Learn the history of the ethnic, racial, and religious groups of your ancestors. The background of these groups often reveals clues about where they originated, why they moved, and where they settled. Their stories also add depth and richness to your family history.
You can find members of minority groups in most of the same records as all other Americans, so start in the same places you would search for everyone else. You may also find a few records created especially about a particular group.
Some records and histories of African Americans, Belgians, Dutch, German Americans, Mennonites and other minorities of Indiana are at the Family History Library.
People of African Descent
There were many African-Americans in Indiana dating from the early 1800s. In 1850, the federal government passed laws that endangered the liberties of free blacks in the South. At that time, many migrated north, some with Canada in mind as a destination. Some of these stopped in Ohio, Indiana and Illinois and formed communities, often near Quakers. By about 1852, there were approximately 3,000 free African-Americans in Indiana. Free blacks often followed the migration patterns of their white neighbors. Large numbers of blacks in Indiana in the mid-19th century came to the state from North Carolina or Virginia. Some of the black Indiana farmers of the mid-1800s were large landowners.
The following books and periodicals contain histories, bibliographies, and essays about African Americans in Indiana:
Gibbs, Wilma L., ed. Indiana’s African-American Heritage: Essays from Black History News & Notes. Indianapolis, Indiana: Indiana Historical Society, 1994. (FHL book 977.2 F2i) This contains many insightful articles on education, culture, women, and history and includes some biographical sketches of noteworthy African Americans.
Thornbrough, Emma Lou. The Negro in Indiana Before 1900: A Study of a Minority. Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana University Press, 1993. (FHL book 977.2 F2t). This book details the population changes and social history of African Americans in Indiana.
Robbins, Coy D., comp. Indiana Negro Registers, 1852–1865. Bowie, Maryland.: Heritage Books, 1994. (FHL book 977.2 F2r). The lists are alphabetical by county and give name, age, physical description, place of birth, residence, names of witnesses, and date registered. This book includes records of 2,138 free African-Americans in 15 counties: Bartholomew, Floyd, Franklin, Gibson, Harrison, Hendricks, Jackson, Jefferson, Jennings, Knox, Martin, Ohio, Orange, Switzerland, and Washington. The Family History Library has microfilms of these records from Floyd, Henry, and Knox counties. These are listed in the Locality Search of the Family History Library Catalog under:
INDIANA, [COUNTY]- SLAVERY AND BONDAGE
Indiana: In 1825 the Indiana General Assembly passed a resolution directed toward African Americans to provide for the gradual emancipation of slaves and foreign colonization.
In 1830 the Negro Convention Movement peaked nationally with increased interest in 1850's. The movement encouraged the African Americans to organize and devise ways to improve their condition.
The Anti-Slavery Society was formed in Wayne County, Indiana by Quakers in 1840 as an auxiliary to the Indiana State Anti-Slavery Society. Records of the Economy Anti-Slavery Society reflect the organization's effort to stop the practice of slavery and the racial exclusion laws.
In 1851 Indiana revised its Constitution preventing "new" black residents from entering or settling in the state. An 1852 act established a "Register of Negroes and Mulattoes" to be maintained by county clerks.
Beginning in 1877, the state census enumerations listed the name and age of white male residents 21 or over and a separate list of names of African American males 21 or over. These names are listed under the heading "Negro". A few fragments of the 1877 census are at the Indiana State Archives. These are not on microfilm at the Family History Library. County offices might have the original records.
Index to the Blacks, Mulattoes, and Indians, 1870 Federal Population Census of Indiana. Salt Lake City, Utah: Genealogical Society of Utah, 1987. (On 5 FHL films beginning with 1509480). The names are listed alphabetically.
Index to the Blacks, Mulattoes, and Indians, 1880 Federal Census of Indiana. Salt Lake City, Utah: Genealogical Society of Utah, 1987. (On eight FHL films beginning with 1509284 item2). The names are listed alphabetically.
Taylor, Robert M. Jr. and Connie A. McBirney, eds. Peopling Indiana: The Ethnic Experience. Indianapolis, Indiana: Indiana Historical Society, 1996. (FHL book 977.2 F2p). This 703-page book gives the background history of 30 ethnic groups.
For a listing of books about minorities, such as the African Americans, Belgians, Dutch, German Americans, and Mennonites, see the Locality Search of the Family History Library Catalog under:
- African American Gateway: Indiana section Posted by the Genealogy Center of the Allen County Public Library. Includes links to online resources, complemented by a bibliographic section for materials housed in the Genealogy Center.
- Individuals Associated with Indiana's African-American Settlements, 1817-1930Statewide database
- Register of Negroes and Mulattoes Jefferson County, Indiana 1853-1860