I had a "field day" at the Indiana State Archives. The historical records were just waiting for me to scoop them up. This facility well known to many, I realize. But, maybe there are a few researchers who might learn from my experience, so I'm spreading the word. Besides, it's fun to talk about the times when I find good stuff!
First step, take a look online. There are nearly 3 million records indexed and searchable online at the Indiana Digital Archives. This includes institutional records, military, naturalization and other indexes. To learn more about the collections, browse at: Indiana Digital Archives.
To determine if there were any records on my family, I used the People Search for a few family names that I had selected that could apply to the indexed collections. For instance, my great grandfather, Charles Albers, is still quite a mystery. I don't know if he came to Indianapolis from Germany with his family or alone, and who his parents were. I had an age and year of arrival from a census so that's where I started. A search on the online naturalization collection produced a match for those facts and the location of the record. Great, I then was armed with that information for my trip to the State Archives. When I arrived this helped the staff to quickly retrieve the book containing his Declaration of Intention to become a citizen. Now I have Charles Albers date of arrival, 15 Jan 1884. One more piece that may lead me to the rest of his (and my) ancestors.
But there was more family history waiting for me at the Archives. Another collection caught my attention on the website. It relates to a great uncle who seemed to disappear. My Aunt Peg told me she wondered as a child where her Aunt Ida's husband was and why no one ever talked about him. Where was her cousins' father? There was a story among those digging into family history that concerned his conviction for a murder while working as a guard on the railroad. But no one knew anything for sure. So, I've kept this in mind, but never uncovered more. Then I came across the Indiana State Prison records as one of the online collections at the State Archives. I fed his name into the search for that index and, voila! There was a matching name and a time frame that seemed plausible. But, I would have to see if my trip to the State Archives confirmed the actual identity of this person.
Visiting the Indiana State Archives is convenient for me because my home is only a few miles from the facility. But for many who live elsewhere, the northeast side location might be out of the way. But once you are there, parking and access is simple. The building is not as "archival" safe as it should be. They say there are many leaks in the roof when it storms. So, I would suggest that you proceed to capture whatever records you need quickly. But the research area is comfortable and easy to use. My encounter with the staff went smoothly. I had my list ready and was offered every assistance I needed. Copies of the records are $1.00 per page...a little steep. But, I felt the documents were worth that to me.
Records that are in hard copy, such as the old naturalization volumes that are large bound books from the 1800s are brought from the archives by a staff person. And there is no digital photography allowed. So, after I confirmed the family record, a staff person produced a $1.00 copy for me. When using the microfilm I made copies directly from the microfilm machine. At the conclusion of my research, all copies were tallied for a total charge. Additionally, a helpful staffer mentioned that if I wanted to email them the next time before I came with my list of records, they would have them ready for me when I arrived. Actually, I enjoy looking at the microfilm, the files and books myself. It seems something would be lost if I just came to pick up some copies. But, it's a nice option if time is at a premium.
Oh yes, getting back to the mysterious prison record. Locating the chosen name on the microfilm of the State Prison records was easy. As I scoured the microfilm record for details tying my new find to my great uncle, I found first that the crime this person was convicted of was actually conspiracy to commit felony and blackmail....not murder. He was serving one to five years and these years did fall between when my great uncle's children were born. Then at the bottom of the form was the line of information that cinched it: Next of kin:...the full name and address of my great aunt. Now we have the answer to what occurred. But again, this takes me down another path of finding the rest of the story. When were they back together? How long and where? Another day's sleuthing.
This was definitely a good day of discoveries. I think these historical finds rate a genealogy dance.
I wish you the same kind of success in your family hunting.
Genealogy info: The family lines related to the above post are Albers and Weber. Visit my Family Lines page to read more about them.