Indiana State Library website named to Family Tree Magazine’s list of best state websites for genealogy in 2016

We are pleased to announce that the Indiana State Library (ISL) website was recently named to Family Tree Magazine’s list of “75 Best State Websites for Genealogy in 2016.” This list appears in the December 2016 issue of Family Tree Magazine and it can also be accessed for free here. The list honors the best websites specializing in genealogy research for each of the 50 United States. No matter where your ancestors lived within the United States, this list will be of immense help in tracing your American ancestors.

From Family Tree Magazine:

Indiana State Library: Genealogy Collection 

In the Site Index at the left, [on the ISL Home Page] click on Databases and Indexes and scroll down to Resources Provided by the Indiana State Library. There, search indexes to marriages (1811-2013), commercial newspaper death listings, biographies and newspapers. Indiana Memory has digitized images of many resources, including county histories, oral histories, plat books, city directories, photos, newspapers, yearbooks and more. The VINE database has local history and vital records from libraries, historical societies and genealogical societies.”

ISL has subscription databases that can be accessed within the library, including, but not limited to Ancestry Library Edition, Fold3, Heritage Quest, NewspaperArchive and There is also a lengthy list of resources that can be accessed remotely. A few of those resources are: Hoosier State Chronicles, Indiana Biography Indexes, Marriage Indexes, Indiana Memory, World War II Servicemen, Indiana State Library Digital Collections and Indianapolis Newspaper Index, 1848-1991.

Indiana has 92 counties and ISL has innumerable resources for each county. Resources could include vital records indices, marriage records, county histories, county maps, wills and probate records, city directories, newspapers on microfilm, court records, mortuary records, church records, tax records, cemeteries indices and census records.

Be sure to check out the Genealogy Webinars and Videos webpage for further resources and tutorials.

The best method for obtaining help with your family history research or finding answers to questions about the genealogy collection is through our Ask-A-Librarian service. You can submit a question through this email service 24/7 and a librarian will get back to you within two business days.

Patrons are also directed to look at the genealogy FAQ’s webpage for answers about the genealogy collection, about beginning genealogy research and miscellaneous genealogy questions. In addition, patrons have the ability to view the ISL’s Instagram pictures, YouTube videos, Facebook page, tweets and Pinterest boards, all accessible with one click on any ISL webpage. Just look for the social media icons. Who knows, you just might find a genealogy tip that will knock down your own brick wall!

We hope everyone will agree that the ISL genealogy website is very deserving of being placed on the Family Tree Magazine’s list of “75 Best State Websites for Genealogy in 2016!”

This blog post by Alice Winslow, librarian, Genealogy Division. For more information contact the Genealogy Division at (317) 232-3689.

It’s a Vonnegut Life

*The following is a work of satirical fiction

Serving in the Reference and Government Services Division of the Indiana State Library, our scope is deep and wide. One morning, we might receive a request that results in an extreme mental exercise involving an obscure photo about a hat-wearing elephant kneeling next to a streetcar in St. Louis in 1923… in the snow. On another afternoon, there may be a novel or piece of art we’re looking for from a well-known artist. Other days, we might be helping a patron research airplane parts in government documents on microfiche.

That’s what I like most about the job: the search! There is nothing like having a blank sheet of note paper and filling it up with every step you’ve taken, right or wrong, to get to your destination, correct or not. It’s all in the journey, as they say.

So, since it’s toward the end of the year, I thought I’d entertain you with a few of my favorite requests from 2016:

