Step-by-Step Indiana Research, 1850-1900

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A suggested approach to genealogy research in Indiana online family history records.


Step-by-Step Indiana Research, 1850-1900
1. Contact living relatives.
2. Online census records.
3. Obituary and cemetery records online.
4. Births and marriages online.
5. Military records online.
6. Search census records again.
7. Immigration and naturalization records online.
8. Printed local histories or biographies online.
9. Wills and probate.
10. Land records online.
11. Historical or genealogical societies.
12. African American records.

Continue your adventure
at a Family History Center.

See also How to Use "Record Hints"[edit | edit source]



In this period of Indiana, census records are the most valuable record because statewide civil registration does not begin until 1907. Collecting vital records and cemetery/obituary records will then provide clues for searches in even earlier census records. Then, there are a variety of records that take a bit more work, but can produce good results. Collecting all the available information may make it possible to piece together a puzzle, even if no one record completely describes your family!

Step 1. Find out everything you can from living relatives and their family records:[edit | edit source]

Every good genealogy project starts with finding all the clues you can gather from living relatives — both from their memories and from documents or memorabilia in their homes.

What should you ask?[edit | edit source]

In order to extend your research on your ancestors, you are looking for names, dates, and places. Everything you learn that tells you about when and where a relative lived is a clue to a new record search. Be sure to ask questions that lead to that information, including about their occupations, military service, or associations with others, such as fraternal organizations. See also:

What documents should you look for and ask to copy?[edit | edit source]

  • Announcements of births, weddings,
    and anniversaries
  • Baby and wedding books
  • Certificates
  • Deeds, and property records
  • Family Bibles
  • Family reunion notices and records
  • Fraternal or society records
  • Insurance policies
  • Journals and diaries
  • Letters and cards
  • Licenses (business, marriage,
    fishing, driving)
  • Naturalization documents
  • Newspaper clippings and obituaries
  • Medical records
  • Military service and pension documents
  • Occupational awards
  • Passports
  • Personal histories and biographies
  • Photograph albums
  • Printed Notices and Announcements
  • Programs (graduation, award ceremonies, funerals)
  • School records
  • Scrapbooks
  • Wills and trusts

Family Members Born After 1940[edit | edit source]

Because the most recent census available was taken in 1940, family documents and the knowledge of living family members play a vital role in identifying these people. Once you have learned names, places of residence, and clues to estimate approximate birth date, the next important step is to send for birth, marriage, and death records for them. Skip to Step 3: Find birth, marriage, and death certificates for your ancestors and their children.


Patrick E Bible Deaths.jpg

Using the clues to lead to census record searches.[edit | edit source]

  • Suppose that your home records, you find this family Bible record for your Indiana ancestors. You notice that although the dates given for deaths are in the 1940's, many of the birth dates seem to be in the 1890's. Therefore, most of these people should be listed in the 1900 census of Indiana.
  • The index has a link to the image of the actual census record. Now, since the 1900 census lists the month and year of birth, we compare the birth dates in the family Bible and the census, and we realize that you have indeed found this family in the 1900 census.:

1900 census record Indiana.png

  • We notice that the parent of this family were born in the late 1850's. So we decide to look for Patrick E. Grannon in earlier census records--working back from 1880, through 1870, and 1860. Click on the links to see that we found Patrick living with his parents, Patrick and Phoebe A.

Step 2: Search the 1900, 1880, 1870, 1860, and 1850 census records online.[edit | edit source]

A census is a count and description of the population of a country, state, county, or city for a given date. A census took a "snapshot" of a family on a certain day. For each person living in a household you might find (depending on the year) their name, age, birthplace, relationship to head of household, place of birth for father and mother, citizenship status, year of immigration, mother of how many children and number of children living, native language, and whether they were a veteran of the military.

To learn more about census records, including search strategies, see United States Census Records for Beginners.

Look at the samples of census records below to become familiar with the types of information found in each.

United States census records[edit | edit source]

1900 U.S. Census[edit | edit source]
  • The 1900 census is particularly helpful because it states month and year of birth, how many children a woman has born, the year of immigration to the U.S., among other things.
1900 United States Census.jpg
1880 U.S. Census[edit | edit source]
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1870 U.S. Census[edit | edit source]
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1860 U.S. Census[edit | edit source]
1860 short census.png
1850 U.S. Census[edit | edit source]
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Census Links to Start Your Own Research in Census Records[edit | edit source]

Now you will want to find your family members in every possible census, using these convenient links:

  • Note: The 1890 census was destroyed in a fire.
  • You will want to find and keep notes on census records from every census during each ancestor's lifetime.
  • With the census records you will be able to estimate approximate birth dates and marriage dates. These records will lead you to new searches because you will find the names of other members of the family. You will find clues to other states and countries your family lived in before coming to Indiana.

