What does it mean to you to be an Indian? It needs to mean at least this. You need to have some sort of connection, somewhere, to an Indian community. That is where you will get some of your answers to what it means to be an Indian. I have another thought which is equally important. You can't base your Indian identity only on what you find in written records. As you venture along with this, you need to have a strong sense within yourself of your Indian identity. If every written record in the world were to vanish tomorrow, you would need to somehow know, within yourself, that you are an Indian. This will sustain you during your difficult search, when the records vanish or don't exist, when you are challenged, and when you begin to wonder if you are wasting your time.
Here's where you begin: vital records. These are records of birth, marriage, and death, or some other record which will document these. I've seen numerous requests from people who are looking in the tribal rolls. People! Have you seen how many tribal rolls just the Cherokee have? You are just going to be so overwhelmed. Start as everyone else does, with civil records. When you have looked at all the civil records, then you can go to the Indian records. The reasoning is this. After having looked at the civil records, you may find evidence which will help you further in looking for your Indian ancestors.
to be continued