  • A woman approached the reference desk sometime in the spring, and was clearly excited about her findings. “My father’s family,” she said, “I’ve traced them from Alabama to Indiana between the 1930 and 1940 censuses, but I can’t find them after that.” She seemed so sure that the records she needed were here at the library, but after a brief search, we found that she needed to contact the Alabama State Library. She asked if we could have the documents delivered directly to the Indiana State Library, to which I replied in full Vonnegut: “Those who believe in telekinetics, raise my hand.”
  • A young gentleman, a student, proposed a theory about the State Library while he was finishing his final project in a History class this year. He said to me that the four grand murals in the library by J. Scott Williams: “The Winning of the State,” “The Song of Indian Land,” “The Building of the State” and “The Song of Labor,” had many things missing from them. These murals, he posited, were somewhat flat and lacked the depth typical of the composition of landscape drawings and paintings. He wondered why Williams had chosen serene, muted colors and peaceful settings rather than bolder colors that depicted the dramatic activities in the history books. His answer to this was that a government building in the Midwest, with its stately charm and distant beauty, would need to represent the stability and sedate nature of the history of creating the state, rather than the reality of its vivid hardship, toil and death. To which I replied in full Vonnegut: “We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful what we pretend to be.”
  • The third request I’ll share with you has to do with a family who was offended by some of the titles included in one of our collections here at the library. The topic of these books were not objectionable to the family, but they chose to challenge these titles because of the swearing included in some of the dialog between characters. To this, I replied in full Vonnegut: “And on the subject of burning books: I want to congratulate librarians, not famous for their physical strength or their powerful political connections or their great wealth, who, all over this country, have staunchly resisted anti-democratic bullies who have tried to remove certain books from their shelves, and have refused to reveal to thought police the names of persons who have checked out those title. So, the America I loved still exists, if not in the White House or the Supreme Court or the Senate or the House of Representatives or the media; the America I love still exists at the front desks of our public libraries.”

A warm new year to all of you readers out there. You’re the reason we’re here! Thank you and have a great holiday.

A Reference Librarian

This blog post by Katie Springer, reference librarian. For more information, contact the Reference & Government Services Division at 317-232-3678 or submit an Ask-A-Librarian request.

Indiana State Data Center celebrates 40 years

On Monday, Dec. 12, 2016, the Indiana State Data Center (SDC) held a celebration at the Indiana State Library (ISL) to commemorate the beginning of a longstanding federal-state partnership between the state of Indiana and the Census Bureau. SDC also took the opportunity to celebrate Indiana’s Bicentennial.

Happy anniversary cake

Following a local level census project that began in 1972 in Indianapolis under Indiana Senator Richard Lugar, the U.S. Census Bureau began plans for a statewide project for census data users in Indiana and in April of 1976, the Indiana Census User Services Project (ICUSP) was established as the first pilot project of its kind in the nation. Its purpose was to create a model for data user education and data dissemination inside a state agency – and that state agency was ISL. ICUSP provided the model for the development of a national state data center network. The network in Indiana was already going strong when it was officially adopted into the national network in 1980.

Marilyn Sanders, regional director of the Chicago region, U.S. Census Bureau, details future federal-state partnerships for 2020 Census planning

This week’s celebration included several speakers from the Census Bureau: David Pemberton, historian; Michael Ratcliffe, geography division; James Whitehorne, redistricting and voting rights and Sarah Konya, mathematical statistician with the decennial census. Matthew Kinghorne, state demographer, spoke about 200 Years of Indiana demographics. Phil Worrall, of the Indiana Geographic Information Council, talked about statewide GIS partnerships. Marilyn Sanders, from the Chicago regional office, also spoke about Indiana and the upcoming 2020 census.

Roberta Brooker, former Indiana state librarian, displays her award for Excellence in Data Services at the 40th Anniversary of the national State Data Center Program

Perry Hammock, the executive director of the Bicentennial Commission, ended the day with a vibrant speech on Indiana’s 200th birthday celebrations across the state in 2016.

Perry Hammock, executive director of the Bicentennial Commission, celebrates Indiana’s 200th birthday at the Indiana State Library

SDC is grateful for those who were able to attend the celebration. Be on the lookout for future events and training through the Indiana State Data Center Program, your safety net for stats.

Books to give for Christmas, 1949

The Indiana State Library houses thousands of pamphlets, fliers, leaflets and other ephemeral publications in its Pamphlet Collection. Among these publications are fliers created by the Indiana State Library Extension Division. This division, which has largely been absorbed by the current Library Development Office, sought to provide assistance to public and school libraries throughout the state. Part of that assistance came in the form of producing lists of books to aid in library collection development.

Santa image from “A Holiday Dictionary” (ISLO 394.2 no. 1)

In November of 1949, a librarian from the Extension Division named Grace Beecher compiled a special list entitled “Books to give for Christmas” (ISLO 28 no. 9 [3]) in an effort to help librarians recommend books that would make ideal holiday gifts. While the vast majority of the books on the list are no longer in print, some have endured and can be purchased and given as gifts today.

