Ethnic Groups of Indiana

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This entry was originally written by Carol L. Maki and Michael John Neill for Red Book: American State, County, and Town Sources.

This article is part of
the Indiana Family History Research series.
History of Indiana
Indiana Vital Records
Census Records for Indiana
Background Sources for Indiana
Indiana Maps
Indiana Land Records
Indiana Probate Records
Indiana Court Records
Indiana Tax Records
Indiana Cemetery Records
Indiana Church Records
Indiana Military Records
Indiana Periodicals, Newspapers, and Manuscript Collections
Indiana Archives, Libraries, and Societies
Indiana Naturalization
Ethnic Groups of Indiana
Indiana County Resources
Map of Indiana


African American

Slavery was prohibited in the future state of Indiana by the Northwest Ordinance of 1787. However, slavery existed in the French households at Vincennes from the mid-1700s and continued despite the ordinance. In 1802 the territory requested a repeal from Congress, stating that a “slave state” would encourage more settlement. Although the petition was denied, in 1805 the territorial government allowed slaves to be brought into the area and held for “longer-than-life” indentures.

The sentiments concerning slavery changed as the government passed from a governor to the pre-state, forty-three delegate convention. An 1816 ruling prohibited slavery, but a “hereafter” clause in the state constitution provided justification for owners holding the 190 slaves reported in the 1820 census in western counties to keep their slaves. In the anti-slavery southeast area of Indiana, it was determined that slavery of any kind was illegal. Early in the 1820s the Indiana Supreme Court made slavery illegal, including that created in pre-1816 indentures. However, by the 1830s, a few slaves still remained in the state. Despite the anti-slavery sentiments of the Indiana people, African Americans were not allowed to vote, testify in court, or marry whites; their intermarriage with Native Americans, however, was fairly common in Indiana, particularly in the areas of the western frontier.

It is important, in researching African Americans in Indiana, to make note of the commonality of intermarriage, the required registration of African Americans in 1831, and the fact that many free African Americans purchased land. Several Underground Railroad routes through Indiana helped many slaves escape to the North, though many remained in the state. The Emigrant Aid Society helped thousands of North Carolina African Americans migrate to Indianapolis in the 1870s. Additional information can be found in:

  • McDougald, Lois. Negro Migration into Indiana, 1800–1860. Bloomington: the author, 1945.
  • Lyda, John W. The Negro History of Indiana. Terre Haute, Ind.: the author, 1953.
  • Thornbrough, Emma Lou. The Negro in Indiana: A Study of a Minority. Indiana Historical Collections. Vol. 37. Indianapolis: Indiana Historical Bureau, 1957.
  • Witcher, Curt Bryan. Bibliography of Sources for Black Family History in the Allen County Public Library Genealogy Department. Fort Wayne: Allen County Public Library, 1986.

Native American

In the 1818 St. Mary’s Treaty, the Delaware and other tribes ceded territory in the central portion of the state known as “The New Purchase.” The Delaware agreed to removal west of the Mississippi. The Miami and Potawatomi were the two major tribes remaining in Indiana after 1820. In 1826 they “traded” land needed for the construction of the Michigan Road and the Wabash and Erie Canal. The federal Indian Removal Act of 1830 allowed the Indiana General Assembly to remove the remaining native inhabitants from the state. In 1838 the plans for removing the Potawatomi were in effect, but some of the tribe objected. Eight hundred were “escorted” to Kansas under an armed militia company in a disorganized and tragic march known as the “Trail of Death.”

The Treaty of 1840 required that the Miami, the last Indian tribe in Indiana, be removed to Kansas. The migration did not actually occur until 1846, although several chiefs and their families were given individual land near Fort Wayne. Other suggested sources are:

  • Dillion, J.B. National Decline of the Miami Indians. Indianapolis: Indiana State Historical Society, 1897.
  • Rafert, Stewart. “American-Indian Genealogical Research in the Midwest: Resources and Perspectives,” National Genealogical Society Quarterly 76 (September 1988): 212-24. See more detail in Wisconsin—Native American.
  • ——. The Hidden Community: The Miami Indians of Indiana, 1846–1940. N.p.: the author, 1982.
  • Witcher, Curt Bryan. Bibliography of Sources for Native American Family History in the Allen County Public Library Genealogy Department. Fort Wayne: Allen County Public Library, 1988.

Other Ethnic Groups

Beginning in 1850 and through 1920 the foreign-born were never more than 10 percent of Indiana’s population, the largest percentage coming from Germany. Schools, churches, and social clubs of that nationality helped maintain the German culture in the state.

The Irish were the second largest immigrant group in Indiana, although their numbers were not large. Later immigrants, in the twentieth century, came from southern and eastern Europe.

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