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General Guides to Investigative Reporting

Census Data

Introduction to Census Research

When using Census data, it is important to have a firm grasp on what it is you want to accomplish through your research.  To simply explore what information is available, the U.S. Census Bureau provides a broad yet strong explanation.  Before you begin searching for particular data, determine the following factors:

  • Desired format of the data

  • Time period

  • Aggregated data versus information on individuals

  • Comparing multiple locations to each other versus comparing multiple characteristics of one location

Once you have specific questions in mind, the descriptions of the resources included in this guide should be able to point you in the right direction.

 

Census enumerator in 1950 interviewing a family

Open U.S. Government Data

Electronic resources available through IU Libraries

Local Resources

Print (and microfilm) materials available at IU Libraries

Census materials are located in Wells Library, on the 2nd Floor of East Tower, within Government Information, Maps, and Microform Services.

Decennial Census: The data collected across the United States population every 10 years.  The information collected from the 2010 Decennial Census is also available online. IU's collection includes the microfilm editions of the U.S. Decennial Census Publications 1790-1970.

The Economic Census is taken every 5 years and measures American business and economy.  Please note that not every industry is included in this census.  The U.S. Census Bureau gives a thorough overview of these industries.

 

Census reference books located in Wells Library:

Campaign Finance Records

Campaign Finance Overview

Campaign finance refers to the ways in which any type of political campaign is funded. This can be a campaign for a politician, political party, or in support for/opposition of a specific policy or referendum. Campaign funds can be donated from members of the public or from the private sector.

There are federal (and state) regulations that dictate the parameters in which political campaigns can accept and use the money they receive. Federal campaign law covers three areas (from FEC website): public disclosure of funds raised and spent to influence an election; restrictions on contributions + expenditures; public financing of presidential campaigns.

Introductory Resources

An important aspect of researching campaign finance is gathering raw data on campaign contributions. All campaigns are required to disclose  information on all donations they receive and spend, as part of the Federal Election Campaign Act (FECA). Use the following resources to gather information on campaign contributions for presidential and congressional elections.

Federal Election Commission The FEC is “the independent regulatory agency charged with administering and enforcing the federal campaign finance law.” The FEC website provides great overviews of the Federal Election Campaign Act, which established the FEC, as well as information on the history of the FEC and its role in regulating campaign contributions.

Opposing Viewpoints​ Use this page to find a whole range of sources that can help introduce you to the issue of campaign finance and some of the current discussions being held on the topic (eg. useful starting resource); includes recent news stories, articles from academic journals, audiovisual sources, etc.

CQ Researcher The CQ Researcher provides reports on some of today’s current issues. Under the “Browse Topics” bar on the homepage, select either “U.S. Congress” or “U.S. Presidency” and then choose the “Campaign Finance” subtopic to read recent reports on the current debates surrounding campaign finance and campaign finance reform.

Campaign Finance Data

MapLight: U.S. Congress Campaign Contributions and Voting Database: Nonpartisan research organization which demonstrates the influence money has on politics.  Users are able to view data regarding sources of campaign contributions from U.S. federal, congressional, state, and local elections.  Transparency tools connect data on politicians, industries, campaign contributions, legislative votes, and companies to depict the patterns of influence.

State Disclosure Offices: Candidates file campaign finance reports with their disclosure agency.  Here, that information is collected for all candidates in the primary and general elections and made into a searchable database.

The Campaign Finance Institute (CFI): An independent think-tank that focuses on campaign finance at both the federal and state level. Unlike the FEC, which focuses only on federal elections, the CFI provides detailed campaign finance data for federal and state elections. You can also find information on state, federal, and international campaign finance laws and current CFI research initiatives.

FEC Campaign Finance Disclosure Portal​ As part of its mission, the FEC is required to disclose campaign finance information to the public. The FEC Campaign Finance Portal allows you to search for and download data sets on campaign contributions for all presidential and congressional elections, as well as organization data on Political Action Committees (PACs) and registered lobby groups.