Below is a transcription of selected titles from the original list with accompanying descriptions, publishing information and cost as written by Ms. Beecher in 1949. These titles are still in print:

For the Pre-School Child and Beginning Reader
The Emperors new clothes by Hans C. Andersen ; illustrated by Virginia Burton. 1949.  Houghton, $2.00.
One of Andersen’s droller fairy tales illustrated in water colors.

Cowboy small, by Lois Lenski. 1949.  Oxford, $1.00.
A day in the life of junior cowboy, full of activity, and simply presented with full page color pictures. The story can be followed without reading the text.

For the Teen-Age Crowd
Journey into Christmas, and other stories by Bess S. Aldrich. 1949. Appleton-Century-Crosts, $2.75.
Sentimental family stories of the Christmas season.

Red planet by Robert Heinlein. 1949. Scribner, $2.50.
One of the best in science fiction stories in which Mars is colonized.

For the Adult Reader
Cheaper by the dozen by Frank Gilbreth. 1949. Crowell, $3.00.
Amusing account of an unusual family.

CSLP 2017 trainings underway

Does your library utilize the Collaborative Summer Library Program (CSLP)? Are you always looking for new programming ideas to jazz up your summer program offerings? Do you enjoy having the opportunity to gather with other librarians to talk about what’s going on in their neck of the woods? If you answered “yes” to any of those questions, the State Library’s new CSLP 2017: Build a Better World trainings are the place to be!

If you aren’t familiar with CSLP, it’s a consortium of representatives from all 50 states, plus several territories who work together each year to provide a cohesive, high-quality summer reading program along with program ideas, artwork and prizes. The program and manual are provided to Indiana libraries free of charge, thanks to a grant made available by the U.S. Institute of Museum and Library Sciences. Learn more about CSLP here:

This year we are shaking things up! I’m asking all training participants to bring at least one program idea to share, as the second half of each training will be a roundtable-style discussion! You’ll get to hear what the librarians in your area are excited about as we share successful program ideas with one another. I will be compiling all of the ideas into one sheet that will be accessible on the Indiana State Library’s website under Resources for Librarians Serving Youth:

We tested out this new format at the first set of sessions on Tuesday, Dec. 6, 2016 at the Crown Point Community Library, and it was a success—some exciting ideas were generated. I hope that you can join us at one of these upcoming face-to-face trainings. We need your input to make them great!

Face-to-Face trainings:

Join the Indiana State Library for this training where you will be introduced to the theme, the artwork, and the manual for the 2017 CSLP Summer Reading Program. Each training will last 1.5 hours, with a portion of that time reserved for roundtable-style discussion. What does this mean? Bring your program ideas! Each participant should bring at least one program idea to share with the group.  Program ideas may or may not be related to the CSLP theme Build a Better World.  We want to hear what you’re excited about! These trainings will each be worth 2 LEUs. Register here:

Evansville Public Library – Central Branch (Evansville, IN) ~ Tuesday, December 13, 2016
Early Literacy & Children’s training @ 9-10:30am CST (10 -11:30am EST)
Teen & Adult training @ 11-12:30pm CST (12-1:30pm EST)

Kendallville Public Library (Kendallville, IN) ~ Friday, December 16, 2016
Early Literacy & Children’s training @ 9:30-11am EST
Teen & Adult training @ 11:30-1pm EST

Alexandria-Monroe Public Library (Alexandria, IN) ~ Tuesday, January 10, 2017
Early Literacy & Children’s training @ 9:30-11am EST
Teen & Adult training @ 11:30-1pm EST

Mooresville Public Library (Mooresville, IN) ~ Monday, January 30, 2017
Early Literacy & Children’s training @ 9:30-11am EST
Teen & Adult training @ 11:30-1pm EST

Greensburg-Decatur County Public Library (Greensburg, IN) ~ Friday, February 10, 2017
Early Literacy & Children’s training @ 9:30-11am EST
Teen & Adult training @ 11:30-1pm EST

West Lafayette Public Library (West Lafayette, IN) ~ Friday, February 24, 2017
Early Literacy & Children’s training @ 9:30-11am EST
Teen & Adult training @ 11:30-1pm EST

