Genealogical Resources For Indiana
by Harold Henderson | Nov 8, 2011
You can start your Indiana research from any place by working on line, but you can only finish it by consulting original records in Indiana. This guide is organized in that order. Some of the on-line resources will reappear among the physical repositories later on.
Ten (or more) On-Line Resources Not To Be Missed
(1) Start with the research section of the Indiana Genealogical Society's web site. Best known for its hundreds of databases, the site has an additional treasure for researchers: web and physical addresses for courthouses, offices, and societies in each of the 92 counties. The society also lists county genealogists for 39 counties, who can answer your reasonable questions for free, and researchers for 81 counties, who can research your hard questions for pay. (Full disclosure: I am on both lists, which is my closest connection to any of the groups mentioned in this article.)
(2) STATS Indiana's collection of county and regional maps includes township names and boundaries, courtesy of the Indiana Business Research Center at Indiana University's Kelley School of Business and the US Census Bureau.
(3) Linkpendium collects statewide and county-specific links to genealogical resources, organized by category within each county. In number they range from 164 links for Starke County to 1144 for Lake (as of 11 August 2011). These lists include GenWeb and other project sites as well.
(4) Indiana Historical Society has more than 42,000 searchable Indiana images on line, including (among others) military, African-American, automotive, rail, sports, letters, Civil War, and Northwest Territory.
(5) Indiana State Library has mong other things indexes for marriages to 1850 and 1993-2004, newspaper mentions of WWII veterans, and some newspapers by topic.
(6) The Allen County Public Library Genealogy Center offers databases for its own county and the state, as well as military, African-American, and Bible records. Some of this library's resources have been digitized and are searchable at Brigham Young University's Harold B. Lee Library Digital Collections.
(7) Indiana State Digital Archives indexes some institutional, military, and naturalization records in the custody of the state archives.
(8) Online Historical Directories is Miriam Midkiff's index of on-line city directories in 27 Indiana counties. There are a great many directories that are not on line, but I don't know of a comprehensive index of them and their locations - another reason to visit the state in person!
(9) FamilySearch.org has two Indiana marriage databases (no images); the 1811-1959 database is an ongoing volunteer indexing effort. It currently covering 28 counties and will eventually include images. The FamilySearch wiki for Indiana remains a work in progress, with a lot of good coverage as well as some misinformation and outdated links.
(10) Individual counties' on-line resources can be gold mines of information, but there is no rule for where to find them. They may be freestanding or under the auspices of the government, local societies, libraries, the volunteer group GenWeb, or a combination of the above. Examples from northern Indiana:
- Marshall County's very impressive GenWeb site,
- the Cemetery & Research Association of La Porte County,
- the St. Joseph County Public Library's index to obituaries from the South Bend Tribune 1913-present,
- the Elkhart County probate index, and
- the Allen County Public Library's local databases. If you want hard-core local records information - current as of 1939 - check out the WPA's Inventory of the County Archives of Indiana for Allen County. Similar books exist for 67 counties, but this is the only one available on line.
The Big Four Physical Repositories And More
The abundance of on-line material is wonderful -- and deceptive. Far more information remains offline than on. There is still no substitute for being there.
Indiana has four premier repositories. Each is part library and part archive (in addition to the virtual arms noted above). Each offers information in three complementary forms: unpublished manuscript materials, microfilm and other microtext, and physical books and periodicals. Three are in Indianapolis, and one in Fort Wayne.
Be aware that a library holds published materials for which cataloguing and organizing are relatively straightforward; an archive holds unpublished materials that are unique and difficult to fully inventory or index. Calling ahead of time to consult is a must for any archive, including the smaller courthouses (where I have known offices to close for the day for an official's funeral).
