Genealogy FAQ

Research Questions

How do I begin my genealogy research
Do you have a book about my family at the Indiana State Library?
Can I borrow genealogy books and other resources from the Indiana State Library?
I am looking for a living person. Can you help me find him or her?
My ancestor was born in the early 1800s. How can I find his parents?
I am looking for information on my ancestor’s military service. Can you help?
How can I prove Native American ancestry?

Finding Records

What federal census records are available at the Indiana State Library?
Where can I find information about post-1940 federal census records?
What state census records are available at the Indiana State Library?
Where can I find Indiana birth and death records?
Where can I find Indiana adoption records?
Where can I find Indiana marriage and divorce records?
Where can I find ship passenger lists?
Where can I find naturalization records?
Where can I find cemetery records?
How do I obtain a copy of an obituary?

Research Questions

How do I begin my genealogy research?

Start with what you know.  Compile the names of your parents, grandparents, great-grandparents, etc. as far back as you are able.  Also write down basic biographical information, such as when and where they were born, married, and died.  Approximate dates are fine.  Many records and books are organized by geography location and date range, so knowing this information will help focus your search.

Census records are one of the best places to start looking into original records.  The federal census began in 1790 and is conducted every 10 years.  The most recent census available to researchers is the 1940 census.  You can access census records through subscription databases such as Ancestry Library Edition/Ancestry.com or Heritage Quest or through free websites like FamilySearch (requires a free account).

The Genealogy Division has a brochure, Beginning Your Genealogy Research which provides additional tips for getting started.

If you have questions, feel free to visit the Indiana State Library or to contact us.  We can provide additional assistance based on your specific research needs.  Please note that due to staff and time constraints, we cannot conduct extensive or open-ended research.

Do you have a book about my family at the Indiana State Library?

We have an extensive collection of family histories, including books, microfiche, and online resources.  To see what we have for the surname you are researching, visit our online catalog and search by keyword for the family name.  For best results, put the word family after the surname, for example: Smith family.

Can I borrow genealogy books and other resources from the Indiana State Library?

Resources in the Genealogy Division may not be checked out for use at home.  However, some books may be available for interlibrary loan, provided the items meet the following requirements:

-          The item must be published after 1950.

-          The Genealogy Division must have at least two copies of the item, and both copies must be in good condition.

-          The borrowing library must be located in Indiana and must participate in InfoExpress.

-          The final decision regarding the interlibrary loan eligibility of an item is up to Genealogy Division staff.

Items that are eligible for interlibrary loan will not be loaned to individuals, but to libraries for in-library use only.  You will need to contact your local public library to submit the loan request for you.  Please visit our interlibrary loan page for more information.

If an item cannot be loaned, we may be able to photocopy an excerpt from the book.  Please submit your copy request via our Ask a Librarian service.  Due to copyright restrictions, we cannot copy more than 25% of any item that is still in copyright.  Due to staff and time constraints, we cannot copy more than 50 pages from any item.  Please see our Service Fees and Fines page for details on our photocopy polices.  Copies may be provided electronically or by mail.

Genealogy non-print materials, such as microfilm, are not available for interlibrary loan.  However, much of the Genealogy Division microfilm collection has been digitized by FamilySearch.  Some items are available for you to view at home while others will require you to visit your local Family History Center or FamilySearch Affiliate Library.

I am looking for a living person.  Can you help me find him or her?

Due to privacy restrictions, we are unable to assist with living person research.  We do not have access to most records pertaining to living persons, as they are sealed by law to protect an individual’s identity and privacy.

Some records pertaining to individuals born before 1940 have been made available, so if the person for which you are looking was born before that year, we may be able to find older information for you.

If you would like to find a living person, Cyndi’s List maintains a list of resources for that of research.

My ancestor was born in the early 1800s.  How can I find his parents?