In steps 3 and 4, we will use what we learned from the census records to help search for birth, marriage, and death records. But first, we will try to gather more clues from several collections of death, obituary, and cemetery records that may give us clues that help us search for birth and marriage records.

Step 3: Try to find additional details about your ancestors in Social Security, obituary and cemetery records online.[edit | edit source]

U.S. Social Security Death Index[edit | edit source]

The U.S. Social Security program began in 1935 but most deaths recorded in the index happened after 1962. The Social Security Death index includes those who had a Social Security number and/or applied for benefits. The index entries give the person's full birth date, last known residence, and residence at the time they first enrolled. Women are listed under their married name at the time of their death. You can search these records online at United States Social Security Death Index. Also at Ancestry.com, ($), index.

The Social Security Applications and Claims Index, 1936-2007 picks up where the Social Security Death Index (SSDI) leaves off, by providing information filed in the application or claims process, including valuable details such as birth date, birth place, and parents’ names. Unless the deceased would be at least 75 years old today, the parents' names are not published. You will not find everybody who is listed in the SSDI, as criteria for inclusion differs.

If you find your ancestor in the SSDI index, you can order a copy of their original Social Security application (SS-5). If you can prove the individual has died (by sending an obituary or copy of their cemetery headstone), the application will also give the deceased's parents' names, if listed.

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Obituaries and cemeteries[edit | edit source]

Obituaries[edit | edit source]

Cemeteries[edit | edit source]

NOTE: Each database covers different cemeteries, although some may overlap. Don't be discouraged if you do not locate your individual in the first database. Check each collection.

  • Here is a typical Find A Grave record:

Indiana Find A Grave 2.png

Step 4: Find birth, marriage, and death certificates for your ancestors and their children.[edit | edit source]

States, counties, or even towns in some states recorded births, marriages, and deaths. You have probably seen these types of certificates and have your own. In addition to the child's name, birth date, and place of birth, a birth certificate may give the birthplaces of the parents, their ages, and occupations. A death certificate may give the person's birth date and place, parents' names and birthplaces, and spouse's name.

Tip Tip1.jpg Remember that for family members born after 1940 you do not have census records to rely on. The information from interviewing family members will hopefully give you enough detail that you know approximate years of birth, marriage, or death. Sending for certificates will help verify identities, prove relationships, and fill in greater detail.

Studying what you have found:[edit | edit source]

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  • Review what you have found to see if there is missing information that could be found in a birth, marriage, or death record for your ancestors and their children.
  • If you are missing the names of parents, find a person's death certificate. It may contain the names of the deceased's parents, which would extend your pedigree back one more generation.
  • If you find a child listed in a census record, try to find a birth record to learn their full birth date.
  • If a married couple is shown in the census records and you need the wife's maiden name, search for their marriage record or her death record. The mother's maiden name should also be given in her children's birth records.

Online databases[edit | edit source]

  • This chart gives links to some Indiana online databases for these records. These are indexes of records. Frequently, the actual record will give greater detail.

Also, see How to Find Indiana Birth Records.

Also, see How to Find Indiana Marriage Records.

Also, see How to Find Indiana Death Records.

Examples of Index Entries[edit | edit source]

Birth Index[edit | edit source]

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Marriage Index[edit | edit source]

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Indiana marriage record "Indiana Marriages, 1811-2007", database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:XXN9-BGJ : accessed 24 February 2016), Patrick E Grannan in entry for Frank B Grannan and Antoinette Weber, 1925.

Death[edit | edit source]

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Birth records lead to other searches[edit | edit source]

  • If a birth record gave you parents names you did not have before, you can return to the census records again and search for additional family members.
  • Search the birth index again using only the surname and the parents' names to find other additional children.
  • If the time period is early enough, try searching for the parents as children in the birth index.
  • With the additional family names discovered, look for marriage records for the parents and their children.