Opensecrets.org The Center for Responsive Politics is an independent, non-profit organization that tracks campaign spending in federal elections. In addition to providing campaign finance data for current federal elections, the Center for Responsive Politics also provides spending information for lobby and interests groups and PACs.

Laws and Regulations

FEC The FEC’s website provides a complete overview of the main bill that has shaped campaign finance, the Federal Election Campaign Act, as well as information on its legislative history and related amendments that have altered FECA regulations on campaign finance.

ProQuest Congressional Allows you to search for congressional and presidential documents, with the option to search by keyword. Search for congressional bills, laws, resolutions, and more that address campaign finance.

Federal Digital System (FDsys) This provides free access to government publications from all 3 branches of the government.  You can do a general search for the phrase “campaign finance” to view congressional reports, bills, supreme court opinions, and presidential papers.

Criminal and Civil Court Records

Criminal and Civil Cases Defined

Criminal Court Cases: cases over allegations that an individual, business, or corporation has committed a crime by breaking a law.

They may concern:

  • serious felonies punishable by confinement in a state correctional facility and/or payment of fines (e.g., murder, rape, robbery, arson, burglary, kidnapping)
  • gross misdemeanors punishable by confinement in a local jail and/or payment of fines (e.g., multiple driving-while-intoxicated offenses)
  • petty misdemeanors punishable by payment of a fine (e.g., writing bad checks and parking tickets)

The government (the plaintiff) brings suit against (prosecutes) a person who they believe has broken the law (the defendant). If the defendant is convicted, he or she may have to serve time in jail or pay a fine.

 

Civil Court Cases: disputes between private citizens, governmental bodies, businesses, and organizations.

They may concern:

  • allegations of wrong-doing by one party against another
  • contract or payment disputes
  • personal or property rights
  • disputed property claims
  • adoptions
  • divorces

In a civil suit, one party (the plaintiff) who feels they were harmed brings a complaint against another party (the defendant). The judgment often will result in the award of monetary payments to one party.

State-Level Records

State courts have general jurisdiction and oversee the cases individual citizens are most likely to be involved in. State courts have jurisdiction over:

  • A crime that is a violation of state law. Most criminal activity falls in this category, such as robbery, assault, murder, and many drug-related crimes.
  • A controversy arising out of the state constitution or other state laws.
  • A case in which the state is a party, such as state tax violations.
  • Most real estate cases, malpractice, personal injury cases, and contract disputes.
  • All family, divorce, custody, inheritance and probate cases.
  • Most traffic and juvenile cases.
     

Resources for State cases

Indiana Court Records Online​ This website allows you to search for non-confidential cases in Indiana courts. You can search by case (with case or citation number), party (using the name of the person or business involved), or by Attorney (using the name or bar number of the attorney working on the case)

Appellate Case Search An index which allow you to search cases in the Indiana Supreme Court, Court of Appeals, and Tax Court.

Court Reference Many trial courts make court records and court case information available online, although access varies from state to state. Use CourtReference.com to find contact information for trial courts and online court records in every state and county.

National Center for State Courts​ Provides links to online court records by state. Note that some states do not provide online access to court records.

Sex and Violent Offender Registry The registry will allow you to choose a county in Indiana and enter any local address in that county. It will then provide a list of all registered county sex offenders living within a one-mile radius within the boundaries of the county selected. If you are looking for information about a particular sex offender registered in that county, the registry can help there as well.

Indiana Trial Courts & Clerk's Offices To get information about your case or court date, or to get copies of court documents not made available online, contact the county clerk's office or court where the case is being heard. These pages about Indiana's trial courts and clerk's offices include local contact information, local rules of court, and other information specific to the county.

Federal-Level Records

Federal courts have ​limited ​jurisdiction, only hearing cases of special circumstance. Most criminal and civil cases are heard in a state-level district court, but Federal Courts do have jurisdiction over:

  • Bankruptcy, copyright, patent, and maritime law cases
  • Cases in which the United States is a party
  • Certain criminal cases (under federal-question jurisdiction)
  • Certain civil cases (law, equity, and admiralty)
     

Resources for Federal cases

National Archives​ Federal case records that are 15 years old or older are held by the National Archives and can be found here. More recent cases are still in the possession of the individual courts.