Because civil birth records were not issued in Indiana until 1882, there is often no record of parents’ names for individuals born in the early 1800s.  However, there are several places to look that may contain the parents’ information.  For example, census records from 1850 on recorded the names of everyone in a given household, so if a person lived with his or her parents into adulthood or if parents moved in with their adult children later in life, that information will be in the census.  Marriage records from the late 1800s and early 1900s often asked for parents’ names.  Death certificates were issued in Indiana beginning in 1882 (although they were optional until 1907), so parents’ names may be listed there.  An obituary may also name parents, although obituaries were not common until the early 1900s.

Family histories may name parents, so you may want to search our catalog to see if we have any books on that family.  Many county histories contained brief biographical sketches of local residents.  The Indiana State Library has a large collection of Indiana county histories, and many of these books are also available on Google Books.  If you know the religious affiliation of your ancestor, you may be able to find information in church records, particularly christening and membership records.

If you can prove that your ancestor had brothers or sisters, finding the parentage of those individuals will also give you the parents’ information for your ancestor.

I am looking for information on my ancestor’s military service.  Can you help?

The Indiana State Library maintains a bibliography of select sources from our collection that pertain to military research.  We also provide access to Fold3 within the library, which contains historic military records from throughout the United States.  You can also search our catalog to see our military-related holdings.

Most military records are kept by the National Archives and Records Administration, although some records may also be at the Indiana State Archives.

How can I prove Native American ancestry?

Due to various circumstances, Native American ancestry can be difficult to prove.  To begin your Native American research, you will need to find records pertaining to the individual or family line that may be Native American.  Finding birth and death records, census records, and other record types may provide information on a person’s ethnicity.  We also have a bibliography of Native American resources at the Indiana State Library, although this list does not represent our complete holdings.

Most Native American records are kept by the tribes, so if you know tribal affiliation, you may need to contact that tribe to find more information.  When researching Native American ancestry, do keep in mind that many families have stories of Native American ancestors that cannot be proven with the available records.

Finding Records

What federal census records are available at the Indiana State Library?

We have access to all federal censuses, 1790-1940 through our subscription databases Ancestry Library Edition and Heritage Quest.  We also have print indexes to many of the censuses, although our holdings vary by decade and state.

You can also access the federal census at home for free through Family Search (a free account is required)

Where can I find information about post-1940 federal census records?

Each federal census is sealed for 72 years to protect the privacy of the individuals named in the records.  Thus the 1940 Census became available to researchers in 2012, and the 1950 Census will become available in 2022.  Certain statistical information may be obtained from more recent censuses, but it does not contain any information of genealogical significance.  Visit the United States Census Bureau for more information on what is available.

You are also entitled to any census information on yourself, which you may request from the United States Census Bureau’s Age Search Service.

What state census records are available at the Indiana State Library?

The United States Census included Indiana for the first time in 1820. Prior to that, there was at least one enumeration of the Indiana Territory, in 1807.

Although the Indiana Constitution of 1816 provided for regular state censuses, in practice the state was enumerated on an irregular schedule and many of the censuses were “enumerations” in the strictest sense of the term: enumerators counted the number of white males in each township and county without listing any personal information about any individuals. Most of these enumerations have not survived at the state level, although some may still exist in various county auditors’ offices.

For information on alternatives to state censuses, please see our Indiana State Censuses and Alternate Enumerations guide on the Indiana County Research Guides page.

Where can I find Indiana birth and death records?

Indiana began issuing birth and death certificates in 1882; however, these were optional until 1907 and even after 1907, not every birth was registered.  Birth and death records issued 1882-1907 are kept by the county health department in the county where the birth or death took place.  Birth and death records issued 1907-present are kept by the Indiana State Department of Health in addition to the local health department.

Due to privacy restrictions, birth certificates are not available to the public for 75 years.  Birth certificates 1907-1941 are now available to the public through Ancestry Library Edition (and Ancestry.com), as are death certificates 1899-2011.  For records not covered by these dates, you will need to contact the county health department or Indiana State Department of Health.