Records at the County Courthouse[edit | edit source]

From the date of the formation of a county until the establishment of state civil registration, birth and marriage records were kept by the County Clerk. They may have been microfilmed, or you can write for them. It is appropriate to write asking for either a single record or for a list of all the marriages for a given surname. This Letter Writing Guide will help you with phrasing a letter. This online directory by Genealogy Inc. will give you the address of the County Clerk. Click on the map to select a county, then scroll down to the "Courthouse and Government Records" to find the address and phone number.

If you are at the main Family History Library, check first to see if microfilms of the county vital records are available. In the search field of the FamilySearch Catalog, enter the state and county. Then click on the "Vital Records" subject. The cost of renting the microfilms at a Family History Center probably makes it less expensive to just write to the County Clerk.


Step 5: Search military records: World War I and II draft cards and Civil War pension records online.[edit | edit source]

  • There are many different types of military records, some covered in online collections, some microfilmed, and some requiring you to order them from government repositories with a fee. For more information, read the U.S. Military Records Class Handout. Information in military records can vary from a simple lists of name, age, and residence, to more detailed records including name, residence, age, occupation, marital status, birthplace, physical description, number of dependents, pensions received, disabled veterans, needy veterans, widows or orphans of veterans, and other information.

World War 1 Draft Registration[edit | edit source]

  • One of the most helpful military records is the draft registration of 1917-1918. During three separate registrations, men born between 1873-1897 were required to register in the draft for World War I. Cards may give birth date, birth place, residence, occupation, employer, physical description, next of kin (usually the wife or mother), and number of dependents. Search for your male relatives born in this time period at U.S. WW I Draft Registration Cards, 1917-1918.
  • Here is an example of a typical draft card.
Indiana WW I draft.png
Indiana WW II draft.png

World War II Draft Registration[edit | edit source]

Likewise, the World War II draft in 1942 may give birth date, birth place, residence, occupation, employer, and other family members as contacts. Not every state is included now. Although the draft cards for Indiana are not included, draft cards for men born in Indiana but living in an included state during the draft" can still be found. Search for your male relatives born in this time period at


Civil War Pensions[edit | edit source]

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This collection consists of two card indexes to widows who had applied for a pension renewal. The first covers service between 1812-1860 and the second covers service in the Civil War and later. This is helpful in locating a woman in census and death records under her new surname.

Pension Records for Other Wars[edit | edit source]

Other Military Records Unique to Indiana[edit | edit source]

American Revolution[edit | edit source]

War of 1812[edit | edit source]

Mexican War[edit | edit source]

Civil War[edit | edit source]

Spanish American War[edit | edit source]

Step 6: Use the clues you have gathered to search in earlier censuses than before.[edit | edit source]

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Now you will use the clues you have gathered from the more recent census records, cemeteries and obituaries, and birth, marriage, and death records to search even earlier census records. Searching additional census records may give clues that take you back to birth, marriage, and death records. You will probably go back and forth between all these record groups again and again.

For example, we learned from the records we found that Patrick Grannan born in 1858 was married to Bridget Tucker, and Patrick Grannan born in 1811-1814 was married to Phoebe Ann Mullen. So we can search in earlier census records for the Tucker and Mullen families. Census records we find for them will then take us back into all the other record groups.

Again, here are the links to these earlier census records:

Step 7: If your ancestor was an immigrant, search immigration and naturalization records online.[edit | edit source]

The census records may show that your ancestor was born in another country. It will be necessary to try to find the town or city they were born in to continue research in that country. So searches of immigration records (usually passenger lists) and naturalization (citizenship) records are the next goal. Immigration refers to people coming into a country, such as the United States, and emigration refers to people leaving a country to go to another. Usually these records are passenger lists of the ships they sailed on. A typical record will show name, age, and country of origin, but many times you can find the actual town of birth, the next of kin still living in the old country and their residence, and the names of relatives in the place they are traveling to.

Here is a simple framework of what we have found so far:

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Census clues to Immigration records[edit | edit source]

Census records can provide important clues about nationality and immigration. This chart lists data that can be found in each of the census records. Gather the information in the census records specifically about immigration, as it will help narrow down your search.

