Primary Source Sampler
A key part of the state historical marker application process is finding primary sources to support your topic. Below you will find examples of types of primary sources that might help as you complete your application or as you work on another research project.
Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps
One source that can prove useful in highlighting where a business or residence was located is Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps. These maps were created to provide detailed drawings of the buildings in a city to assess the fire risk for insurance companies. They can also show us how areas developed over time. While working on the Leedy Manufacturing Company marker in Indianapolis in 2021, we used Sanborn maps to confirm the plant’s exact location, see when additions were built, and learn what was housed inside as well as how the different floors were organized. The maps also allowed us to understand what existed in the surrounding neighborhood at the time.
You can access Sanborn maps through the Fire Insurance Maps Online Database while inside the Indiana State Library or search the maps on ISL microfilm. Learn more about Sanborn maps through this Indiana State Library blog post.
The Sanborn map featured below is Indianapolis Sanborn Map #159, 1915, courtesy of the Indianapolis Sanborn Map and Baist Atlas Collection. View the map here.
Are you interested in commemorating an inventor or a particular product that had a significant impact on the state or nation? If so, one resource that can help support your main points is patents. Patents grant exclusive rights for an invention to an individual or company. They can shed light on who invented a particular product, when it was created and how it was modified over time, and may explain why the product was needed or the impact it had on society.
While researching the Creek Chub Bait Company in DeKalb County in 2017, we used patents to better understand the high-quality artificial fishing lures the company manufactured. The patents provided explanations and diagrams of the spray-painted scale pattern and metal lip of the lures, which helped attract more fish and, in turn, caused the company’s sales to boom. Through patents, we were able to learn about the new lures and processes the company created throughout the twentieth century. You can search for patents by the inventor, invention, and date through Google Patents.
The patent below was submitted by Henry S. Dills of the Creek Chub Bait Company and approved December 2, 1919. View the patent in full here.
One of our favorite though often underused sources when researching historical marker topics is city directories. City directories can inform us where an individual lived or where a business was located in a particular year, can provide information about occupations that individuals had, and can shed light on various institutions that existed in a city, including hospitals, charitable organizations, churches, clubs, libraries, and parks, to name a few! You can search city directories by name through the alphabetical listing, by category in the Miscellaneous Information section, and by street address.
While doing research for the Lt. Col. Joseph H. Ward, M.D. marker in Indianapolis in 2019, we used city directories from 1897 through 1949 to track the location of Ward’s medical practice as it moved from various locations on Indiana Avenue to Boulevard Place. A search of Ward’s name in the alphabetical listing of the 1922 Indianapolis City Directory noted that he was a physician, surgeon, and proprietor of Ward’s Sanitarium, listed the address of the business and noted that it was the same as his home residence, and included the hours the practice was open. The Miscellaneous Information section of the directory also listed Ward’s Sanitarium as one of several Asylums and Hospitals in the city.
The Indiana State Library has a large collection of city directories. You can access information by county here. Many city directories are also available electronically via Ancestry Library (which can be accessed for free while visiting the State Library) and through the Internet Archive.
The image below is courtesy of the 1922 Indianapolis City Directory, accessible through archive.org.
Census records are used frequently by genealogists interested in learning where their ancestors lived, what occupations they held, and in researching other members of the household. They are also great resources as you’re working on marker applications!
We use Census records while researching a variety of marker topics, but they can be particularly helpful in learning about ethnic groups that lived in a city during a certain period. For example, through these records, we were able to learn about the Syrian immigrants who settled in Terre Haute in the early 1900s and established a thriving community in the city. The 1910 and 1920 U.S. Censuses for that area include several Syrian families and highlight how many began as peddlers and eventually became grocers and retail merchants. Census records can tell us where these individuals were born, where their parents were born, and what year they immigrated to the United States.
You can search Census Records electronically through Ancestry Library, which is free to access at the Indiana State Library. The image below is from the 1920 U.S. Census and lists information about the Azar and Kafourey families in Terre Haute, many of whom worked in the grocery business.
Legislative Reports and Journals
Are you interested in marking a former state legislator who introduced or authored landmark legislation, or a citizen who championed causes in front of the Indiana General Assembly? If so, you might try researching journals and legislative reports of the Indiana General Assembly. These documents provide records of the proceedings of both the Indiana House of Representatives and Indiana Senate during each session and can shed light on legislation that was discussed, who served on particular committees, and who spoke before the General Assembly.
