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BIA Indian Census Rolls - Records of the Bureau of Indian Affairs

Enrollment & Roll Numbers


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The members of a family were defined as 1, Head, father; 2, wife; 3, children, including step children and adopted children, 4, relatives, and 5, "other persons living with the family who do not constitute other family groups." A grandparent, brother, sister, nephew, niece, grandchild, or any other relative living with the family should be listed and the relationship shown. A column was included to list roomers or friends living with the family, if they were not listed as heads of households on another census sheet. A single person living at home could only be a "Head" if the father was dead and the oldest child was serving in that capacity. The agent was also told to report all tribes making up the jurisdiction, not just the predominant one.

Further instructions on residence said, If a person resided at the reservation, column 10 should say Yes, and columns 11 through 14 left blank. If an Indian resided at another jurisdiction, column 10 should be No, and column 11 should indicate the correct jurisdiction and state, and 12 through 14 left blank. "When Indian resides elsewhere, column 10 should be NO, column 11 blank, and columns 12, 13, and 14, answered. County (column 13) must be filled in. This can be obtained from the Postal Code." Children at school but technically still part of their families were to be included. They were not to be reported at another jurisdiction or elsewhere.

There is evidence that the census takers were unclear themselves on whether to list someone who was not present. The Commissioner kept after them about mistakes. "Please see that columns 10 to 14 are filled in as directed, as two people spent over two months correcting the errors in these columns last year."

Roll Numbers - Is it an "Enrollment Number?"

The number in the earliest censuses was a consecutive number that could change from one year to the next for the same person. Although agents had been asked as early as 1914 to tell the roll number on the previous roll especially in the case of alterations, they were specifically asked in 1929 to indicate what number the person was on the previous roll. It seemed that 1929 became the benchmark number in some cases, and the person continued to be defined by that number on future rolls. Instructions for the 1931 census said: “List alphabetically, and number names on roll consecutively, with no duplicate numbers…” That set of numbers was followed by the column indicating the number on the previous roll. In most cases, the “ID number” was that: the consecutive number on the 1929 roll. So there was a new Consecutive Number each year, and an Identifying Number from a base roll, and an Allotment Number, if the allotting had been done. Using Flandreau as an example, in year 1929 the “allot-ann-id numbers” (in unnumbered column 6) given are identification numbers starting from 1 to 317 end, and these id numbers correspond exactly to the column for the present order on the list. So, the id number was derived from the order on the list in 1929, and was carried over to subsequent years. In 1930, the id number was that 1929 consecutive order number.

The concept of enrollment:
It is clear that by this time, there was an accepted concept of “enrollment” being employed, even though there were no official membership enrollment lists existing for many tribes. A few tribes had been involved in government supervised enrollment lists, usually relating to legal questions in which the federal government owed the tribe moneys as determined by the courts. In that case, the federal government had a vested interest in determining who was a legitimate member, to whom money was owed, and who was not. Apart from those special cases, the Superintendents and Agents had been occupied for years with the allotment process, identifying those who were eligible to receive an allotment, and they had been involved yearly in the distribution of goods and money and checking the eligible names off an annuity roll. Many tribes had accepted Annuity Roll numbers, and Allotment Roll numbers. At the discretion of the Superintendent, those that did not could have an assigned Identifying Number. So, the concept of eligibility for services was apparently equated to a status of enrollment even if there were no actual enrollment list. The questions of eligibility were tied to allotment lists, annuity rolls, and prior census rolls.

The landscape changed again in 1934, when legislation was passed called the Indian Reorganization Act. Under this act, tribes were encouraged to specifically set up a constitution that gave recognized criteria for determining membership and enrollment. A quick survey of Indian Tribal Constitutions on the Internet shows that a number actually did adopt the BIA census as the base roll, for membership.

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