Mescalero Apache Tribal Administrative Offices and Community Center in New Mexico
Wikimedia Commons

“I was born in 1971 in Boulder, Colo. My mother, Terri Bailey (née Luther), is white (German-Irish) from Kentucky. My father, Gregory Allen Bailey, who left us when I was 2, is half-black on his mother’s side and perhaps half-Mescalero Apache through his father. (I was told Mescalero, but the Bailey name is only on the San Carlos Apache Indian Census Rolls, and they go back as far as the 1893 rolls.)

“My parents were married on Aug. 28, 1970, in Boulder County. My mother said they were on welfare. She also mentioned that when they were married they didn’t have to show their ID, and when my father asked how old you needed to be they said 21, so he said he was 21, but she’s uncertain if that was true. If he was 21, that would put his date of birth at roughly 1949. He was born in Michigan.

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“Both of my parents were basically disowned, out of prejudice, when they married each other in 1969. I’ve been trying to find my father and any of his family, but because he was abusive to my mother she erased any info she had on him. My mother believes that my father was raised by his maternal grandmother, whose last name was Jones, but is not sure.  

“I believe that my paternal grandfather’s name is Allen Gregory Bailey. If the rolls are correct, he was born somewhere between 1920 and 1923. The roll he is on is for the San Carlos Reservation, dated April 1, 1932, and recorded by James B. Kitch. His father’s name was Albert and his mother was Emma Drake, and he had a sister named Laura. If this is correct, his grandparents’ names were David (Dastyne) and Carrie (Cydej) Bailey, and Albert’s Apache name is Tladeheyla. My grandfather left the reservation to join the military.

“My mother said my middle name came from my great-great-grandmother Teresita Bailey, but I can’t find a Teresita on the Apache rolls. My grandfather on my father’s side moved to Detroit around the ’20s and met my grandmother there. I don’t know her name. In fact, I know nothing about my black side at all.

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“Growing up in the ’70s in Wheat Ridge, Colo., as a mixed-race child with a single white mother was beyond hard, and I basically had to teach myself what it means to be black and Indian. I’d love to know if my grandmother was a child of sharecroppers or free blacks. I’d also love to know more about my Apache family.” —Noelle Bailey

Researching either Native American or African-American genealogy has its own set of challenges. Because both groups were marginalized and discriminated against in the past, records may be less complete or, worse, not available at all. You face the additional challenge in that some of the details of your family’s more recent history are not clear. Although you have some clues provided by family stories, you’re interested in confirming this information and learning more about your African-American ancestry. Here are a few tips and sources of information that will help guide your research.

Finding Your Grandparents

The first step you want to take to find out more about your African-American ancestors is to confirm that your paternal grandfather was, in fact, Allen Gregory Bailey. This search may be difficult because the records that will guide your research are more recent and can be restricted. For example, your father’s birth record in Michigan will list the names of his parents, but since the record is less than 100 years old, only the person named on the certificate, his or her parents, a legal guardian or an heir, if the person is deceased, may order a copy.

Occasionally, marriage records contain information about the bride’s and groom’s parents. If you mother doesn’t already have a copy of the marriage license, a copy can be requested from the Boulder County Clerk’s office by mail for $1.25. The Boulder County Recording Division also has some public records that are searchable online. It is free to search the database, but digital images of these records require a subscription.

We did a quick search of this database to see if there were any other records relating to your father. The only record was for the dissolution of their marriage on Aug. 24, 1973. This record is less likely to list the names of your father’s parents, but you might want to look at it.

You may also want to search for a marriage certificate for your grandparents. From your family members you know that your grandfather moved to Detroit and married there. If you are able to confirm that your grandfather’s name is Allen Gregory Bailey, you can start to search for his marriage record.

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Marriage, divorce and death records in Michigan are open to the public and can be requested online or through the mail. The Michigan State Vital Records office does not have an index of its marriage records available online, so you may want to contact the office to inquire about an index lookup before ordering a record.

City Directories

Another source that may be useful in finding more information about your paternal grandparents is city directories and phone books. The latest city directory available online through Ancestry.com is the 1960 City Directory of Boulder (registration required). There were several families with the Bailey name living in the area, but the directory did not show entries for Allen Gregory Bailey.