Jeffersonville Township Public Library (Jeffersonville, IN) ~ Friday, March 3
Early Literacy & Children’s training @ 9:30-11am EST
Teen & Adult training @ 11:30-1pm EST

Bloomfield-Eastern Greene Co Public Library (Bloomfield, IN) ~ Monday, March 13, 2017
Early Literacy & Children’s training @ 10-11:30am EST
Teen & Adult training @ 11:30-1pm EST

This blog post was written by Beth Yates, Children’s Consultant for the Indiana State Library.  For more information, contact the Professional Development Office at (317) 232-3697 or email

Meet Kim Blaha, new director of the Syracuse Public Library

Paula Newcom, Indiana State Library’s Northeast regional coordinator, recently spoke with new Syracuse Public Library director, Kim Blaha. Blaha has previously worked at several libraries in northern Indiana. “It was really cool to learn that she was a music major in college and plays the French horn, one of my favorite instruments,” Newcom said.


Sarah Wright/The Mail-Journal

Paula Newcom:  Are you from the area? If not, where are you from originally?
Kim Blaha: I was born in Indiana, but grew up in the Southeast suburbs of Chicago. I have lived in Ohio, Oregon, Wisconsin and now Indiana.

PN: What inspired you to work in libraries?
KB: I have always loved the library and believe it is a calling for me.

PN: What is your favorite thing about working for your library?
KB: My favorite thing about working for my library is the opportunity to be constantly creative. I love solving problems and learning new things. I also enjoy sharing my discoveries with others, whether it is a great book, a cool app or a form I developed to make record-keeping more streamlined.

PN: What is your favorite book?
KB: Currently, my favorite book is “All the Light We Cannot See” by Anthony Doerr. That will probably change next month. The book I’ve read the most times is “The Hobbit.” I usually read that once a year.

PN: If you could have dinner with any three famous people in recorded history, who would they be and why?
KB: I would like to have dinner with Ralph Vaughn Williams, because I love his music; President Obama, because I would love to know what it is like to be the head of a country and keep your sense of humor; and Elizabeth Cady Stanton to find out how she managed as a woman and a crusader.

PN: What do you enjoy doing when you’re not at work?
KB: I love the outdoors: reading outside in my hammock, gardening and playing ball with my dog. I play French horn professionally and for relaxation I color or do other creative projects.

This blog post by Paula Newcom, professional development librarian. For more information, contact the Professional Development Office at (317) 232-3697 or email

It’s December and the state library is decorated for the holidays; other Indy events

The beautiful Indiana State Library is now decorated for the holidays! The library put up eight different Christmas trees, including one that incorporates a library card ornament from each of the public libraries in Indiana. If you get a chance to get to downtown Indianapolis make sure you stop in and see us.


Original 1934 librarian’s desk

Other holiday events and decorations worth seeing while you are in Indy include:

Lights at the Brickyard
Christmas at Lilly House: Holiday in Bloom
Christmas at the Zoo

…and much more!


Nine-foot tree in the Great Hall

Special thanks to library staffers Connie Bruder, Mary Kelley, Jake Speer, Rayjeana Duty, Joan Gray, Daina Bohr, Christy Franzman, Caitlyn Stypa, Maggie Ansty, Lamar Porter and Scott Lambert for their help in assembling and displaying the decorations.

Digitize your personal documents at the Indiana State Library

We all know the importance of digitizing personal and family papers, books and photographs. Digitized versions of these documents are safe from disasters such as fire, flood and mold. Of course, if your USB flash drive or your computer’s hard drive fall prey to these elements, you’re out of luck, but if you save these items in the cloud or make multiple backups, it can take the sting out of these catastrophes knowing your documents and memories have been spared.


Display of damaged items in the genealogy room at the Indiana State Library.

The Indiana State Library would like to introduce you to Zeta, the library’s new digital overhead scanner. Overhead means you do not have to awkwardly bend book spines in order to attempt to stick a book under a flimsy flap or make sure your document is pressed flush onto a glass scanning bed. The Zeta has the ability to scan documents sized up to 14” by 18.9” with an optical resolution of 300-600 dpi and features fast copy/scan with no overhead glare. The scanner has two USB ports for connecting storage devices.


Zeta book, copy and scan system.