Immigration and Naturalization Found in the U.S.Census by Year
(other smaller details also given but not listed here)
Year of census
Immigration and Naturalization Information
1870
  • Whether father and mother are of foreign birth
1880
  • Place of birth for father and mother
1900
  • Place of birth for father and mother
  • Naturalization status: alien, papers submitted, or naturalized
  • Year of immigration to U.S.
  • How many years lived in U.S.
1910
  • Place of birth for father and mother
  • Naturalization status: alien, papers submitted, or naturalized
  • Year of immigration to U.S.
1920
  • Place of birth for father and mother
  • Naturalization status: alien, papers submitted, or naturalized
  • Year of immigration to U.S.
  • Year of naturalization
  • Native language
  • Native language of father and mother
1930
  • Place of birth for father and mother
  • Naturalization status: alien, papers submitted, or naturalized
  • Year of immigration to U.S.
  • Native language
1940
  • Naturalization status: alien, papers submitted, or naturalized

Immigration records[edit | edit source]

There are too many immigration records to list here. Click here to see a complete list of available immigration records online. Notice that they are listed by state, but under the letter "U" there is a long list of records that cover all of the United States. Unless family information tells you the port where family arrived, you will need to search all of the United States Immigration Online Genealogy Records for the time period when your ancestors arrived.

In this example of a passenger list, you see at #22, the family of Eduard Hepper of Gross Liebenthal travelling to Java, South Daokta.

Naturalization (Citizenship) Records[edit | edit source]

Naturalization is the process of becoming a citizen. Records can include the immigrant's declaration of intent to become a citizen, applications for citizenship, and final citizenship papers. The records can show birth date and place, spouse's name, marriage date and place, and lists of children with their birth dates. Click here to view examples of declaration of intent records and the information they give.

Indiana naturalization records are organized by county. Look for them in any county where the person lived, unless the census tells you the year they were naturalized, and you have evidence of where they lived that year.

Indiana Naturalization and Citizenship Online Records[edit | edit source]

Here are the naturalization records available from the Indiana Digital Archives for the surname Humbert (Louise Humbert Main's possible immigrant ancestors). We would want to order the full original files listed in this index. See How do I order copies of records from the Indiana State Archives?



Indiana Naturalization index.png


Step 8: Search a printed local history or biography online.[edit | edit source]

Local histories[edit | edit source]

  • Published histories of towns, counties, and states usually contain biographies and accounts of early or prominent families. They describe the settlement of the area and the founding of churches, schools, and businesses.
  • The authors usually invited the residents of the county to submit their personal family histories, in order to create an automatic market for the book. County residents whose families were in the book were sure to buy a copy.
  • Histories can also give lists of pioneers, soldiers, and civil officials.
  • Even if your ancestor's name is not listed, information about other relatives may be included that may provide important clues for locating your ancestor.
  • Here are several websites that feature online copies of printed county histories:
    • Hathi Trust Digital Library. Don't use the keywords Indiana; that will bring up too many hits. Just use the name of the county and "county": for example, "St. Joseph County"
    • Google Books. Use keywords "Indiana" and the county name. Hits will list online readable books, lists of libraries that carry the book, and purchasing opportunities.
    • Family History Books
    • Internet Archive.Use keywords "Indiana" and the county name.
    • Genealogy Book Links, Indiana. Browse list; county histories are interspersed.
    • Indiana Genealogy. Don't use the sidebar county list; scroll down and, in the body of the article, find the list "County Historical Records". These county links lead directly to book listings.
    • Ancestry.com, ($). In the Card Catalog search box, use Indiana and the name of the county.
  • Local histories are extensively collected by the Family History Library, public and university libraries, and state and local historical societies. If you have access to the Family History Library or a family history center, you can find out about local histories the library has by checking the FamilySearch Catalog. In the "place" field, type the name of your county and select it from the drop down list, then click "Search". A list of subheadings for the county will appear. Local histories containing genealogies and biographies will be found under Biography, Genealogy, History, and History - Indexes.
  • Also, in Step 11, you will be contacting a county history society. Societies often have a good selection of printed histories about the area. Some may be search history for you for a fee.

Biographies[edit | edit source]

These collections of Indiana biographies can be searched online. Most have a table of contents and an index. Or you can use the "Find" function on your computer.