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The Carnegie Library in Boulder has a collection of city directories, yearbooks and phone books that might have records of your father and grandfather. It may be useful searching the directories and phone books for 1970, the year your parents were married, to see if there are any entries for Gregory Allen Bailey and then to see if there are any other entries for those with the Bailey surname living at the same address. It’s possible that your grandmother’s first name is also listed. Before you visit, you may want to contact the library and ask about its holdings around the 1970s. If you are unable to visit, you may also ask whether the library has a lookup service available.

Military Records

You also mentioned that your paternal grandfather left the reservation to join the military. Given this, your family may have moved around frequently, so military records may be another useful source of information. Your grandfather may have been old enough to serve in World War II. The website Fold3.com has some military records from that war. Although it’s a paid-subscription site, occasionally local libraries will have a subscription available for patron use.

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Once you find more information about your grandfather, you can also request his military personnel file. Instructions on how to request a personnel file can be found here. More general information about finding information on World War II veterans can be found in this publication by the National Archives and Records Administration (pdf).

Search for Records of the Bailey Family in the 1932 Indian Census Rolls

While it is always best to start with known information and keep working backward when researching your family history, this is not always possible because of a lack of available records. For your own research, you have one clue to the name of your grandfather, since you found an Apache Indian named Allen Gregory Bailey in the 1932 Indian Census Rolls living on the San Carlos Reservation. You may want to search for more records of this family to see if you can find any evidence of when Allen Gregory left the reservation or records confirming his birth.

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We did a quick search of the 1940 federal census, which also enumerated Native Americans, and we found the family living on the reservation in Graham County, Ariz. Living in the household was Albert and Emma Bailey, along with their daughters, Laura and Iriva, and their 4-month-old son, Andrew. Albert’s mother, Carrie Bailey, was also living nearby, but the census record does not list a son named Allen living in either household.

We also searched the 1930 federal census, since this record was taken much closer to the 1932 roll. In our search we found that 21-year-old Emma was living with her daughter, 7-month-old Laura, and next to David and Carrie Bailey. Albert Bailey was enumerated as living by himself on a separate sheet in the same county. Once again, the census record does not show Allen Gregory Bailey living near this family, or anywhere in Graham County.

From these census records it seems likely that Allen Gregory Bailey wasn’t a son of Albert and Emma Bailey, although it is possible that he was a relative, perhaps a brother, of Albert Bailey. To continue your research, you will want to search the 1930 federal census to see if you can find any records for Allen Gregory Bailey, who was born in Arizona around 1920 to 1923.

Autosomal DNA Testing

Given the challenges you may have in finding information about your more recent ancestors, and the oral history that you have from your family about your Native American and African-American ancestry, you are a good candidate for DNA testing. To find more information about your African-American ancestry from your paternal grandmother, you will probably want to take an autosomal DNA test, since this gives you a good overview of your complete ancestry.

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Companies like AncestryDNA, 23andMe and Family Tree DNA all offer an autosomal DNA test that will give you a breakdown of your ancestry and tell you how much African-American and Native American ancestry you have, as well as give you more information about your mother’s side of the family. In addition to giving you a broad overview of your ancestry, these companies also offer services that enable you to reach out to those who have a close genetic relation to you, meaning that you might find other relatives who can shed some light on your father’s heritage.

Henry Louis Gates Jr. is the Alphonse Fletcher University Professor and founding director of the Hutchins Center for African and African American Research at Harvard University. He is also editor-in-chief of The Root. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook.

Send your questions about tracing your own roots to TracingYourRoots@theroot.com.

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This answer was provided in consultation with Kristin Britanik, a researcher from the New England Historic Genealogical Society. Founded in 1845, NEHGS is the country’s leading nonprofit resource for family history research. Its website, AmericanAncestors.org, contains more than 300 million searchable records for research in New England, New York and beyond. With the leading experts in the field, NEHGS staff can provide assistance and guidance for questions in most research areas. They can also be hired to conduct research on your family. Learn more today.