Little Traverse Bay Band Using Newly Available 1950 Census Data for Enrollment and Archives

Pauline Bolton has been using a stack of census records binders, dating back to 1860, in order to do her job the past 20 years. She’s Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians (LTBBOI) Enrollment Officer.

April 1, the 1950 U.S. Census records were made public. There are restrictions calling for census data to only be made public in national archives every 72 years.

The newly accessible records help Bolton and those in her position confirm a person’s tribal lineage while also painting a better picture of the tribe and its history.

“There’s more information on the 1950 versus the 1860, 1870,” says Bolton. “Those are kind of hard to read.”

Bolton will use the records from the 1950s to coincide with records they have in-house in the instance a birth certificate isn’t available.

“We use the birth certificates for direct lineal descendants and document each generation to the 1910 Durant Roll,” says Bolton.

The Durant Roll is the most detailed census taken of Ojibwa or Ottawa and Chippewa tribes in Michigan. It’s the result of a lawsuit filed against the federal government for failure to reimburse as stated in previous treaties.

It was considered quite the accomplishment for the tribes to win the lawsuit in 1905 considering the Native Americans weren’t considered  citizens until years late.

Federal agents were sent to locate the individuals set to receive the money won from the lawsuit which took years. But it created a detailed account of the people living there which hadn’t been done in any other census.

“It became this foundational piece on enrollment here [LTBBOI] because it’s so descriptive. They went to all the families as much as they could. So I’m sure some people got missed, but they listed all the people living in all these different communities,” says LTBBOI Director of Archives and Records Eric Hemenway.
Hemenway says his office is not exempt from the “scopes of research” involved in piecing together the census for the purpose of telling a story.
And historically, minority populations are undercounted or misrepresented in U.S. Census.
“Native populations of the United States constitute roughly 1% of the U.S. population. We’re the smallest minority of any population,” says Hemenway. “Any time we can get records to build our census population numbers is very crucial. But a lot of times people are misidentified. And then I also look at the context of the time period in the 1940s and ’50s as a really difficult time for not just additional people, but all people of color.” 
The 1940s were the last recently available census records. Of course, with World War II, a lot happened in just a decade as people went off the war either returning and starting families, or never returning at all.
“Maybe somebody didn’t want to identify as a Native person-American Indian-from social pressure or just discrimination,” says Hemenway. “So that’s something I have to take into account too…looking through these records and saying I think that person’s native, but they listed themselves white on the census. It was just a really difficult time in the fifties.” 
Hemenway has been able to learn a great deal about the past which he hopes will bring inspiration for future work such tribal food sovereignty.
I always look to the past to look to the future as a historian and archivist,” he says. “How people were taking care of themselves at this point in time, and to me, [that] personally draws some inspiration of going back to some of those methods of growing your own food and taking care of yourself in these communities.” 
It will also help piece together missing family members as we learn more about the atrocities of the Indian boarding schools.
“The census will say you know at least a name and a date and that can be huge for people trying to piece together their family history trying to just make sense of their family tree,” says Hemenway. “We’re trying to collect as much as possible. So something like this 1950 census that just is publicly available is huge. And again these pieces of this really complex puzzle of tribal history.”
Even Hemenway has spent time searching his own story through the 1950 Census archives. He’s found family and friends from Cross Village.
“I’m pretty excited as a historian archivist that this is new data,” he says. “But then for me personally, there’s this extra level of excitement because now I’m seeing personal connection. These are people I knew growing up, growing up in Cross Village, which there were elders at that point, but looking on the records, their kids and their parents and so on and so forth.
It’s that continuity of community that’s really exciting for me personally.”