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The Blog of the Indiana State Archives

  IARA Divisions State Archives Collections From the Vault Blog

Sensitive Topics in the Archives

In honor of Black History Month, the Archives has been working on digitizing and making available online a collection of registers known as the “Registers of Negroes and Mulattoes.” Just from the title, one can see the challenges of working with such a collection. As archivists, we cannot avoid the ugliness of the past as our entire job revolves around making historic documents available to the public. While working with the 1853 registers, our staff has had to deal with some questions of inclusivity; how do we deal with offensive terms and concepts while still making available important historical information? The registers will be available on Indiana Memory along with some documents on the State Board of Colonization, a movement that sought to send free Black Hoosiers to live in Liberia. The registers are a result of the 1851 Indiana State Constitution, specifically the infamous Article 13. For those who are unfamiliar with Article 13, it restricted Black people from moving to the state of Indiana and required those already residing here to register with their county officials. In theory, there should be a register for each county Indiana had in 1853, IARA possesses seven county registers: Clark, Franklin, Ohio, Orange, Switzerland, Tippecanoe, Vigo. Tippecanoe, and Vigo. The registers from Gibson, Jackson, Jennings and Posey counties are available on, and Knox County has added their register to Indiana Memory as well.

While the title and original purpose of this collection are painful, we believe that the information they contain is extremely valuable. If archivists discarded any bit of historic documentation that may be offensive, we would miss out on a lot of information. Instead, we believe that by working hard and being sensitive to others, we can repurpose these registers in a way that will enable genealogists to utilize them as they never have before. The registers are a great source of genealogical information. We think they are especially important because Black people of this time were very rarely the focus of documentation.

So how do archivists deal with outdated, and frequently offensive language? We consult best practices. Industry professionals work together to create lists of terms that should and should not be used in inclusive descriptions. Depending on the topic there are different resources available to archivists to learn about these issues. Today’s terms are different from the terms that were acceptable 100, 50, or even 10 years ago. The field is constantly evolving.

Have you seen registers like these? We would love to know if there are any existing outside our collection and where they have ended up. You can view our collection online on Indiana Memory at We have also added all of the names from the registers and Board of Colonization list to the Research Indiana Indexes, found on our website: