Prepared by Elisabeth Lindsay.
Native American most often refers to the indigenous or original inhabitants of the North American continent prior to European arrival. Some sources identify all indigenous or aboriginal peoples of the Western Hemisphere as one group. The terms "Native American" and "American Indian" are often used synonymously. There is, however, considerable debate over the "correct" term to describe this group, with many preferring to be identified with individual tribes.
For the present, "Native American" is the term most often used in genealogy. Because of its unique cultural history, Native American research is challenging, at best. Many Indian rolls and other government records exist that can, conceivably, trace one's lineage back to the 1700s. However, for a great many whose ancestors' names do not appear in these records, identifying ancestry becomes much more difficult, if not impossible. Today, DNA testing is often used to supplement traditional genealogy in discovering ancestral identity.