”If you don't know history, then you don't know anything. You are a leaf that doesn't know it is part of a tree.Michael Crichton
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:
- County Records – books
- Family History Books
- Family Files (loose papers)
- County Files (loose papers)
- Feeder State Books and more
- Lineage Society Books – DAR, SAR, etc.
- Military Books – Revolutionary, Civil War, etc.
- P.A. (Works Project Administration) Indexes for 68 of 92 Counties
- 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!
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!
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!
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 Ancestry.com but you would be very short-sighted to make a statement like this!