In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, many women spoke before the state legislature to advocate on behalf of women’s suffrage, including lawyer, writer, and lecturer Helen Gougar. Gougar first argued for women’s suffrage in front of the General Assembly in 1881. Thanks to the Brevier Legislative Report for that year, which provides a record of each bill introduced and the debates and speeches delivered from the floor of each chamber, we can read Gougar’s speech before the House at length. In this speech, she stated: “We are here by the invitation and appointment of educated, thinking, cultured and patriotic men and women – women engaged in the different professions, trades, arts, sciences and literature, who are demanding increased powers – that the ballot may be given to them, that they may use it on behalf of justice and virtue.” It was one of several times that Gougar spoke before the General Assembly. According to the 1891 Journal of the Indiana Senate, she “delivered an eloquent and earnest address on prohibition, municipal suffrage, and other social and political reforms, making strong appeal to the Senate for enactment of laws on these subjects.”
The 1881 Brevier Legislative Report pictured below is courtesy of Indiana Memory and can be accessed in full here. Many copies of Indiana House and Senate Journals can be accessed at the Indiana State Library, through Google Books, or through Hathi Trust. IHB installed the Helen Gougar marker in Tippecanoe County in 2014.
Are you interested in commemorating a particular company that manufactured products in the state of Indiana? If so, you might check to see if the business published a company newsletter. Company newsletters serve as a form of both internal and external communication. They can include details about products the business made, news concerning the employees’ work and recreation, upcoming programs or events relating to the company, or recognize business or employee achievements.
We used employee newsletters for our Allison Machine Shop marker in Speedway as we examined the contributions Allison Engineering Company (later the Allison Division of General Motors Corp.) made during WWI and WWII. First published in July 1941, the AllisoNews provided production numbers and schedules of Allison’s famed V-1710 engine that powered fighter aircraft during the war. It also included telegrams relaying praise from generals who saw the benefits of the engine firsthand in combat, shared details on various sports and activities in which Allison employees participated, and noted women’s contributions at the plants. Allison Division won the Army-Navy “E” Award for excellence in production four times during the war, each of which were covered in the AllisoNews.
Many company newsletters are available electronically through the Indiana State Library Digital Collections and Indiana Memory. The image below is courtesy of the AllisoNews, v. 4, no. 19, July 18, 1945 and can be accessed in full here.
Underground Railroad Sources
Are you hoping to commemorate Underground Railroad history? IHB recognizes the difficulties of confirming Underground Railroad sites and determining fact from local lore. We encourage applicants interested in these topics to consult a variety of primary sources, such as contemporary newspaper accounts, diaries, court cases, and oral histories, and evaluate them in conjunction with one another when possible in order to substantiate the claims. While post-contemporary written accounts are not sufficient evidence in and of themselves, when put in communication with primary sources they can help support the assertions.
One source that we’ve found particularly helpful while working on markers about Underground Railroad topics are court case records. While researching the Donnell V. State, 1852 marker and the Escape of Caroline marker in Decatur County in 2007 and 2008, we were able to use Circuit Court and Indiana Supreme Court records to support claims that Luther Donnell aided escaped slave Caroline and her four children in 1847 as they sought freedom in Canada. The Decatur County Circuit Court ruled that by knowingly harboring and concealing Caroline and her family, Donnell violated an 1843 Indiana law which stated that "any person assisting a slave to escape or hindering any person in lawfully recovering any 'fugitive slave or person owing service,' upon conviction can be fined up to $500."
Through court case records, newspaper articles from the period, personal recollections, and advertisements of Caroline’s “owner” George Ray offering a reward for her return, we were able to highlight Donnell and Caroline’s stories.
You can find information pertaining to Indiana Circuit Court or Indiana Supreme Court cases at the Indiana State Library, through the Indiana State Archives, the Indiana Supreme Court Law Library, or potentially through your local clerk of courts. Learn more about the Donnell case with our Indiana state historical marker.
Birth and Death Certificates
If you’re working on a marker application to commemorate an individual who had a lasting impact on the state or nation, you will probably want to include basic information like when the individual was born and when they died. Historical marker applications for notable people are not eligible until twenty years after the individual’s death.
Birth and death certificates are great resources to use. When we received an application to commemorate comedian Red Skelton in Knox County, the applicants included a copy of Skelton’s birth certificate to confirm that he was born in Vincennes in 1913 as Richard Skelton. Birth certificates can also provide information such as the names of the individual’s parents, their ages, their race, and what type of work they were engaged in at the time. Many newspapers across the country provided obituaries reflecting on Skelton’s career in comedy after his death in 1997. Additionally, we were able to use the California, U.S. Death Index, 1940-1997, to corroborate the date of his passing.
