American Indians

Oklahoma Historical Society Collaborates With Ancestry.com To Make Archives Available To Public

The Oklahoma Historical Society houses thousands of records on early Oklahomans, Indian and non-Indian. But OHS has lacked the means to digitize much of its records. That is until recently, when Ancestry.com approached OHS with an offer to collaborate.

Debra Spindle
Debra Spindle: Credit Susan Shannon

“It was a good partnership because we do not have staff, nor time nor resources to digitize and index our records and we have a treasure trove of records in our files, on microfilm, lots of handwritten records that are difficult to access,” Debra Osborne Spindle said. “This will make them available.

Spindle is an OHS research librarian. She said Ancestry.com sent people to copy the thousands of microfilms, handwritten records and other memorabilia.

According to Spindle, among the best resources on early Oklahomans is the Indian Pioneer Papers of Oklahoma, created in the 1930’s.

“They’re interviews that were done as a Works Project Administration project. And they were interviews done with people who were here at statehood or before statehood,” Spindle said.

“They interviewed both Indians and pioneers. When people hear the title they think it just Indians but it was people, and in fact there’s Germans from Russia that are included, but there are other ethnic groups included,” Spindle said.

Federal laws and treaties barred all non-Indians from Indian Territory, so permits were given to federal employees and residents approved by the Indian governments.

“They had to have permission to be there, physicians had to have permits, everybody who was a white person in Indian Territory was supposed to have a permit,” Spindle said.

Spindle said the most frequently asked questions her office receives are those from individuals attempting to trace Indian heritage or blood.

“We spend a lot of time here explaining, for example, the Dawes Enrollment, what the rules were, how that happened, the fact that someone who is living in Indian Territory does not necessarily mean they were Indian. Those kinds of things,” Spindle said.

And Spindle anticipates even more interest in the wake of the Ancestry.com collaboration.

Spindle also credits programs like PBS’s Finding Your Roots and The Learning Channel’s Who Do You Think You Are? for the increased interest in tracing one’s past.

“I think those TV shows wouldn’t be on unless the interest was there because they’re commercial, they’re commercial entities. But I’m glad it’s there because it’s been great fun and we’ve done some work for some of those shows,” Spindle said.

SOURCE: Indian Times

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