The Indiana State Library also has print indexes to birth and death records, with the dates covered varying by county.  To view our holdings as well as sources for birth and death records online, please consult our research guides.

Where can I find Indiana adoption records?

All Indiana adoption records are kept by the clerk of court in the county in which the adoption took place.  Some records are also kept by the Indiana State Department of Health.  The Indiana State Library does not have adoption records.

Access to adoption records may be limited depending on when the adoption occurred.  Records created prior to 1941 are accessible through the county clerk’s office.  Records created between 1941 and 1993 will be open to adult adoptees through the Indiana State Department of Health on July 1, 2018, although some restrictions may remain.  Records created between 1993 and the present are open to adult adoptees.  Adoption records post-1941 are not open to the general public.  For more information on these laws and on access to records for medical history and other purposes, please visit the Indiana State Department of Health’s Adoption Information page.

Where can I find Indiana marriage and divorce records?

Original marriage records are kept by the clerk of court’s office in the county where the marriage license was granted.  This may not be the same county where the marriage ceremony took place.  After 1958, marriage records were filed with the state as well and are kept by the Indiana State Department of Health and the county clerk.

The Indiana State Library has a large collection of print indexes to marriage records as well as copies of many original records on microfilm.  There are also several online marriage indexes available.  For more information on how to access these, see our research guides.

There is no statewide index to divorces in Indiana.  Divorces are granted by county courts and the records are retained by the clerk of courts in the county where the divorce took place.

Where can I find ship passenger lists?

There is no central repository for passenger lists, and in the early period of United States history, neither ships nor ports were required to keep such records.  The location of existing records will depend on where your ancestor entered the United States.  Some locations, such as Ellis Island, and its precursor, Castle Garden, have put their entry lists in an online database.  Other passenger lists have been compiled into print indexes or digitized and made available through subscription databases such as Ancestry Library Edition.

Where can I find naturalization records?

Depending on the time period, naturalization records will be at either the Indiana State Archives or the National Archives.  Prior to 1906, individuals could be naturalized in any court and so people often chose local county courts where they lived.  After 1906, federal law required naturalization records to be submitted to the federal government and many people were naturalized in federal courts.

In order to determine when your ancestor may have been naturalized, consult the 1870, 1900, 1910, 1920, and 1930 Censuses.  In these years, the census asked questions about naturalization status and in some censuses also asked about the year of naturalization.

Where can I find cemetery records?

Original cemetery records are generally held by the cemetery or associated social or religious organization.  If the cemetery is no longer active, the records may have been donated to a local library or historical society or they may have been destroyed.

Many cemeteries records have been indexed and the records placed in libraries.  To see our cemetery record holdings, search our catalog for the name of the cemetery in which you are interested.  The websites Find a Grave and Billion Graves also have free, searchable cemetery indexes.

If you are researching the history of a cemetery, the Indiana Department of Natural Resources, Division of Historic Preservation and Archaeology maintains the State Historic Architecture and Archaeological Research Database (SHAARD), which documents the locations of cemeteries throughout Indiana and provides historical resources about the cemeteries.

How do I obtain a copy of an obituary?

The Indiana State Library has the largest collection of Indiana newspapers in the world.  You can see a list of our holdings here.  Most papers are accessible on microfilm on the second floor of the library.  We also have access to Newspaper Archive and Newspapers.com, which contain large numbers of Indiana newspapers.  If you would like to search from home, the Hoosier State Chronicles database is free and available anywhere.

If you are unable to make it into the library, you can request an obituary through our Ask a Librarian service.  Please provide the full name of the individual, including the married and maiden names for women, as well as the date of death, date of burial, or date of the funeral.  We are unable to search microfilmed newspapers without an exact date of death, but we can search our databases with only an approximate date.  Copies are $5.00 per obituary.

GEN JD 4-18-2018