PACER​ Allows users to obtain online access to case and docket information online from federal appellate, district, and bankruptcy courts. However, to get personal access to PACER you must complete the online PACER registration form and the Judicial Conference of the United States has established a $.10 per page fee for access to PACER.

National Sex Offender Registry NSOPW is the only U.S. government Website that links public state, territorial, and tribal sex offender registries from one national search site. NSOPW’s advanced search tool provides information about sex offenders through a number of search options: name, address (if provided by jurisdiction), zip code, county, or city (if provided by jurisdiction)

NexisUni On the main menu, select the middle pull-down box on the bottom of the page called "Look up a legal Case" to search by citation, parties, or topic. Or direct your attention to the pull down box labelled "Search by Subject or Topic" in the upper right of the screen and select the "Legal" tab. This includes information on federal and state case, statutory, legal reference, patent search, as well as a large collection of law reviews.

 

Corporate and Non-profit Records

Corporate & Non-Profit Data Overview

In your professional career, you may research and report on for-profit corporations and non-profit organizations. This type of information is generated from the company itself (e.g. company website and government documents) as well as outside sources (e.g. third-party profiles and analyst reports).

Finding corporate records is sometimes difficult due to the nature and value of business industries. If it were easy for companies to find financial information on their competitors through the open web, the company and industry could suffer. Valuable company information can either be behind a paywall in an expensive, subscription-based database, or proprietary and not available at all.

Where to Begin:

When looking for corporate records you should first determine if the company is public or privately owned, and for-profit or non-profit. Public companies are required by law to file financial information with the SEC, whereas, private companies are not. But that doesn’t mean the information isn’t out there. While you are here at IU, you have access to corporate databases and resources, such as PrivCo, which provides financial information on private companies.

Likewise, a non-profit organization can be verified on its status through the IRS.  If a non-profit meets the requirements of the Internal Revenue Service's Code, section 501(c)(3), it can obtain tax-exempt status, and does not pay federal or state income taxes.Use the recommended resources below to find corporate and nonprofit records.

Corporate Resources

Non-profit Resources

Land and Property Records

Land & Property Records Overview

Physical property records are maintained locally, usually at a county courthouse, county recorder, or city hall. There should be personnel at these sites to help you get access to records. Online, you can also find databases that allow you to search property tax records for each state. Many of the resources listed below are specific to Indiana, and similar resources are available for those conducting research in other states.

Indiana Property Records

Indiana Assessor and Property Tax Records Directory: This database contains real and personal property tax records that are kept by the County Assessor Office of each Indiana County. Land and land improvements are considered real property while mobile property is classified as personal property. The records for some Indiana counties are not online, but may still be accessed via requests made over the phone, in person, or in writing.

Indiana State Land Office: The State Land Office Serves as the repository for deeds and plats of land previously or currently owned by the State (with some exceptions). The Office maintains approximately 6,000 deeds and draft overview maps of state properties in an accessible GIS (Geographic Information System). You can find the GIS by clicking on the link “Interactive State Property Map & Records.”

Indiana Land Records and Deeds Directory: Includes deeds, mortgage documents, easements, liens and other document recordings that are managed by the County Recorder in each Indiana county. Some counties offer online access to recorded documents.

Indiana Property Tax Records: Provided by the Department of Local Government Finance, this database has an easy-to-use format that allows the user to search by taxpayer name or billing street address.

Nationwide Environmental Title Research: This database offers the option of searching for public records by counties in Indiana. Click on your county of interest, then click on the green “Go to data online” link to the right of “County Assessor.” You may have to create a free online account to view the data.

Monroe County Property Appraiser: Property search. Computer-based mapping system, containing land records which date back to the 19th century. Information topics include road infrastructure, health data, parcel boundaries, emergency management and more. Users can create custom maps to meet particular needs.

