by Ben Geboe (Yankton Sioux)
Illustration by Patrick Tafoya (Dine)



     What is Native American genealogy?

     I thought we only had Oral traditions, and any attempts at learning about family histories would be impossible. I mean, we didn’t write anything down, did we?

     It may true that our cultural traditions and history has survived through the oral tradition, but when it comes to doing business with the White Man, everything is on paper. My name is Ben Geboe and I recently hosted the French Connection in North America; legacy of Samuel de Champlain, Lecture and Genealogy Workshop at American Indian Community House in New York City. The program explored the historical importance of Samuel de Champlain, who made early contact with Native peoples, and who would later become a part of the legacy of exchange and intermarriage between cultures and peoples that symbolizes the modern mixtures of Canadian and United States societies.

     We looked at the diverse places where historical information about Native Americans can be found. Contrary to popular belief, records about Native Americans abound in treaties, missionary and school records, and government programs. Often, Native American historical records are located in state archives. The Unites States National Archives (NARA) has some treaties and allotment records, but some of the early contact writings are found in local and state historical societies. You pay a minimal fee, and they will look for family names or information about certain tribes. Also, there is the Web, which you can use to research your ancestry.

     We hosted Raymond Monette and Charles Beaudy, two historians from Quebec in Montreal. Quebec has a rich genealogical history that has been preserved from the early days of European settlement and they spoke about the early history between the Native and French communities. Charles had drawings of Natives going to St Francis Xavier Indian Mission in LaPrairie to be baptized or married. Unlike the English settlers, the French married Native women to remain in good standing with the Catholic Church, who considered intermarriage a key way to spread Chrisitianity/ Catholocism througout the region. In some cases, French men were denied trading rights if they did not adhere to this practice. These marriage records often provide a good source of names, many of which can still be found in Native communities across the US and Canada.

     Raymond spoke about the diverse colonial historical records available at the library of the Societe d’histoire de La Prairie de la Magdliene, outside of Montreal. The most important source of early history in Quebec is found in the Catholic Church documents titled “Jesuit Relations”. This body of work chronicles the life and exploits of Jesuit missionaries in Native communities.

     Currently, it is only in French, with some volumes translated into English; however, there is a project to have the entire collection of writings translated into English by a priest in Newfoundland.

     I made a presentation about the genealogical search I had made about my family. My last name is originally spelled Gibeau, and comes from the family of Gabriel Gibeau, who came to Montreal in 1643 from Poiters, France. His grandson married a Miami (Maumee) Indian and from then on the name was spelled Geboe. The name became a part of the Indian community as it was passed down through marriages and births. There are still Gibeau family members in the Miami Tribe of Oklahoma as well as French Gibeau members in Montreal. Geboes fought for the Union in the American Civil War and also during the Red River Metis Rebellion in Canada.

     There was a Miami Geboe at the Hampton Institute in Richmond, Virginia, which was one of the first boarding schools to take Native children. There were Miami Geboes working for the railroad in Oklahoma in the 1920’s and 30’s.

     A highlight of the presentation was when I showed a picture of Miami Chiefs signing the Treaty of Greenville in the early 1800’s. I explained that my family has been working for the government for a very long time! Jokes aside, there is also ample tragedy and social injustice in our histories.

     Other highlights of the evening included the participation of the New York Genealogical and Biographical Society library staff, which is interested in hosting this event again in the city for their patrons. We also made connections with a director of the French Cultural Organization in Westchester, NY, who operates a French language cultural society and French language school. We agreed to try to plan this event again in collaboration with an academic institution in the fall of 2003, perhaps at the Canadian Studies department at the University of Pittsburgh.

     I would like to thank Diane Fraher and Amerinda for assisting me in planning and serving as fiscal conduit. Amerinda enabled this cultural event to bring together scholars and historians to explore our rich colonial history, which is expressed in the complicated and intertwined genealogies of early settlers and Native Nations of North America. We received funding from the New York Council for the Humanities, Canadian Consulate General New York and the Quebec Government, Minister of International Relations.

     I am currently volunteering with the New York Genealogical and Biographical Society to plan more events and hopefully author a publication on the subject.

Ben Geboe is a Yankton Sioux who resides in New York City and works in social services.

A copy of the transcript of the presentation is available. Please contact me and I will send a copy to you in French and English. Please enclose 3.00 USD to pay for photo copying and postage to Ben Geboe, 116 Pinehurst Ave, #J51, NY NY 10033. Or contact me at