MACY, Neb. | Terre Haute, Indiana, native Paul Brill has a collection of Native American genealogical data fit to rival anybody's, and he's giving it all up.
More specifically, Brill is donating his collection of research scrolls, which concern the lineage of the Omaha Tribe, to the Nebraska Indian Community College in Macy.
"Tracking descendency is extremely important for Native Americans, because they're the only group of people who have to prove their blood," said Mike Berger, grant writer for the NICC Development Office.
The genealogical information, mostly files and scrolls with family trees hand-penned by Brill, is being given its own gallery in a new wing at the college, which begins construction this fall.
To be an official tribal member, a "blood quantum" must be satisfied; prospective tribal members must submit proof of their ancestry.
"It must be one-quarter of the tribal blood, so genealogy is extremely important to identify those who are eligible to be tribal members," said Berger. "Paul's work started originally to settle the Treaty of 1854 with the U.S. government, and this was in 1961 - so it took them a while to get around to it."
Brill's collection of genealogical data is exhaustive. When the United States hired Brill to collect ancestry information from tribes all across the country, he traveled from Alaska to Florida and everywhere in between. By the end of it, Brill had worked with every tribe in the United States, save for a couple in New England.
But his interest was particularly sparked by the Omaha tribe. Brill's research became a passion that went far beyond work and, before he knew it, he was spending hours doing extra research on his own time.
"That was my goal -- rather than go play golf or play something else, I was working," said Brill. "My wife would say 'Paul, are you tired?' And I'd say, 'No, I love it.' And she'd say, 'Yes, but you work 15 hours a day.' But if you like it, it doesn’t matter."
On July 27, 1988, Brill was named an adopted member of the Omaha Tribe of Nebraska. He was also given his own Native American name -- Ista'moze, which means "iron eye."
"The work that he has done is going to guide us to who actually is an Omaha," said Pierre Merrick, a member of the Omaha Tribe and Omaha language assistant at NICC. "His work is what is going to be the key to our identity in the future."
Though Brill's research did take time and money, he never charged those who asked him to trace their ancestry. His work has led to a lot of recognition and appreciation from the Omaha people. Most notably, the NICC nominated Brill for the Nobel Peace Prize in January.
Brill began his work for the government when he was 30. Now 85, he realized it was time to do something with his collection. As it turns out, NICC was not the only agency interested in Brill's research.
"It came to be that the college here expressed interest," Brill said. "Well, the Mormons were after it in my town in Indiana, and they were trying to get me to become a Mormon."
Rather than convert, Brill realized it was time to pass the data along to people who would make good use of it -- which is why he chose to give it to the Omahas.
"My wife is gone, I'm getting older," said Brill. "And I kept getting involved with the Omaha people."