A Native American genealogy center is planned for the First Americans Museum

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Dr. Charles Knife Chief recalls researching information about his Native American ancestors.

The Tahlequah doctor said he hit a roadblock in his search because many Native Americans were displaced from their original lands and sent to what is now Oklahoma. Additionally, Knife Chief said much of Native American history is often passed down through oral history, and genealogical documentation is not always available.

Such obstacles could be overcome with the creation of a Native American genealogy center that would be housed in the new First Americans Museum in Oklahoma City.

James Pepper Henry, director and CEO of the museum, and members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, recently announced plans for the new center.

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They said it would be created through a collaboration between the museum and the nonprofit FamilySearch of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which has what is considered to be the largest genealogical database in the world. world.

Michelle Magnusson, spokesperson for the Latter-Day Saints’ Oklahoma Communications Council, said that Utah-based FamilySearch offers an online software resource for individuals to search for historical records, create a personal family tree, and connect to a world tree. They can also store photographs, videos and other memorabilia in the archives.

She said FamilySearch provides an accessible way for people to start finding their ancestors at no cost to the user.

Pepper Henry and church leaders held a special Sunday rally at the museum to announce the collaboration. Church elder Kyle S. McKay also took the opportunity to tell those gathered that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is donating $ 2 million for the new center.

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Magnusson said it will be an interactive center where individuals can explore their family history and research their ancestors, regardless of their cultural heritage. She said it will be staffed with specially trained volunteers to support those seeking their Indigenous roots.

Tom Gray, regional president of the Oklahoma church, said his faith group donation will help fund the often expensive technology needed to run the genealogy center. He said the technology will come from FamilySearch.

Gray said there are over 40,000 Latter-day Saints in Oklahoma and many are “early Americans.”

“So we’re diverse and we’re a lot of different things but hopefully the main thing that we’ll be will be your friend,” Gray said.

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To answer questions

Pepper Henry said that even before the First Americans Museum opened, people asked him and other associates at the museum how they could determine if they had Native American ancestors or how to develop genealogical information. Native American women they already had.

He said the genealogy center, which will be housed in the museum’s visitor center, will help answer many of these questions.

Pepper Henry said it’s important to note that the center of the museum will interface with documents and records that FamilySearch has already accumulated. He also said the museum will exercise full surveillance over the genealogy center and there are no plans to try to obtain tribal records, which may cause concern for some tribes.

Pepper Henry said he visited FamilySearch headquarters in Utah and thought it would be a short time there.

“You can go down a rabbit hole quite easily there. We thought we would be there for 45 minutes. Six and a half hours later we were finally leaving,” he said.

The museum director, a member of the Kaw Nation, said he had learned something he didn’t know – that he also had ties to the Iowa tribe.

“I was amazed,” he said.

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Meanwhile, Knife Chief, a member of the Pawnee Nation of Oklahoma and bishop of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, was among those who attended Sunday’s rally. He said the genealogy center would give a huge boost to the genealogical efforts of people looking for their Native American roots.

After hitting the initial roadblock, Knife Chief was finally able to find information about one of his ancestors who lived in Nebraska. He said he found what he was looking for through early US census work with the tribes.

But Knife Chief said not everyone will be so successful on their own and the center will be a great resource for them.

“I was fortunate that one of my ancestors, my great-grandfather, was a chef and the first knife chef in Indian territory. What time was and what time,” Knife Chief said.

“Sometimes things can get lost. Sometimes things can be beautified, so it’s good to have some documentation. This (genealogy center) will help people who are afraid that they can’t do anything or find what whether it be. “

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Go past a “brick wall”

Knife Chief and other Latter-day Saint leaders at the recent gathering said church members believe God has ordained the family unit to be together for eternity, so genealogy is extremely important to them. .

With that in mind, the Latter-day Saints of Oklahoma, in collaboration with a national effort, launched a genealogy project with black genealogists and historians from across the state to help transcribe and digitize the Freedman’s data. Office in 2015.

The goal of the landmark project was to help black Americans connect with their ancestors and help them break through the so-called “brick wall of 1870”.

The phrase describes the barrier that many black Americans encountered when they could not trace their ancestry any further than the 1870 US Census – the first census to list free slaves with surnames.

The Latter-day Saint-led project opened up a treasure trove of ancestral records by helping to transcribe and digitize 1 million documents and records from the Freedmen’s Bureau, which was a government agency that aided slaves after the emancipation.

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