Native American Research Part 3: Indian Boarding Schools: Children Forcibly Removed from their Homes

Native American genealogical research, consulting, and presentations on the topic are a major interest and part of my business. For some of my Native American individual, tribal, and law firm clients, I have spent time investigating records related to Indian boarding schools. This involved the reading of letters from parents to the school begging for their children to return home. I saw letters from the school personnel telling of the actions of children as young as 5 and 6 and how they were punished. I saw notifications of the death of a young child in the school infirmary. Alone, no mother or father present, and a sudden burial at the school. Many of the school burials are in unmarked graves. I would estimate that 95% of what I read was painful. The schools were designed to change these children to become mainstream Americans, aka whites. Hair was cut, traditional clothing was tossed away, English was the only language allowed, and other cultural changes were forced on them. Some of the relatively older children were sent out to become farm workers or housekeepers, generally without parental knowledge.

Here’s an overview for my home state of Minnesota.

Students may not have attended a school in their own state but were sent several states away. Many tribes are represented in the records of an individual school no matter where it was located.

 Records do not still exist for every government or religious school boarding school that was attended by Native American children. Some children attended a day school or the area’s public school and some records do exist in connection with those. The items detailed below show a bit about some of those boarding schools that did exist, some records, and a few ways to find more.

  • Oahe at Augustana University, Center for Western Studies, Sioux Falls, South Dakota. Oahe Industrial school, Hughes County, South Dakota. 1878, 6 folders. Account book, school register, financial records, student records, student work, and printed material.

  •*&setLimit=1&recCount=50&searchType=1& Holy Child Indian School, Harbor Springs, Michigan. Yale Collection of Western Americana, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library Records at Yale University. Includes 2 manuscript notebooks with enrollment records of the Holy Child Indian School in Harbor Springs, Michigan, 1887-1893. There is also a manuscript notebook with examination records of students, 1887-1894. Matters recorded include student names, communicant names, ages, home villages, dates of entrance, attendance, and grades.

  • The U.S. National Archives (NARA) website is a gold mine of finding aids, record descriptions, and articles related to government run (Bureau of Indian Affairs) boarding schools. I did a search on the main page search box for “Indian boarding school” with the quotes and received 69 hits. The next search was for Indian “boarding school” with the word Indian outside of the quotes and received 28,041 hits. That’s the tip of the proverbial iceberg because within other records found in Record Group 75 (Bureau of Indian Affairs) school records, correspondence, lists, and more can be found. NARA has a list of the BIA schools

  • Many of the records of the schools held at the regional locations of NARA have been filmed and now digitized by FamilySearch. Not all those once filmed are available online. A couple examples from
  • The Library of Congress has some records, but mainly photographs related to schools and students. Check state historical, archives, and libraries for records and photographs. Many diaries, journals, personal papers, and notebooks of the schoolteachers, superintendents, physicians, and missionaries can be found in libraries, archives, and historical societies often contain names and other details.

  • Check WorldCat and ArchiveGrid for more on such material, published books, and other items. Searches on these often provide links to the institutions that hold the material. This includes many state-level historical societies and archives.

© 2021, Paula Stuart-Warren. All rights reserved.

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3 comments on “Native American Research Part 3: Indian Boarding Schools: Children Forcibly Removed from their Homes

  1. There is a wonderful movie that was made about this very subject called “Older than America”. It was filmed near Cloquet and stars Bradley Cooper. The film is based on a Native American women’s recollection of her boarding school during this period. It is very thought provoking and I encourage everyone to look for it, it will give you a better understanding of the horrors that took place. When the film was being made, the local tribes were initially very skeptical, but once they realized it was being told from their point of view, they all rallied and wanted to be involved. They appear in one of the last scenes of the film.

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