National Property Records

Property Shark: This is a relatively easy-to-use site that you can use to search ownership information that is pulled from multiple sources, including title documents, assessment rolls, permit data, and others. This tool queries all properties owned by an individual or a corporation since 2000.

U.S. Department of the Interior, Bureau of Land Management: This site provides access to information on the initial transfer of land titles from the Federal government to individuals. This site contains digital images of historical documents such as survey plats, field notes, land patents, and land warrants dating back to 1810. However, this site does not currently contain every Federal title record issued for the Public Land States.

Digital Sanborn Maps: A repository that delivers detailed property and land-use records (1867-170) that depict the grid of everyday life in more than 12,000 U.S. towns and cities across a century of change. The maps provide a wealth of information, such as building outline, size and shape, windows and doors, street and sidewalk widths, boundaries, and property numbers.

The Official Federal Land Records Site
Documents and title information related to the initial transfer of federal land to individuals. Includes records back to 1820, although geographic and date coverage varies.

Real Estate Resources

Realtor.com Enter street name, city and zip to view list of homes sold in the last 6 months. Can also filter by price or number of bedrooms/bathrooms. Click on more filters to search by type of property, lot size, house size, house age and to expand your search to include other properties in a 1,5, 10 or 20 mile radius. Lists buyer and seller agents, offers property details and displays 3 years of tax assessments (except for new construction). For Property Valuation: Use the "Buy" link and enter a city of interest to view a list of street names. Click on name to get list of all residential properties on that street along with their estimated value, displayed from highest estimated value to lowest. Includes off-market, for sale and recently sold homes. Recently sold homes will list selling price and date.

Zillow Property Value Estimates Enter address after clicking on the Zestimate tab to get information on a property's value.

Zillow Search for homes for sale or rent by property address, neighborhood, city or zip code. Rental properties include landlord contact information. Can filter search by type of property including foreclosures and anticipated listings as well as "recently sold." Includes tax records where available.

Trulia Similar to Zillow, Trulia pulls from Multiple Listing Service (MLS) but also includes real-time crime map with list of nearby crimes and medical emergencies that occurred in the last 30 days. Also provides basic demographics about those living in this area (age, marital status, education level).

Whitepages
Provides various forms of finding public information on persons, including name search, reserve address search, reverse phone search, and business search. Provides additional persons information including public records, age, family members, and previous addresses. 

Government Employee Data

Government Employee Data Overview

Government agencies are required to have an open government/transparency portion of their site that lists, among other information, information about their employees. A number of state and local governments have not officially published employee data, but a good place to start is by searching the government’s website and looking for a link for open government or transparency or doing a search for open government, employee data, or transparency.

Federal Employees

FedScope: A tool under the Office of Personnel Management Government that allows you to search federal employees. Employee information includes:

  • General employment info
  • Accessions: number of agency individual and mass transfer-ins and new hires for Senior Executive Service positions
  • Separations: number of agency individual and mass transfer-outs, quits, retirements, reductions in force, termination or removal, and deaths from Federal Civil Service
  • Employment trends for the last 5 years and the last 5 quarters
  • Diversity: data using Ethnicity and Race Indicator

Federal Employee Salary Search Presents payroll data for about 1.3 million federal employees. The list contains most executive branch employees; excluded are the White House, Congress, the Postal Service, independent agencies and commissions, and employees in jobs essential to national security. The data covers base pay and bonuses, but not overtime.

Government Employment & Payroll: U.S. Census Reports that provide statistics on the number of federal, state, and local government civilian employees and their gross payrolls dating back to 1992. Also provides a tool called Build-A-Table which allows you to customize your own data set table.

USA.gov: Provides the contact information of elected officials, including federal, state, and local elected leaders.

State Employees

Indiana Transparency Portal: Provides the number of state government employees in each agency, the number of state government employees over time, employment trends, and salary information by agency or name.

IN.gov Find a Person: To find out Indiana state government employee titles and contact info, use the state governmen’s Find a Person feature. Search by name and agency or conduct a reverse phone search, depending on the information available to you during your research.

