Navajo Family History related to Thomas Varker Keam
WARNING: This is very much a work in progress.

I am NOT Navajo. My work in the records of the Navajo arises from my desire to trace my Cornish Keam cousins. Thomas Varker Keam (1842-1904) was born in Cornwall and eventually came to New Mexico and Arizona and married a Navajo woman. So this work arises from my efforts to trace his descendants.

The vast majority of the work that I have done so far is within the scope of the Leupp Agency of the Bureau of Indian Affairs in Arizona. There are also Keams (TVK went by both Keam and Keams, and it is the Keams form that has passed down among his descendants.) in Grey Mountain in the Western Navajo district. I have made a few brief efforts on them, but all of the systematic work that I have done is on the Leupp Navajo records.

  • Indian Census Rolls - Leupp Agency Navajo

Indian Census Rolls - Leupp Agency Navajo

It became clear that I really needed to have the Indian Census Roll records in a form that was easy to use. So I downloaded them into PDF files. The years for which images are available are: 1915-1917, 1920-1925, 1927, 1929 (in one PDF file) and 1930, 1932, 1933-1935 (in the other PDF file). (I really have not checked all the years ... these dates are taken from the National Archives pamphlet M-595.)

It then became clear to me that I needed a way to link the same people in all the censuses. The spelling of their names and clans varied, and the names sometimes changed as a person progressed in life. So some method of connecting them -- beyond what a lineage-linked database supported -- was needed. So I began transcribing the complete censuses into separate spreadsheets for each year, starting with the 1915 census.

I completed the 1915 census spreadsheet and then began the 1916 census spreadsheet. But in doing the 1916 spreadsheet, I am also copying and pasting the 1916 information on the lines of the 1915 census, so that the 1915 census has both the 1915 and 1916 information for each person who was in the 1915 census.

The 1915 census had 850 people on 34 pages. The 1916 census had 1,442 people on 71 pages. So just under 600 people appear for the first time in the 1916 census. While there were some new births (and one death) since the 1915 census, these additional people were mostly entire households that were not included in the 1915 census.

Havng the complete 1915 census transcription in the spreadsheet allowed me to do some simple demographic analysis.

  • AGE: The average (mean) age was 19. The median age 14. The mode (most numerous) age was 1. So this was a quite young population, although the maximum age was listed as 135.
  • GENDER: There were 414 males (48.7%) and 436 females (51.3%).

I have not yet completed the clan name standardization for either census. I initially created a standard name, based on one of the 1916 spellings. But I want to use the standard spellings and translataions from the 1983 book "Saad Ahaah Sinil: Dual Language: A Navajo-English Dictionary: Revised Edition", edited by Martha Austin and Regina Lynch with revisions by Regina Lynch (see ). However the first priority is the transcription, so that the clan standardization and analysis will come later.

Some observations for tracing family history

  • Many wives and widows are not identified with their own names. Instead they are identified only as "XXX Bi-asdzan" (XXX's wife) or as "YYY Bi-ma" (YYY's mother). So the actual names of these women are not in these records. Their names must be found in other sources - if there are other sources. Probate records may be useful in this regard.
  • The "Bi-ma" reference are actually quite helpful within the census family for connecting a child and the mother. Other relationship suffixes are also helpful for connecting people. For example, some couples appear with the husband as "AAA Badani" (AAA's in-law) and the wife as "AAA Bitsi" (AAA's daughter); so in this case AAA is the father of "AAA Bitsi" and the father-in-law of her husband "AAA Badani". Of course, the actual names for both the husband and wife are not known when they are referred to in this way, so that other sources must be sought to find their actual names.
  • Spelling did not count. Just because a name is written down in some particular spelling does not mean that it was always spelled that way. The censuses were made by English speakers who wrote down the Navajo names as best they could figure out how to spell them. Even the same census taker sometimes wrote the same name (person or clan) on different pages or in subsequent censuses. So do not lock on to some particular spelling in the censuses as being the one true spelling because there was no one true spelling in most cases.

Why do all this extra work instead of focusing only on the descendants of Thomas Varker Keam? This is a valid question - and one that I have asked myself more than once as I have done the tedious work of the transcriptions of the complete censuses. I first began doing this kind of project with two related Cornish communities, one in Columbus, Ontario in Canada, and the other in St. Blazey in Cornwall. It became clear to me as I did more family research on these communities that people who I had originally ignored when using a narrow focus turned out to be people who were in fact part of or important to the family history. In such tightly-knit communities, the relationships between people were well known among them. Even though we do not see them without a lot of work now, they were part of the very fabric of life for our family members who lived there. Once I had realized this, it was a method -- extremely laborious and often relegated to efforts in fits and spurts as my resources allowed -- that I applied to more communities of my family's history. And it led to me writing my book on the subject "Family Thickets: Deep Family and Local History".

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Copyright © 2017 by Wesley Johnston

Last updated December 30, 2016
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