You can access many birth and death records through Ancestry Library. You might also check with your local historical society or museum to see if they have these records in their collections. The image below of Red Skelton’s birth certificate is courtesy the Red Skelton Museum.
Contemporary newspaper articles are the most frequently used resource by both our applicants and our research team. Contemporary articles are those that were written during the period of significance that you’re seeking to commemorate, as opposed to reflections written many years later. For instance, newspaper articles published today about the South Bend Blue Sox, one of two Indiana teams in the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, can help highlight important moments of the team’s twelve-year history, but they are considered secondary sources. For the purposes of the state marker application, you would instead want to include articles that were written when the team was playing between 1943 and 1954. We used numerous articles while working on our marker for the Blue Sox in 2021. The South Bend Tribune reported on all of the team’s home and away games and provided box scores. Through this newspaper coverage, we could corroborate details about the team’s place in the standings, track attendance and player statistics, and learn about their Playoff Championships in 1951 and 1952.
Electronic newspaper databases have made researching these records much easier than in the past and one of our favorites is Newspapers.com. A search of the “South Bend Blue Sox” in the Newspapers.com database resulted in nearly 4,000 articles on the team. Newspapers.com is a paid subscription database but can be accessed for free at the Indiana State Library. You can also search a portion of the database for free at home through inspire.in.gov. A search of the “South Bend Blue Sox” through the Inspire collection only yields 133 matches, as opposed to nearly 4,000, but can still be incredibly helpful in providing the necessary support for an application.
The image below is courtesy of the South Bend Tribune, September 12, 1952, 1, and shows an image of the team after they clinched their second consecutive Playoff Championship.
Contemporary Newspapers (Hoosier State Chronicles)
A fantastic newspaper database that we use frequently is Hoosier State Chronicles. Hoosier State Chronicles is operated by the Indiana State Library and provides free online access to over 1.5 million Indiana newspaper pages. You can do a basic keyword search for your topic, learn about all the newspaper titles available through Chronicles, or search by date or county.
One of the many titles available through this database is the Indianapolis Recorder. First published in the late 1890s and still in existence today, the Recorder is one of the best resources in the State to learn about important stories pertaining to Black residents, organizations, and events in Indianapolis and across Indiana. While working on a marker for Allen Temple in Grant County in 2021, we used the Recorder extensively to track the history of the church and its impact in Marion. Articles in this paper helped us confirm that Allen Temple was organized on the southside of the city in 1899. The paper also highlighted members and clergy of the church who were instrumental in founding the local NAACP, hosted Urban League meetings, and advocated for legal justice after the 1930 Marion lynchings.
You can access Hoosier State Chronicles at https://newspapers.library.in.gov/. The Indiana State Library also has holdings of numerous newspapers from across the state in print and on microfilm. Search the Indiana Newspaper Holdings Guide for more information.
Military Records (State and Federal)
If you’re working on a marker application to commemorate an individual who served in the military, you’ll definitely want to check out official state and federal military records to learn more about the person’s enlistment, length of service, rank, unit, returns, decorations, and commendations, among many other important details.
State military records through the Indiana Archives and Records Administration and federal military records from the National Archives and Records Administration were particularly useful when our research team dove into the military service of 2nd Lieutenant Aaron R. Fisher. Fisher, from Lyles Station, was a WWI hero who received the Distinguished Service Cross and the Croix de Guerre for successfully defending his command against German troops at Lesseux, France. We were able to track his early military service through his original enlistment and assignment to the 9th Cavalry, and then after a discharge and reenlistment, his assignment with the 24th Infantry. Both were historic Buffalo Soldier units. Upon the US entry to WWI, he fought with the all-Black 92nd Division in France.
The Register of Enlistments and the Returns from Regular Army Cavalry Regiments have been digitized and are available through Ancestry.com. Many military records are also available via Fold 3 History Archives. The Indiana Archives and Records Administration also has military records in their collections, accessible here.
Manuscript collections, including scrapbooks, are an excellent source for marker applications exploring Indiana women’s social and political history in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
ISL’s Rare Books and Manuscripts division is the repository for the Grace Julian Clarke collection, and in 2020 received a grant from Indiana Humanities to assist in the digitization of Clarke’s scrapbooks. Clarke, a longtime club woman, suffragist, and political reformer, kept newspaper articles, pamphlets, cards, and photographs, among other items, in her scrapbooks. These documents help detail local and national suffrage efforts, World War I work, and women’s clubs.
IHB researchers have used these scrapbooks and other manuscripts collections to help piece together important information about Hoosier suffragists such as Clarke. Clarke’s scrapbooks can be accessed via Indiana Memory.
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