by Harold Henderson | Jul 26, 2012
It's easy to get into a genealogy rut, always checking the same sources whenever we have a new research target. At some point we need to branch out and look in some less usual places. These records may not be online, or even indexed. I'll describe mostly Indiana records, but don't worry: similar records will usually be found in other states.
What we call "the US census" in everyday genealogy parlance is really just the population schedule, one of several that may exist. In 1850, 1860, 1870, and 1880, the agricultural schedule has also survived for most counties. The 1880 version was the most thorough, but even the 1850 census asked 46 different questions spread across two wide pages of fine print, including farm acreage; cash value of the farm, machinery, and livestock; production of crops from Indian corn to cotton; and production of farm-related items like butter and maple sugar. Only a handful have been indexed - a search of the Allen County Public Library main catalog for "agriculture schedule index" produced nine hits -- but surviving schedules have been microfilmed and can be found in the better genealogy libraries, with individual farms and farmers listed by township within each county. 1 Most of our ancestors were farmers and even if they left no other written record, these schedules can provide a surprisingly detailed idea of how they spent their days.
Numerous kinds of school records were created (and many have been lost) since Indiana began struggling to create a public school system in the early 1800s. Most valuable were "school enumerations." In South Bend for 1911, these included the names, birth dates, and ages of the children, name of parent or guardian, and street - all organized by ward of the city.
These records are literally all over the map. In Jay County, numerous newspaper articles reminiscing about schools of the late 1800s and early 1900s were pasted into four blank books and now reside in the library's Indiana Room with an index. In Lake County, Martha Daugherty Latko has indexed several years of Gary school records, but this is exceptional. 2 Ronald L. Darrah has authored a useful short how-to manual and a miscellany of school records from several counties on CD. 3
What if your ancestors had to borrow money and could offer no land as security? They offered whatever else they owned, and the transaction was often recorded in the County Recorder's office. A Marshall County, Indiana, man borrowed $90 in the fall of 1881. He put up as collateral a red farm wagon, a set of harness, and a medium-sized dark brown eight-year-old horse named "Frank." 4 Often the people in these records show up in few others.
Over the years the County Recorder has been charged with recording many documents beyond the familiar real estate records. Indentures of apprentices - who may actually be children of families who lost one or both parents - are one, although they may only be found at random places in an unindexed book of "miscellaneous" records. Some have been published. 5
Early county commissioners' records may include provisions for specific poor families or children; the records are rarely indexed, however. In later years this information may extend to county asylums or poor farms. Some orphanages have had indexes published. 6 Others have been microfilmed but not indexed, such as the records of St. Vincent's Orphan Asylum in Fort Wayne. 7
Frequently heirs who came from large families found themselves owning sizeable properties in common; they could file a (usually) friendly lawsuit in court, and the judge would appoint commissioners to divide up the property fairly. Not only do these proceedings name heirs, they often include beautiful little surveyors' maps of the property and how it was divided. For those with mathematical fortitude, the loose papers associated with these cases often contain mind-bending calculations, by hand, involving large-denominator fractions in order to figure out the exact portion due each heir. 8
In counties that have suffered record loss, check surviving local newspapers, which often published delinquent tax records annually. The newspapers may survive even though the underlying courthouse records are gone. These are derivative sources, so beware of typos.
If your ancestor followed a state-licensed profession, the Indiana State Archives probably has relevant material. Volunteers there are working on pharmacists' records, including photographs and test scores.
Medical schools often published magazines. Hahnemann Medical College in Chicago, at one time a popular source of homeopathic instruction for aspiring doctors all over the Midwest, published a magazine The Clinique in the late 1800s and early 1900s. For those who are not medical historians, the best part is the alumni news. 9 Publications of "orphaned" subdisciplines like this one are rarely indexed.
Local regulation also created records: South Bend licensed liquor establishments, as well as pool and billiards parlors, bowling alleys, and pawn brokers. The city also licensed dogs in 1903. 10 The Wabash County Genealogical Society has published an index to junk dealer licenses from 1919 to 1948. 11
Remember a trick from federal records: if the records themselves are missing or suspected of being incomplete, find out whether a license fee or a bond or some other exchange of money was involved. The records documenting the money trail may survive as "fee books" in a different office or archive. For example, the County Auditor keeps real estate transfer books including names of grantor and grantee, description and location of the land, the date of sale - and the transfer fee. Those that I have seen are organized not by name but by township, which might make these sources easier to use than the normal deed indexes for tracking near neighbors and adjoining lands.
And don't forget to do your own rummaging in a meta-source that is itself little-used: the WPA's Inventory of County Archives for (almost) every county, compiled in the 1930s. You can sample the one for Allen County on line. 12
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