The possibilities are endless when using the Zeta scanner. You can do everything from digitizing your grandma’s old recipe book to scanning and storing your collection of family vacation postcards. If you want to show someone how big your hair was in 1987, the Zeta can definitely handle yearbooks.


The Zeta in action.

The best feature, however, is that using the scanner is completely free of charge at the state library. So, bring in your items and start digitizing. Hopefully, you’ll never suffer a disaster, but if you do, at least your documents will be safe and sound. The scanner is located on the first floor of the Indiana State Library in the genealogy room.

For more information on the Zeta scanner, click here.

For more information on fair use and copyright, click here.


C.W. Webber and the camel calamity

As a manuscripts librarian, sometimes I come across items in our collections which point to bizarre and bemusing events in our nation’s history. What’s the old adage? Fact is stranger than fiction. Recently, I discovered a document relating to one of those historical oddities: The so-called Great Camel Experiment of the 1850s.


Drawing of Bactrian camels in Carson Valley, circa 1870. Source: Edward Vischer, “Vischer’s Pictorial of California,” 1870. View no. 47.

The Document

On Feb. 5, 1850 in Boston Charles Wilkins Webber—journalist, author and adventurer—drafted a circular “to the Young Men of America.” He hoped to entice young go-getters to invest in his new venture: the importation of 50 “long-legged, sure-footed, steady, but swift moving ‘ships of the desert.’”


Excerpt of C.W. Webber’s circular soliciting investors in his camel import enterprise, 1850. Source: Ewing family collection (L323), Indiana State Library,

In the missive, Webber provided several examples for the potential utility of camels in the United States, ranging from the impractical (camel expresses for delivery in the upper Midwest) to the disturbing (the extermination of Native Americans in the Great Plains). However, the most convincing proposal and primary aim of his endeavor was to use camels to establish a “shorter, safer and a cheaper route” overland to California.

Gold Feverish and Footsore

Two years after the discovery of gold at Sutter’s Mill in 1848, the California Gold Rush was in full swing. Thousands charged to California in the hopes of plucking easy fortunes from the territory’s auriferous rivers. The first transcontinental railroad wouldn’t be completed for 16 years and the two transportation options—by ship and by hoof—were almost equally problematic, arduous and treacherous.


Presumably the first piece of gold discover at Sutter’s Mill in California, 1848. Source: National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center,

The southwestern route, the Gila Trail (also known as the Southern Emigrant Trail), traversed great stretches of desert which killed pack animals by the score. There were also other hazards—accidents, exhaustion and diseases among the most prominent. Webber himself, intent on leading an expedition to the Colorado and Gila rivers in Arizona Territory, lost his party’s horses to Comanche raiders at Corpus Christi, Texas less than a year before proposing his camel enterprise.


Broadside for potential emigrants during the California Gold Rush, 1849. Source: Boston Rare Maps,

By 1855, approximately 300,000 people had migrated to California lured by the promise of gold, nearly half of whom had traveled overland from east to west. And all those people needed supplies—food stuffs, clothing, prospecting and mining gear and other goods—which had to travel the same routes as the ‘49ers. Is it any wonder businessmen and pioneers saw an opportunity for new means of transportation?

Why Camels?

Webber was not the first American to propose the use of camels in the U.S. As far back as 1836, the army had flirted with idea of the dromedary’s application for military transport, but it was only in 1848 that they began giving it serious consideration.

Camels’ adaptions for thermoregulation and high water retention made them well-suited to high temperatures and arid conditions. Moreover, the ungulates could bear loads several times those of pack mules. These capabilities made them appear ideal for crossing the deserts of the Southwest and the idea was surprisingly popular with many Americans.


Riders herding camels on the grounds of the Mammoth Grove Hotel, circa 1870. Source: Edward Vischer, “Vischer’s Pictorial of California,” 1870. View no. 18.

An article in the Wabash Courier of Terre Haute, Indiana on July 26, 1856 described the camels as “uncouth and awkward to the extreme,” bearing “a resemblance to the stupid turkey.” Despite their opinion of the camel’s homeliness, the authors finally concluded the enterprise would prove successful, with camel caravans “thread[ing] the weary wastes of the West, and the rugged defiles of the mountains connecting our Eastern and Western fields of enterprise and empire.”

