Indians, West Indians and East Indians

The word Indian itself has caused some confusion.  Indian, the way the designation was meant to be used for the WWI draft registrations, means American Indian, but things aren’t always as cut and dried as they seem.

Many people carrying what look like normal “American type” names were marked or written in as “West Indian” meaning they were born in the West Indies.  Where is the West Indies?  It’s the Caribbean.  The Caribbean itself is made up of over 7000 islands extending in an arc for more than 2000 miles off the coast of Mexico, Central and South America.  The islands towards the north and east along the Caribbean sea are most often associated with the designation, West Indies and it includes Jamaica, the Antilles, Bahama, the Turks, Aruba, the Cayman Islands, the Caicos and others.  Registrars wrote “West Indian” for these people, which does not mean they are Native in the sense of Native American, be it North or South American.  I have not included people from the West Indies unless Indian is specifically written in the race field. 

The East Indies is generally referenced as the Indian subcontinent, meaning in essence, India.  In some cases, it is also extended to mean Southeast Asia, excluding China, Japan and countries north of the Himalayas.  Sometimes people from the Malaysian archipelagos and the Philippines are referenced as East Indians.  For the most part, I’ve seen people from India referenced in that manner.  Generally, their names are not Anglo-European, so we at least have a hint here that we’re not dealing with American Indians.

The people from India, were of course, called Indians.  These people are generally obvious based on their names, or at least that’s the first hint.  The boxes on the form may be checked correctly or not, but in the blank for race, of course, the registrar wrote “Indian,” which is technically true, but not what we’re looking for.

About Roberta Estes

Scientist, author, genetic genealogist. Documenting Native Heritage through contemporaneous records and DNA.
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