Indiana Genealogy: Where to Start, What to Do

Genealogy libraries and archives and other resources in Indiana

Researching family history in Indiana is easier than it looks. Numerous resources are available for the Hoosier genealogist, and here’s a quick rundown of the best.

The National Genealogical Society has just published Dawne Slater-Putt’s thorough and systematic guide to Indiana research, part of their series on “Research in the States.” NGS members get a discount and a choice between PDF and hard copy. The state historical society in 2007 published a useful collection of articles, Finding Indiana Ancestors: A Guide to Historical Research.

The state genealogical society publishes the quarterly Indiana Genealogist and the state historical society the semi-annual Hoosier Genealogist:Connections, giving the state two reputable general-interest statewide publications for those seeking Indiana ancestors. Many energetic local societies (such as the Marshall County Historical Society and the Northwest Indiana Genealogical Society) and local libraries (as in Porter, DeKalb, Huntington, Grant, and Jefferson counties) provide valuable resources.

And the state has four top-level repositories that no Indiana researcher can do without – three in Indianapolis and one in Fort Wayne. All offer finding aids and some information on line, and all have rooms full of material that is not on line and will not be any time soon.

In Fort Wayne, the Allen County Public Library is nationally known for its Genealogy Center. Researchers should be aware that the center has what are in effect six different catalogs, for printed materials, for microfilm and microfiche, for microfilmed newspapers, and for digitized Fort Wayne newspapers (18 titles, 1845-1970, most late 1800s), as well as the Periodical Search Index (at the library or via HeritageQuest) and its own collection of useful databases. The Genealogy Center is the go-to place for back issues of all genealogy publications. (Recent issues are not available, however; they’re being indexed.) For research likely to spill over into other states, this is the best place to start.  If you’re new to the library, consult Tina Lyons’ researcher recommendations.

DETAILS: Downtown. In-library parking and fast food, nearby diner and upscale eateries. Flash drives useable on microfilm and microfiche scanners. Copies from books and computers are still 10 cents each, but they can now only be made by using bills to purchase a copy card and then to put money on it — your change purse won’t help!

In Indianapolis, the names and missions are different, but they do overlap.

The Indiana State Library is a hybrid of library and archive. Its web site includes a catalog, plus listings of its two crown-jewel microfilm collections: Indiana newspapers and county records. Like ancient Gaul, the state library is divided into three parts: genealogy books and periodicals on the main floor, the aforementioned microfilm collections on the second floor, and manuscripts tucked away in another part of the second floor.

“Manuscripts” in this case includes most other holdings, even if some of them are books. Manuscripts is a no-nonsense, no-pen zone, with closed stacks; the card catalog is fun to browse and is not on line. Among the state library’s on-line offerings is a database of Indiana marriages before 1850. For research focused on Indiana, this is a great first stop because of the microfilms. It’s possible to chase a family around a dozen counties in original records and newspapers in one research session – although since the microfilms are upstairs and the index books downstairs, researchers may find themselves in transit a lot.

DETAILS: Downtown, across the street from the historical society. Bring quarters for microfilm and book copiers. On-street parking uses computerized meters and has become quite pricey. Structured parking a couple of blocks away.

The Indiana Historical Society is also a hybrid library and archive, but not a state agency. It is perhaps the hardest of these four to categorize, but its strengths include the visual collection, manuscript collections, Northwest and Indiana territories, Indiana women and African-Americans, Indiana Civil War life, and Midwestern railroads. Here’s a good on-line entry point to both the manuscript collections and catalog. The historical society’s physical facility is second to none, and its visual presentations of state history have the potential of entertaining and educating those not engaged in hard-core research.

DETAILS: Downtown, across the street from the state library. Free parking lot for library patrons. On-site noontime canalside cafe with sit-down food, pleasant ambiance, and discount for society members.

The Indiana State Archives holds primarily old state agency documents, including records of regulated charitable organizations, pharmacists’ registrations, defunct corporations, military activities from the Battle of Tippecanoe to Vietnam, and much more. Federal and non-governmental records do creep in, such as naturalizations, early land records, and surviving records of Indiana chapters of the Grand Army of the Republic. The growing Indiana Digital Archives can help determine specifically what’s available on site.