(1) Allen County Public Library Genealogy Center has both a main catalog and a microtext catalog. They do not overlap. Both must be searched! As of this writing, not all newspaper holdings are included in the microtext catalog so take a look at a third listing. This is the best public-library genealogy collection in the US, and many view it overall as second only to the Family History Library in Salt Lake City. As a frequent visitor for more than a decade, I can testify to its spirit of helpful service and continuous improvement. It's more library than archive, and an excellent place to start even if your research targets never set foot in Indiana.
(2) Indiana State Library has plenty of library materials, but even more archives. The state library's combination of books, microfilmed county records, and microfilmed local newspapers makes it the best place on earth to research Hoosiers. Do not overlook the manuscript collection with its card catalog. Only 25 percent of its holdings are catalogued on line.
(3) Indiana Historical Society has both a library catalog and two approaches to its over 5,000 manuscript collections - an alphabetical listing by title and a keyword search of the collection guides. About half of the processed manuscript collections have on-line collection guides.
(4) Indiana State Archives is all archives. Don't just show up! Phone ahead and discuss your research plans and the current hours of service. It has an alphabetical subject index and contact information. An on-site card catalog is current as of 2001. The state archives' strengths include its volunteers and its focus on state agency records, which can touch on almost any aspect of life from orphanages and pharmacists to prisons, courts, and the military. Certain local and non-governmental records may be found here as well, such as post records of the Grand Army of the Republic.
It is rarely possible to get by without visiting all three Indianapolis repositories. On many topics each holds valuable materials that the other two lack.
(5) Local county resources can be almost anywhere, in the real world as well as on line. Every county does have a clerk (think marriages, court records, naturalizations, wills and probates), a recorder (think property records), an auditor (think taxes), and a health department (think births and deaths, but check the web site for varying regulations). Few counties are small enough to contain all the relevant offices in the original courthouse. Records and indexes can find their way to local archives, either county-run as in St. Joseph County or independent as in the Calumet Regional Archives at Indiana University Northwest in Gary, Lake County. Or they may show up in libraries. Eastern Indiana's Jay County library in Portland holds a fully indexed four-volume set of school reminiscences from the late 1800s (originally published in local newspapers). Evansville, in Vanderburgh County near the Kentucky line, boasts the Willard Library, a well-stocked genealogy facility in a historic building. Local libraries often inherit old and little-used courthouse records, as in Porter County. Part of the research job is to figure out where the materials you need have ended up.
(6) Out-of-state repositories often hold Indiana records. The Great Lakes Regional Branch of the National Archives in Chicago holds federal bankruptcy, land, and tax records for Indiana. Western Michigan University's Regional History Archives focuses on southwestern Michigan counties with overlaps into northern Indiana.
Four Final Tips
- The current edition of Finding Indiana Ancestors: A Guide to Historical Research (Indianapolis: Indiana Historical Society Press, 2007) offers an excellent introduction to state records and research.
- Indiana did not record births and deaths until 1882 (with a handful of urban exceptions). Counties have always recorded marriages, but beginning in 1882 they also kept more detailed records on those getting married. Often called supplemental records or marriage applications, and kept or indexed separately from marriage licenses, these records name the parents of the marrying couple as well as giving age, birth, and residential information. The Works Progress Administration of the 1930s indexed many of these.
- If you are checking court records for divorces or other civil matters, know that in addition to the county or circuit court, from 1853 to 1873 there was also a Court of Common Pleas - which lasted long enough to create significant amount of records in probate, divorce, and other matters, but not long enough to be well known today. Check out John J. Newman's "Research in Indiana Courthouses: Judicial and Other Records," published by the state historical society.
- Indiana is that rare state with two well-regarded statewide genealogy magazines. They are the Indiana Genealogical Society's Indiana Genealogist, a quarterly now published entirely on line, and the Indiana Historical Society's Hoosier Genealogist: Connections, which appears twice a year. And when you need historical context, the entire run of the Indiana Magazine of History is searchable and readable for free on line. Enjoy!
Find Records Now for Free
Start your free trial today to learn more about your ancestors using our powerful and intuitive search. Cancel any time, no strings attached.