Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Tlingit, Haida, and Tsimshian Genealogy

Since genealogists are the largest user group of archival repositories in the United States, I wanted to make a post about conducting genealogy research at our facility. First off, if you have never conducted genealogy research you should be aware that it can be time consuming and require a great deal of work on the part of the genealogist. Before visiting an archive, a genealogy researcher should already know what they are looking for and be prepared to conduct research. For example, I recommend that a genealogy researcher should:

  • Compile as much information as possible about your family. Start with yourself, parents, and grandparents.
  • Ask your relatives about your family history. Often, family members remember stories or information, or possess documents, that can help start you on your way. Write this information down.
  • Look in family records (letters, family Bibles, scrapbooks, diaries, photographs, baptisms, and news clippings, etc).
  • And know exactly what type of information you want. Are you looking for mechanical information such as birth and death data? Or are you looking for personal stories and information about certain family members?
  • Be aware about how to conduct historical research by using primary sources.

These are some good starting points. A host of other informative sources are available about how to conduct genealogy research. I’d recommend you visit National Archives’ webpage by clicking here. Juneau-based researchers should also know that there is a local genealogical society, the Gastineau Genealogical Society, which could prove helpful. Additionally, people should be aware of the genealogical research conducted by Kenneth Lea, who has indexed around 35,000 Tlingit, Haida, and Tsimshian names on, which can be viewed by clicking here. Lastly, there are numerous organizations and archives in Alaska and elsewhere in the USA that could have sources to aid genealogists, some of these I have listed on the right column of this blog, under the title “Southeast Alaska Native Studies Links.”

As for resources at Sealaska Heritage Institute, we have some materials that could help people learn about family history, but please be aware that we do not have materials on most Tlingit, Haida, and Tsimshian families at this point. We do not have census information or family history records. However, some of our collections that could provide information for genealogists include our Curry-Weissbrodt Collection and our audiovisual recordings collection. The Curry-Weissbrodt Collection contains the papers of lawyers for the Tlingit and Haida from the 1920s up to the ANCSA period. Some papers consist of depositions from select Alaska Natives and information about the people in specific villages. Next, our audiovisual recordings collection consists of around 600 recordings, some of which are oral history interviews wherein people talked about their family, history of their clan, and similar topics. Please feel free to contact the archivist for further details.

We must also emphasize, that Sealaska Corporation maintains shareholder records, which are confidential and not available to the public or for genealogical research. In closing, we desire to help assist people in their research and are more than happy to assist genealogists. Importantly, should you have any old family papers, photographs, or other materials that you would like to be preserved in our archival facility, please contact the archivist about making a possible donation. (above featured Arthur J. Demmert photo was donated to SHI in early 2008, image captures Sheldon Jackson College students, class of 1933)

Note update: SHI now has a specific webpage devoted to assisting patrons with genealogical research. SHI also contains the BIA census records for the state of Alaska, which are a great genealogical tool.

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