State Research Guide: Indiana

State Research Guide: Indiana

With our guide, finding your Hoosier State family is a slam dunk.

Say “Hoosier,” and the guy sitting next to you thinks of Indiana basketball. If he’s from those parts, he might exhibit signs of Hoosier Hysteria. But the word hoosier was around way before basketball. Indiana historian Jacob Piatt Dunn speculated in a 1907 study that it came from an Anglo-Saxon word meaning “hill.”

Regardless of its origins, though, hoosier became a term for small farmers. It first appeared in print when the Jan. 1, 1833, Indianapolis Journal ran John Finley’s poem “The Hoosier’s Nest.” Now it’s part of Indianans’ identity. Your Hoosier ancestors’ heritage is as intriguing as their nickname, and a range of resources hold their stories.

“County-level research in Indiana is imperative,” says Curt Witcher, director of the genealogy department at the Allen County Public Library in Fort Wayne. “Visit virtually – if not in person – all local repositories for counties where you’re researching.” His and other libraries are known for their wealth of online data and rich local holdings. The Kokomo-Howard County Public Library, for example, offers about 20 databases < bases.html> including county mortality schedules, vital records and burials.

Even those without Hoosier heritage flock to the Allen County library’s giant genealogy collection. It includes family histories, county records, all publications indexed in the Periodical Source Index of genealogy articles dating to the 1700s, and more.

Tribal tipoff

As you might guess, Indiana means “Land of the Indians”: The Miami, Delaware, Wea, Potawatomie, Shawnee and other tribes once made homes there. After the Revolutionary War, the United States made Ohio and Indiana part of the Northwest Territory. American Indians tried to set the northern US boundary at the Ohio River, but Gen. Anthony Wayne’s 1794 victory at Fallen Timbers opened Ohio to settlement and sent Indians west.

After the 1809 Treaty of Fort Wayne and other accords gave the entire area to the United States, most Indians migrated even further west. The National Archives and Records Administration’s (NARA) Fort Worth, Texas, facility holds censuses, registers and other records for the Miami, Delaware and several other Indiana tribes – learn more at <>. 

Fast break for statehood

Most of the Northwest Territory became Indiana Territory in 1800. A mad rush of settlers, largely from Kentucky and Ohio, helped Indiana become a state in 1816 – a free state with Knox as the only county and Corydon as capital. After the US government agreed to donate 2,560 acres of federal land for a capital, the state legislature approved a more-central spot, and surveyors planned Indianapolis with four avenues emanating from a circular street. Some lots were saved for churches, a university and other purposes; the rest went for sale starting in October 1821.

If your ancestor was an early arrival, search the Indianapolis Donation Database, accessible from the Indiana State Archives’ online databases page <>. Buyers’ certificates, exchanged for deeds once the land was paid for, are at the state archives.

Search for other public-land sales between 1810 and the 1960s at the Bureau of Land Management General Land Office site <>. See the title or patent there, then request copies of your ancestor’s land application, or land entry case file, from NARA (ordering information is at <>).

Man-to-man coverage

The 1800 and 1810 federal censuses included Indiana Territory, but only the 1810 Harrison County count survived. You can search that data, along with the 1790 Northwest Territory census, 1807 Indian Territory census, 1840 military pensioners and various other records, in’s < > census databases (part of the $155.40-per-year US Deluxe collection). These enumerations are also published in books such as Indiana Territorial Pioneer Records 1801-1820 by Charles Franklin (Heritage House). See the resources list for more titles.

By 1830, Indiana’s population was 343,031 – more than double a decade before, when the census first counted it as a state. Find US censuses from 1820 through 1930 (except 1890, which was destroyed) on microfilm at NARA, the Family History Library (FHL) <> and its branch Family History Centers (FHCs), and many large libraries. has censuses, too; or search them free through a library offering HeritageQuest Online <> or Ancestry Library Edition.

The state archives has fragments of several state censuses taken from 1852 to 1877. Some counties also enumerated African-American men between 1853 and 1865. Listings for 15 counties are in Indiana Negro Registers by Coy D. Robbins (Heritage Books); a few are on FHL microfilm. Go to the state archives databases page to search Vigo County’s 1853 names.

Vital-records victory

Some Indiana counties started keeping vital records in the 1880s, but the state didn’t mandate the practice until January 1900 for deaths and October 1907 for births. For records after those dates, get copies from the Indiana State Department of Health. Request earlier records from the county health department where the event occurred.

The state didn’t track marriages until 1958, but many county court clerks did so from the counties’ inception dates. Search the Indiana State Library’s database of pre-1850 marriages at <> and request certificate copies from the county circuit court where your ancestors wed. Both the state archives and the state library have microfilmed indexes to later marriages.

You also may find your ancestor’s pre-1920 birth, marriage or death in Work Projects Administration indexes, completed for 68 of the 92 counties. They’re on FHL microfilm – run a place search of the online catalog on the county name and look for the birth records heading. (You can rent film for a fee through your local FHC; use FamilySearch to find it.) also indexes many counties’ counts.

Indiana’s lenient laws earned it a reputation as a divorce mill until the state revised statutes in 1873. Check with county court clerks for divorce records from 1852 to the present. Before then, the state legislature granted divorces.

Offense and defense

Researchers have published a wealth of indexes to Indiana veterans, including Index to Revolutionary Soldiers of Indiana and Other Patriots by Barbara Schull Wolfe (Ye Olde Genealogie Shoppe) and Indiana Militia in the Black Hawk Wars by Carrie Loftus (Mountain Press). You can search the free Civil War Soldiers and Sailors System <> and indexes covering service records for the Revolutionary War, War of 1812 and Spanish-American War (Indiana soldiers), as well as Civil War pensions.

Learn about more military resources on the state archives’ Web site <>. Order copies of federal military service and pension records from NARA.

In 1886, 1890 and 1894, Indiana townships enrolled veterans (or their widows and orphans) of the Civil War, War of 1812 and Indian wars. The data is in the FHL microfilm Index to Indiana Enrollments of Soldiers, Their Widows and Orphans; the records themselves take up 89 microfilm reels beginning with film 1605057. You can search the 1890 count in’s subscription census collection.

The Indiana Soldiers and Sailors Children’s Home opened in 1865 to care for Civil War soldiers’ orphaned and destitute children, and later, offspring of other veterans. Visit the state archives’ online database page to read about it and search admissions.

A full-court press

Besides repositories in your ancestral county, add the state archives and library in Indianapolis to your Hoosier research tour. Witcher praises the Indiana Historical Society <> (IHS), also in the capital, for its vast library and its County Historians program. Choose Local History Services from the IHS Web site’s Quicklinks menu for this list of volunteers from every county who can answer history questions. The Indiana Genealogical Society <> has started a similar County Genealogists volunteer list.

Can’t travel to the Hoosier State? “There are over 30,000 rolls of microfilmed Indiana records in the FHL catalog,” says Witcher. Run a place search on the county name to see what’s available. With each family tree find, you’ll generate some Hoosier Hysteria of your own.

From the September 2007 issue of Family Tree Magazine

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