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St. Joseph County Archives - Indiana's Only County Records Archives

By Cindy Cockman

(SBAGS Quarterly, Vol. 23 Issue 1, January 1998)

Located at 1140 S. Lafayette, South Bend, IN 46601

You can call there at: (574) 235-9091

The hours of the archives are from 8:00 A. M. to 4:30 P. M.

"You have to have a certain flexibility about what might or might not have happened in the past," Jackson Armstrong-Ingram, Curator of the St. Joseph County Archive and Record Management, humorously related at the October 1997 meeting of the South Bend Area Genealogical Society.

Mr. Armstrong-Ingram entertained and informed those attending about the history and repository of records available at the St. Joseph County Archive. The City of South Bend instituted a records department in 1991 for Archive and Record Management. It became a joint venture with the city and county in 1993. The County Archive is funded by both the City of South Bend and St. Joseph County with the City funding the bulk of the department since the Court House generates the majority of the records.

In the early 1990’s, truckloads of records that could not be legally disposed of were dispersed throughout the city and county. Other records were also scattered in the county from local businesses that were simply running out of storage room. Mr. Jackson-Ingram discovered cartons of records at Leeper Park as well as 13 truckloads (some with water damage) at the back of the Mary Crest Building on Western Avenue in South Bend. He and his newly funded team retrieved several hundred cubic feet of South Bend records from the 1860’s to the 1930’s. The first records of the original South Bend Airport (listing a airplane’s worth at $1,200) were also discovered in their search.

The focus of his initial investigation and preservation, was the restoration of Coroner Records from the 1800’s to the 1960’s. One early record, as mentioned by Mr. Armstrong-Ingram, recited the story of a man in 1909 who shot his girl friend and then committed suicide. A couple on a nearby porch heard the gun shots. The entire narrative of this tragic encounter was listed on the official Coroner’s Record.

Coroner Records are critical to genealogical research since information that could be discovered may not appear elsewhere. Some people that are researched by genealogists may never own property or generate any other probate record. Mr. Armstrong-Ingram stated that many Coroners kept fastidious records and frequently recorded verbatim depositions from family and friends of the deceased. Many of the earlier Coroner reports contained many "John Doe" cases since the report was entered where the death or accident happened not where the victim resided or worked.

The St. Joseph County Archive contains Coroner Records from 1879 to the 1990’s. A minimal number of files exist from the 1960’s but the availability increases in the 1970’s. The most recent Coroner Records are not as interesting or entertaining as the earlier files since they are based on autopsies and police descriptions not colorful and exaggerated depositions.

Other records kept at the local Archive are Probate Records, Civil Court Records, Insanity In quests (1820-1849), Inheritance Tax Records (20,000 being indexed) and some Marriage Records. The State Archive in Indianapolis contains one of the best vaults of mental health records in the country because of the indexing that was begun in St. Joseph by Mr. Armstrong-Ingram and his staff of diligent sleuths.

The evening ended with a clearer and often entertaining picture of our local St. Joseph County Archive and Record Management Department, which is the only one in existence in the State of Indiana. Mr. Armstrong-Ingram further teased the amateur and seasoned genealogists in the room by stating that, "Just because something is in writing, doesn’t mean it is entirely correct, especially dates."

If you are interested in researching at the archives, please keep the following in mind. They are very busy and like most government offices, they are very limited in staff. The mornings are generally reserved for the courts as records are moved back and forth quickly. 80% of what they do relates to active court records and only 20% is the actual archives.

If you are interested in having any research done at the archives, the staff is requesting that you write down the name of the person you are working on and briefly, any pertinent data relating to them. They will gladly take a fax from you at the same number listed below. Please don't call unless it is a general question. Keep it simple! They don't want the person's life story, just the facts!

The hours of the archives are from 8:00 A.M. to 4:30 P.M. however, as mentioned before, it is requested that you only go to the archives, if possible, in the afternoon. You can call there at: 235-9091 and they are located at 1140 S. Lafayette, South Bend. Be sure to ring the doorbell.

Since this article was written, a new archivist has taken over. Jackson Armstrong-Ingram has taken on another archivist position at Carson City, Nevada and his replacement, from Dayton, Ohio, is John T. Urschel. We wish him the best in South Bend and look forward to working with him! He is always looking for volunteers in many different capacities, so if you have a morning or afternoon you can spare, he will be happy to have you.

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