DETAILS: Seven miles east of downtown. Parking not a problem. Not a library, so arrange ahead of time what to view. They make the copies. Many very knowledgeable volunteers. For uncensored inside information on the archives from a dedicated former volunteer, read Ron Darrah’s IndyGenealogy blog.

Whatever the research problem at hand, each of the three Indianapolis repositories can probably help. For instance, each holds different valuable materials pertaining to the Indianapolis Orphan Asylum, a private operation that closed its doors in 1941. The bulk of the orphanage’s original records wound up in the historical society, where volunteers are now indexing them.

Of course not everything is in the Big Four. That’s where the fifth member of the Big Four comes in: the Indiana Genealogical Society has a thorough county-by-county on-line listing of societies, repositories, courthouses, and genealogists. These links help researchers zero in on which organizations or institutions in particular counties are most likely to help. Another reason to join the state society: it has hundreds of on-line databases covering all 92 counties, some public and some open only to members.

– Harold Henderson (updated 25 May 2012)

More on Indiana Genealogy

  • An Index Is a Treasure Map — Do You Dig? Originally published in Indiana Genealogist 19, no. 3 (September 2008):147-150, with nice illustrations not shown here. Footnotes {1} have been converted into endnotes in this format. Copyright Indiana Genealogical Society. AN INDEX IS A TREASURE MAP — DO YOU DIG? Trying to do genealogical research without indexes would be like digging for buried treasure ...
  • Free Lookup in A Guide to Manuscript Collections of the Indiana Historical Society and Indiana State Library (1986) Eric Pumroy with Paul Brockman, A Guide to Manuscript Collections of the Indiana Historical Society and Indiana State Library (Indianapolis: Indiana Historical Society, 1986). Brief well-indexed finding aids to more than 800 manuscript collections in two of Indiana’s premier repositories — as of a quarter-century ago. These are NOT every-name indexes to the collections, but they ...
  • Free Lookup in Abstracts of Obituaries in the Western Christian Advocate 1834-1850 Margaret R. Waters, Dorothy Ruiker, and Doris Leistner, Abstracts of Obituaries in the Western Christian Advocate 1834-1850 (Indianapolis: Indiana Historical Society, 1988). Nearly 8000 obituaries from this Methodist periodical which centered on the Old Northwest Territory states of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, and Wisconsin. Email me with your query at librarytraveler  AT gmail DOT com.
  • Free Lookup in DePauw University 1910 Record of Alums Charles Alexander Martin, ed., Alumnal Record DePauw University (Greencastle IN: DePauw, 1910). Short biographies of more than 2300 men and women who attended this Methodist school in Greencastle, Putnam County, Indiana, in the classes of 1840 through 1910. Email me with your query at librarytraveler  AT gmail DOT com.  
  • Free Lookup in index to early La Porte court records (1830s) Harold Henderson, comp., In Court In La Porte: An Every-Name Index to the First Legal Proceedings in La Porte County, Indiana (La Porte: Blurb.com, 2011). More than 800 distinct surnames of pioneers appear in the first minute record (order book), complete record, and judgment docket of this northern Indiana county. This book is ...
  • Free Lookup in Indiana Place Names Ronald L. Baker and Marvin Carmony, Indiana Place Names (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1975) More than 2,000 Hoosier places names and their origins. Email me with your query at librarytraveler  AT gmail DOT com.
  • Free Lookup in pre-1979 genealogy articles from Indiana Magazine of History Dorothy L. Riker, comp., Genealogical Sources Reprinted from the Genealogy Section of Indiana Magazine of History (Indianapolis: Indiana Historical Society, 1979). Marriage, will, cemetery, church, cemetery, Bible, and miscellaneous records as well as some family genealogies. Email me with your query at librarytraveler  AT gmail DOT com.