Under Secretary of War Jefferson Davis (yes, that Jefferson Davis), 33 dromedaries (one-humped camels) and Bactrian camels (two-humped) were imported for the army’s use. In 1857, Edward F. Beale led the U.S. Camel Corps (no joke) from San Antonio to Fort Defiance, Arizona and then on to California to test the animals’ potential for military supply transport. At the terminus, Beale reported the experiment as a triumph and avowed he would prefer one camel to four mules for transportation in desert conditions.

Why It Failed

A handful of other army expeditions employed camels in the 1850s, but the U.S. Civil War put an end to the camels’ use in military operations. It certainly didn’t help the camel’s case that one of its biggest proponents, Jefferson Davis, defected from the Union to become president of the Confederacy. After the war, camels were largely viewed as irrelevant as modes of transport while the focus shifted to completing the transcontinental railroad.

As for Webber’s enterprise, four years after he wrote his circular, it seemed his dream would be realized. The New York State Legislature passed an act to incorporate the American Camel Company on April 15, 1854 with Webber listed as one of its commissioners. However, the endeavor died in 1855 and was never resurrected. The California Gold Rush had peaked in 1852 and the company failed to get over the hump (ba-dum-bump).


Act to incorporate the American Camel Company, 1854. Source: New York State Legislature, Laws of the State of New York,


Was the failure of the Great Camel Experiment really a “calamity?” No, not really (the alliterative assonance of “camel calamity” [camelamity?] was just too good to pass up).


Camels outside Holden’s Station in Hermit Valley in the Sierra Mountains, circa 1870. Source: Edward Vischer, “Vischer’s Pictorial of California,” 1870. View no. 19.

Overall, the use of camels for military transportation proved more efficient than pack mules and might have had more widespread appeal if the Civil War hadn’t completely diverted the military’s attention. But ultimately, it was the steam engine that obliterated any practicality of using camels as a means of transportation in the United States. As for the fate of those camels imported to the U.S., many were sold to entrepreneurs who used them to carry supplies to remote mining operations, while some went free and presumably roamed the Southwest until they died off. Residents of Arizona, Nevada, Colorado and Utah reported sighting camels in the desert as late as the early 1900s. (In contrast, for an example of a thriving, wild, non-indigenous camel populations, see this article on the feral camels in Australia).

What ever happened to the camel crusader, C.W. Webber?

After giving up his camel endeavor, Webber joined notorious filibuster William Walker in the invasion of Nicaragua and was killed in action at the fourth battle of Rivas on April 11, 1856.

Webber had lived in an interesting life, having dabbled in all sorts of careers from medicine to theology, but his ultimate success lay in writing. He was a successful journalist and wrote several books based on his experiences working with the Texas Rangers and traveling the West, which are in the public domain and freely available online. Webber’s flair for the dramatic really shines in his camel circular. You can view the full circular here in the Indiana State Library Digital Collections (

For more information on camels and their connection to Indiana, check out this blog post from Hoosier State Chronicles.

This blog post was written by Rare Books and Manuscripts Librarian Brittany Kropf. For more information, contact the Rare Books and Manuscripts Division at (317) 232-3671 or “Ask-A-Librarian” at

Geek culture in libraries, pt. 2


Photo by Hpoyatos (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

If you were unable to attend the ILF presentation “Geekspotting 1.0” given by Jocelyn Lewis (Indiana State Library) and Alex Sarkissian (Morrisson-Reeves Public Library) you missed a discussion on how libraries can create programs around tabletop gaming. Since there seemed to be a lot of interest in this topic by those in attendance, here are some more resources that may be of interest to librarians:

Board game night basics — This site will walk you through everything you need to know to host a board game event at your library.

10 great tabletop games that can be played in under 30 minutes — This site will direct you to some quick and fun tabletop games. Many of these games are also rather inexpensive.

11 literary board games to win over book-lovers at your next game night — Not all board games involved fantasy realms or zombies pandemics. These games neatly tie-in to the books on your shelves.

International Games Day @ your library — Although IGD16 has come and gone, ALA has a lot of good information on this site to help guide you through the realm of modern tabletop gaming.

Game and gaming roundtable of the American Library Association — Gaming is so prevalent in libraries that ALA has an entire roundtable devoted to it!

Games explained — One of the more time consuming aspects of gaming is learning how to play. This YouTube channel walks you through the rules for many major tabletop games.