Surprises in Unexpected Places

Subject: Indiana State Library Genealogy Section

The Indiana State Library Genealogy Section is located on the first floor of the library. Step on in and near the back you will find the Family History Books by sorted by surname.

The Indiana State Library Genealogy Section is located on the first floor of the library. Step on in and near the back you will find the Family History Books sorted by surname.

Oh, woe is the family history researcher that doesn’t check out all their local resources.

I know that I believe heavily in maximizing what is available through digital resources but hold your horses if you think that I would recommend not hitting our local and state libraries to supplement our research!

Many treasures can be found and it is well worth the trip from wherever you might live to visit your own state library. As an example, let’s take a look at my home state of Indiana to see what gems are available to me and you – all free!

The Indiana State Library (ISL ), which has been in existence since 1825, is one of those treasures that makes you scratch your head in amazement that it wasn’t at the top of your must-visit list.

Here are the top 10 reasons to visit just the Genealogy Section of  your Indiana State Library:

  1. County Records – books
  2. Family History Books
  3. Family Files (loose papers)
  4. County Files (loose papers)
  5. Maps
  6. Feeder State Books and more
  7. Lineage Society Books – DAR, SAR, etc.
  8. Military Books – Revolutionary, Civil War, etc.
  9. P.A. (Works Project Administration) Indexes for 68 of 92 Counties
  10. Database access – Ancestry Library Edition, NewspaperArchive, etc.

I am pretty sure that I have left out even more, but these are the top ones on my radar! Can I get most of these online? Some of these items can definitely be found online with a little digging.

And yes, this is just in the Genealogy Section of the ISL! I’m not even touching on the rest of the massive amount of materials that are available to all of us. Can I say free too many times? You can check out ALL the offerings here.

So, let’s take a look at what makes a few of the sections that I mention above so valuable.

Family History Books

This is the goal of everyone doing their family history research – to get to a point that you can put your own valuable documentation into a book form for others to look at and share. I’m certainly not the first person to gently nudge researchers to do this! And at the ISL Genealogy Section, they have been accumulating family history books for a long time.

As patrons or family members of Indiana families have their own family histories published, many are submitted to be added to the library’s genealogy collection. I have had several clients that have added their own books to the ISL collection for future generations and to be certain that their work will be maintained for many more generations to come. You never know what you might find in these books.

I have located several of my own family lines and it is amazing to read some of the stories that were passed down – but to a different side of the family. If I had not found that particular book, I might have never known about some of the stories that have brought my own family history to life!

3County Records – Books

Each county section is an area that is filled with books that pertain to that particular county (as you would expect, right?) These books can range from cemetery listings to newspaper extracts to will extracts and the list of items just keeps going. You can get a listing of each county and what books are available by going here.

Before hitting the microfilm to look for probate and land records, it is always a good thing to check to see if there are any books on those topics within the county. There have been quite a few hardy soles that have already gone through all the above-mentioned records (either in person or via microfilm) and possibly made indexes. Some probate record books include citations —think names listed in the wills.

If you have ever looked at county microfilm records, they contain filmed copies of the original documents. Some include indexes and some do not. Being able to look at an index that might span several microfilm containers would save you a lot of time. Yes! I’m all for that!


4Family and County Files

At the ISL, there are many filing cabinets filled with loose papers that have been submitted over the years by patrons that might not have published an entire book but wanted to leave a copy of some document that they have in their possession that they feel might help other researchers. This section is broke down into family surnames and counties. You can’t really read it well, but in my picture, I was looking for the Julian family folder. I could easily look at the Fulton County folder as well to see what might be available. Of course, you can let your fingers do some walking as well by searching the catalog. Anything that shows up as “uncat” will be found in these file cabinets.  This is a great reason to contact public and state libraries directly in the area you might be researching because they might have a family file on your ancestor!

Feeder State Books

Oh, this is where it gets really good! Before I became the genealogist for The Society of Indiana Pioneers, I made many a trip up the Allen County Public Library (which is the largest genealogy public library in the U.S.)

I LOVE that library! In fact, it is hard to not sing their praises and those of Curt Witcher who is the voice of the library and Senior Manager of Special Collections. I forget how many books come into the genealogy section of the ACPL every day, but it is mind-blowing when you hear the number.

Once I took on the genealogist’s role within the Society of Indiana Pioneers, I quickly became aware of what was all available right there at the Indiana State Library. You see, our office is located within the Genealogy Section of the state library on the first floor.  So, don’t feel bad if you didn’t know what all was contained inside the state library. I didn’t either!

Ok, everyone would guess that the Indiana State Library Genealogy section would contain county records and books, which is does, but just think about all the feeder states that pioneers came from to get to Indiana in the earlier days of our state and country. The ISL has a reputable amount of books from these states as well. I really shouldn’t even say “reputable” since it gives the illusion that there are only a small amount of books from these feeder states. I have personally done research in New Jersey, Virginia, Pennsylvania, New York and Ohio to name a few. I’m just saying… if you want a one-stop place for research, you need to make the trip to both public and state libraries!

2WPA Indexes

This is a wonderful example of public funds going to project that has lasted for almost 100 years and will continue to be valuable to researchers for many more to come.  A great articleby PBS on the Works Project Administration can be found here. For Indiana, it meant that each county was given  the ability to choose how their allotted funds would be spent.  Sixty-eight of the ninety-two counties in Indiana chose to use their funds for transcribing marriage, birth and death records within the county from 1882 – 1920. Marriage records date as far back as 1850.

The counties that did not use their funds for these indexed records include Blackford, Brown, Crawford, Dearborn, Decatur, DuBois, Fayette, Grant, Jefferson, Jennings, Lawrence, Marshall, Noble, Ohio, Porter, Randolph, Ripley, Rush, Scott, Steuben, Switzerland, Tipton, Union, Wabash, and Whitley.

What can you find in one of these books? Well, as an index, it gives name and/or sex of the child born and the parents listed as well as the birthdate. The book number and page can also be located. If you would like to request a birth certificate for a relative, you can give this information to help retrieve the document.  They are a great first place to look for any Indiana researcher lucky enough to have an index for the county they are researching. With the marriage record information, it is a quick hop upstairs to the microfilm section at the Indiana State Library where you can quickly locate the marriage record you have been looking for!


I covered a brief description of how to use the Ancestry Library Edition in my article titled, Genealogy Research ONLINE at your Public Library. What I didn’t cover is that each library has their own subscriptions to different databases. For example, at my local library, they have a subscription to Ancestry Library Edition, Heritage Quest, and Fold3. At the Indiana State Library, not only do they include those three databases, but there is a long list of others that you can access while at the library. Check them out here.

Oh, I know… this has been a long article, and the funny thing is that it is only about the Genealogy Section of the Indiana State Library. It doesn’t include all the other collections that are available. I’ll hit on those at another date.

Some might think that the entire Genealogy Section of the Indiana State Library could be found on some online genealogy site like but you would be very short-sighted to make a statement like this!

I would love to hear stories of treasures that you have uncovered while at a local or state public library!