Here is an example of the genealogical information you might find in Indiana history with biographies, from Men of progress, Indiana : a selected list of biographical sketches.....1899:

Indiana biography.pngIndiana biography p. 2.png

Step 9: Write to a county for wills and probate indexes.[edit | edit source]

  • "Probate is the legal process through which an individual’s real estate (property) and personal estate (possessions) are distributed to his or her heirs, whether or not there is a will. Testate is the term used when a will existed in the settling of the estate. Intestate is the term used when there was no will written and the court decides how the estate is to be distributed.
  • "Not everyone in the United States wrote a will or went through probate. Nearly 10% of the pre-1900 adult population made wills, usually males with property. Before 1900, about 25% of estates were probated, even though no will had been written. However, this percentage is higher for rural areas because that is where the land was owned.
  • "The single most important value of probate records is the proof of relationships. In a will, people are identified as a wife, son, daughter, nephew, niece, brother, sister, etc. If there is no will, the distribution is made by the court to the heirs who are usually family members. Other helpful and interesting information that may be learned from probate files are: date and place of death, name of the spouse and other possible family members and relationships, location of the heirs, property ownership, and guardianship of minor children." Jill Shoemaker, U.S. Probate Records Class Handout

County probate records[edit | edit source]

This Ancestry.com collection can be searched free of charge at your local family history center or the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah: Indiana, Wills and Probate Records, 1798-1999, ($), index and images, incomplete.

  • Indiana probate records include probate proceedings, petitions, affidavits, orders for sales, reports of sales, administrators' and executors' bonds, guardianship papers, wills, and letters of administration. In a will book, usually just a transcription of the will is recorded. But all of these other records are kept in a probate packet. Administrations are probate proceedings that handled an estate if no known will existed.
  • As the Ancestry.com record is incomplete, you will want to write to the county where your ancestors lived. This online directory by Genealogy Inc. will enable you to arrange to have probate records searched for a fee: Click on the map to select a county, then scroll down to the Courthouse and Government Records to find the address and phone number of the County Clerk of Court. Ask them about the years covered by their probate records and their procedure and fees for ordering copies probate packets. When you write, always ask for the full probate packet, not just the will or administration.

Step 10: Search land records online.[edit | edit source]


  • A search of the Bureau of Land Management records gives results like this:
Indiana BLM index.png

Step 11: Contact a county historical or genealogical society.[edit | edit source]

  • County historical societies have collections that are frequently little known and often overlooked. Many have a surname file, where they have collected genealogies, newspaper clippings, old photographs, etc. Many have a sort of "pioneer ancestor" program, where people can submit pedigrees to prove they are the descendants of an early resident of the county. Most keep track of queries about families that once lived in the area from other distant relatives who may actually have more family memorabilia than you.
  • If you can find the society on the internet, they may list their holdings. Or call them on the phone, find out what they have, and find out what arrangements can be made to search their collection. Frequently, you can hire one of their members to search the collection for you.

This online directory by GenealogyInc. lists historical and genealogical societies by county. Click on the map to select a county, then scroll down to the historical or genealogical society listings. Note: some Indiana counties are so sparsely populated that they do not have the population to support a society.

Here is an example of an internet website for a local genealogical society. Notice that it gives details on how to pay for searching services.

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Allen County, Indiana historical society.png

Step_12:_If your family was African American, also search these specialized collections.[edit | edit source]

If your family was African American, they are generally recorded in all the above records. However, there are a few specialized records pertaining directly to African Americans.

Gather All the Evidence and Put It Together[edit | edit source]

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  • Your information may look more like a jumbled puzzle than a family! Put that puzzle together the most logical way you can!
  • Some of your puzzle pieces might not make sense until you move to records in other localities where the family lived.
  • This article has emphasized data you can gather online. You may find more puzzle pieces in microfilmed records available from the Family History Library.


Continue your adventure
at a Family History Center.

After online research, search the collection at the Family History Library or a Family History Center.[edit | edit source]

  • There are many more records available by microfilm or in archives in their original form than there are online. FamilySearch actively works to microfilm and store important genealogy records from all over the world. You can view the collected works at the Family History Library in Salt lake City, Utah. Microfilms can also be sent to a local family history center ay your request.

Records are catalogued by location. Do these three searches for each place: Indiana; the county (or counties) where your ancestors lived; and the town (or towns) where they lived. After clicking on "Search", you will next see a list of topics. Click on any topic, and the list will expand to show the records available.

Search by state.[edit | edit source]

Search by state Indiana.png

Search by county.[edit | edit source]

Search by county IN.png

Search by town.[edit | edit source]

Search by town IN.png

Index to holdings for a locality.[edit | edit source]

After you initiate a search for a locality, a list of topics (record types) for that will come up. Clicking on a topic will then show the available records.

Locality listing IN.png

Expanded list of library holdings, showing actual records and call numbers.[edit | edit source]

Once you click on a topic list for a locality, the list will expand to show details of specific records and how to find them with a microfilm number or call number (for a book). FHL expanded record list IN.png