Indiana State Employee Handbook: The state of Indiana Employee Handbook is provided only as a resource summarizing the personnel policies and procedures for the employment relationship between the state and its employees.

Local Government Employment

Indiana Gateway for Government Units: Provides state employee data on a municipal level. A great range of employee information can be found on this site including:

  • The Certified Report of Names, Addresses, Duties and Compensation of Public Employees (Form 100R) provides taxpayers with compensation information for public employees of state government, state universities, state boards and commissions, and all local units of government.
  • Provides information on public employees including employee name, department, business address, job title, and compensation
  • Provides access to the following reports:
    • Employee Compensation: View employee compensation by unit
    • 100R Additional Information:Find out which units have a nepotism policy, contracting policy and if they provide health, pension or other benefits.
    • Contracting and Nepotism Policies: View Contracting and Nepotism Policies required per IC 36-1-20.2 and IC 36-1-21 for counties, cities, towns and townships.
    • 100R Submission Log: Find out which units have submitted their employee compensation data

State Licensing Records

Indiana Professional Licensing Agency (PLA)

The PLA manages a database of individuals and businesses who have been issued licenses and other forms of official certification in the state of Indiana. All of the information is searchable and public, but requires a fee for downloadable access.

Search and Verify Tool: Allows you to search people holding a given license or other form of accreditation.

  • This tool searches for People holding a given license or other form of accreditation
  • By entering specific information, like license number, you will increase your chances of a successful search. If you have partial information you may use a wildcard search by placing an * following the partial data entered (i.e. Alan or Allen, enter Al*) to search.

Facility Search and Verify Tool: Allows you to search for facilities, businesses, salons, corporations, or companies holding a given license or other form

License Litigation Search Tool: Allows you to search for licensees undergoing litigation, as well as any disciplinary action taken against those in violation of their license.

  • Here, you will find the requirements for those with military experience to achieve licensure in Indiana.
  • You will also find the requirements for the spouses of those with military experience to achieve licensure in Indiana University

Criminal Background Checks: Provides information about which professions require license applicants to pass a criminal background check, including Criminal Background Check Instructions and a List of Affected Licenses

  • In the case that the information you are seeking isn’t available online, you can contact the License Litigation board by email.
  • The standard search function allows you to access information from the past 90 days. To access older records, you should use the “advanced search” function at the bottom of the page.

Professions Page: Allows you to see which professions require accreditation overseen by the state of Indiana

  • By clicking on the name of the profession you’re researching, you can find the following information: Licensure Laws and Administrative Rules, Address and Name Change Information, Renewal Information, Renewal Documents, Fee Schedule, Continuing Education Requirements, Members of any given profession’s licensing board, and Contact information of any given profession’s licensing board

Military Experience Page: Provides information about alternate licensing routes available to those with military experience

Voter Registration Records

Voter Registration Records Overview

Voter registration records can cover a wide range of information. Before looking for actual records it is important to determine exactly what you are looking for. When considering it is important to consider the following aspects:

  • Date Range
  • Election Type
  • Specific Person or Broad Range of People

Registration Record Resources

Indiana Statewide Voter Verification: Verify or confirm voter registration by providing the county, last name, first name, and date of birth of a person residing in Indiana.

Public Records Search Directory: A website that allows you to look at voter registration records by state. Also has information on the national level. Also has links to find voter registration records based on name, birth date, and county lived in.

Voting and Registration Census Reports: U.S. Census covering a broad range of topic on voter registration records. Includes tables that break down voter registration by sex, race, age, and a multitude of other characteristics for national elections

State Electorate Profiles: Info-graphics detailing selected characteristics of the Voting-Age population for each state including age, ethnic, income, and education demographics of voters.

FairVote: A non-partisan electoral reform organizationthat that provides data and visualisation of voter turnouts for various levels of elections.

CQPress Votings and Elections Collection: Website that has a wide range of information. Allows the user to look at each state by date range. Also allows for narrowing down from state level all the way down to county level.