  • Free Lookup in transcribed St. Joseph County Indiana marriage records 1830-1855, 1886-1906 Mrs. Carl F. Ott et al., comps., Marriage Records, Volumes 1-3, 1830-1855, St. Joseph County, South Bend, Indiana (South Bend: Schuyler Colfax Chapter DAR, 1957) Mrs. Robert A. Ball et al., comps., Marriage Records, Volume 10, 1886-1906. St. Joseph County, South Bend, Indiana (South Bend: Schuyler Colfax Chapter DAR, 1965) Indexes to the original records. Email me with ...
  • Indiana Genealogy: Where to Start, What to Do UPDATED 20 May 2012 Genealogy libraries and archives and other resources in Indiana Researching family history in Indiana is easier than it looks. Numerous resources are available for the Hoosier genealogist, and here’s a quick rundown of the best. The state genealogical society publishes the quarterly Indiana Genealogist and the state historical society the semi-annual Hoosier Genealogist:Connections, giving ...
  • Indiana Newspapers in Mishawaka MICROFILM IN MISHAWAKA! UNCATALOGUED INDIANA NEWSPAPERS The Indiana State Library has the best collection of Indiana newspapers in the world – check out their guide . What may well be the second most extensive such collection is in the Heritage Center at the Mishawaka-Penn-Harris Public Library in St. Joseph County, much more conveniently located for those living ...
  • Indiana Small Cities Directories List and Index The good news is that the following directories have been microfilmed and published commercially; I found them in the microtext collections of the Allen County Public Library Genealogy Center in Fort Wayne. The bad news is that they are only labeled “Indiana” and have no contents or index anywhere that I can find; ...
  • Midwestern City Directories in Valparaiso . . . in the second floor genealogy room, 103 Jefferson Street http://www.pcpls.lib.in.us/valparaiso.html ILLINOIS Champaign-Urbana 1904-12 Chicago 1861-66, 1868-73, 1876-77, 1880, 1885, 1887, 1890, 1893, 1895, 1900, 1905, 1910-11, 1915, 1917, 1923, 1928, 1973 Cicero 1913-27 Evanston 1882-89, 1937-39 Harvey 1907-22 Hyde Park 1883-89 Joliet 1901-1906 Kankakee 1904-25, 1927-35 La Salle/Peru 1905-26 scattered Oak Park 1923-30 Peoria 1919-20 Rockford 1902-1907 Rock Island 1901-1908 Springfield 1887-93, 1909-10, 1915-16, 1925-26 INDIANA Anderson 1902-15 Bedford 1912-27 Bloomington 1913-23 Crawfordsville ...
  • Presentation: Beyond Fort Wayne, Madison, and the Newberry: Welcome to the Other Midwestern Archives You’ve been to the biggest, now check out the rest. My personal sample of archives in Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, and Wisconsin — and a few suggestions of where to find the one YOU need! This presentation includes visuals and runs about 50 minutes. Beginner/Intermediate. Contact me for more information and open dates. Presented at ...
  • Presentation: First Steps in Indiana Research Find your Hoosiers in the state’s four big repositories and 92 county seats. Indiana’s wealth of resources may surprise you. There’s no substitute for being there! This presentation includes visuals and runs about 50 minutes. Beginner/Intermediate. Contact me for more information and open dates. Presented at Lake County (Illinois) Genealogy Workshop November 2011.
  • Presentation: Orphans No More: Records of the Indianapolis Orphan Asylum 1851-1941 Overwhelmed parents left thousands of children to the Indianapolis Orphan Asylum 1851-1941. Their stories are at the Indiana Historical Society. Learn about the institution, the records, the children — many of whom came from other Indiana counties, and some of whom were sent out of state. This presentation includes visuals and runs about 50 minutes. ...
  • Some Private Laws of Indiana Relating to La Porte County PRIVATE LAWS OF INDIANA RELATING TO LA PORTE COUNTY ON LINE 1843-1847 and 1850 available on GoogleBooks 28 July 2012 What follows is a sampling from one county of a little-used legal resource for genealogists and historians that is available in most states and counties. Six annual “local law” books for Indiana are available on line (although ...
  • Welcome to Midwest Roots! I have been a professional writer since 1979, a genealogist since 1999, a professional genealogist since 2009, and a Board-certified professional genealogist since 1 June 2012. Use the “Contact Harold” box to get in touch. I hope this site will help your genealogy quest in at least one of the following ways: (1) Use free resources here, ...