska Land Records: Recorder’s Office

With these records it is possible to locate, research, and verify land ownership; users can search by name and date.

 

 

3.   National Archives, Pacific Alaska Region Branch, Anchorage

Contains federal records associated with Alaska.

 

4.   Family Search

This is a free genealogy cite, with some indexed Alaska names.

  

Credits: Compiled for Sealaska Heritage Institute summer 2009 by intern Whitney Schaeler.

 


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