House of Representatives Election Statistics: Website that has all the Congress election with PDFs that have statstics for each state. The information goes all the way back to 1920 and breaks down votes by district.

Ballotopedia: Information about what is on voters’ ballots, with an emphasis on neutral data. Enter an address to view a sample ballot as it would appear to voters in that district.

Retention Schedules

Retention Schedule Overview

Retention schedules provide such details as the kinds of records an organization has and how long the organization retains these documents before disposing them. Some public institutions and government agencies are required to have and adhere to certain retention schedules; other institutions, such as non-profits and businesses, may also have retention schedules because having one in place can help control the costs of records retention and minimize legal risk, among other things.

Finding Retention Schedules

Retention schedules for public institutions and government agencies can often be found online. For example, the State of Indiana has retention schedules online for state institutions and for county and local institutions. With respect to other kinds of institutions, you may have to ask the institutions in question for a copy of their retention schedules.

Using Retention Schedules

  1. The length of time during which records generally have practical, legal, or economic value
  2. How to know when a record should be transferred from active to inactive or closed status
  3. When a hard-copy file should be transferred off-site to either firm-managed or commercial storage
  4. Which legal, ethical, and operational retention requirements affect the organization's records
  5. How the process of notifying clients that the records are due for disposition is to be handled
  6. How records should be destroyed once destruction is approved
  7. How records are to be transferred to another entity if such a transfer is approved
  8. How the schedules are to be updated
  9. How to conduct compliance audits
  10. Provisions for identifying and managing exceptions to retention periods
  11. The application of the retention program to all forms of records: originals and duplicates, paper, microform, and electronically stored records
  12. Under which circumstances specific records might be considered of historical value

Civil Registry

Civil Registry Overview

Civil registry is the system by which a government records the vital events of its citizens and residents. Civil registry (sometimes referred to as 'civil registration' or 'vital records') generally covers:

  • Birth
  • Marriage/Divorce
  • Death

In the United States, civil registry records such as birth certificates, death certificates, and frequently marriage certificates are maintained by the Office of Vital Statistics or Office of Vital Records in each individual state. Other documents such as deeds, mortgage documents, name change documents, and divorce records, as well as marriage certificates for those states not centralizing these records, are maintained by the Clerk of Court of each individual county.

Civil Registry Resources

Marriage License Public Lookup: Search for publicly accessible information about marriage licenses issued in Indiana. This database contains many—but not all—marriage records from 1993 to the present. Because not every Indiana County uses the INcite e-file system, some records must be manually entered much later than the marriage took place.

Legacy.com: A website founded in 1998 that represents the world's largest commercial provider of online memorials. The Web site hosts obituaries and memorials for more than 70 percent of all U.S. deaths.

FamilySearch.org: Historic documents such as civil registration records; church records; and probate, census, land, tax, and military records. Also contains compiled sources such as family histories, clan and lineage genealogies, oral pedigrees, and local histories. Registration is required, but free.

Anywho.com: Provides a free online white pages directory where you can find people by their name, address or you can do a reverse lookup by phone number.

Monroe County Death Records Index: A complete list of deaths occurring in Monroe County from 1882 until 2014 compiled by the Monroe County History Center. 

Monroe County Birth Records Index: A complete list of births occurring in Monroe County from 1882 until 2015 compiled by the Monroe County History Center. 

Indiana Digital Archives People Search: Browse through the indexes to many of the most popular State Archives collections. The Friends of the Indiana State Archives volunteers have been hard at work for more than twenty years creating indexes to many of the state’s records. 

ProQuest Indianapolis Star (May 21, 1991 - Present) The indexing covers not only complete bibliographic information but also companies, people, products, etc. Click here for an index of Indianapolis newspaper holdings from 1848 - 1991.

Indiana State Department of Health: Certified copies of birth and death certificates are available from the Indiana State Department of Health (ISDH), but require payment and require identification and proof of relationship to the person whose record is being requested.