Reader’s Question:

I was wondering how much information you have on the TOMLINSON family and the history of Indiana?  Please contact me, so that I can find out more and fill in a lot of blanks concerning my family.  I have been told quite a bit, but some of it just seems to be too unreasonable to be true. ~ Paul Edward Tomlinson, Indianapolis

HI’s Answer:  

You have not provided enough details about yourself or your known relatives for me to be able to fill in any blanks in your genealogy.  Neither have you elaborated on the information you’ve been told that seems unreasonable, so that I might offer an opinion of its accuracy.  As my mother is a Tomlinson, I have done a fair amount of research on the surname.  I will try to give you a little Tomlinson information here, as well as some suggestions that might help you pursue the answers on your own.

Historic does not attempt to tackle the history of the entire state of Indiana.  Its focus is the City of Indianapolis.  Neither does HI claim to be an authority on any particular surname.  It would be quite a task to provide information on all of the people with the name of Tomlinson who have lived in Indiana since it became a state nearly 200 years ago.  Even recounting just the histories of persons named Tomlinson who have lived in Indianapolis alone would be quite an undertaking.

The number of Tomlinsons living in Indiana since Indiana became a state, as enumerated on the U.S. Federal Censuses were as follows:  in 1820, 4 households;  in 1830, 14 households;  in 1840, 32 households;  in 1850, 367 people;  in 1860, 350 people;  in 1870, 509 people;  in 1880, 570 people;  in 1900, 714 people;  in 1920, 716 people;  in 1920, 751 people;  in 1930, 773 people;  and in 1940, 791 people.  The 1940 Census is the latest enumeration available to the public.

The number of Tomlinsons living in Marion County only, at the time of those same censuses listed above were as follows:   in 1820, 0 households;  in 1830,  0 households;  in 1840, 4 households;  in 1850, 56 people;  in 1860, 52 people;  in 1870, 78 people;  in 1880, 64 people;  in 1900, 107 people;  in 1910, 115 people;  in 1920, 117 people;  in 1930, 132 people;  and in 1940, 119 people.

The first census on which anyone named Tomlinson appeared in Marion County, Indiana, was in 1840.  Only the heads of households were named on the 1840 enumeration.  The number of people in each household was listed, but not the individuals’ names nor their exact ages.  The four heads of household in 1840 were Charles Tomlinson in Pike Township with 7 family members, George Tomlinson in Perry Township with 6 family members, James Tomlinson in Warren Township with 6 family members, and Jesse Tomlinson in Wayne Township with 8 family members.  At the time of the 1840 Census, there were no Tomlinson families living within the boundaries of the City of Indianapolis nor anywhere in Center Township outside the city limits.

1840 Census page on which the Jesse Tomlinson family appeared in Wayne Township of Marion County, Indiana  (courtesy of

At the time of the 1850 Census, there was one family named Tomlinson living in Indianapolis.  There were again several Tomlinson families in the rural, outer townships of Marion County on the 1850 Census.  The older members of the Tomlinson families living in Marion County in 1850 were listed as having been born in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Maryland, North Carolina, and Virginia.  It would appear that by their having originated in different states and by their having settled in different townships of Marion County that these various Tomlinson families were not closely related to one another.

There are two persons named Tomlinson who commonly come up in discussions of Indianapolis history.  One is Stephen Decatur Tomlinson (1815-1870), and the other is Mary Tomlinson Krebs (1890-1975).  Stephen Tomlinson was the druggist who stipulated in his will that after the death of his widow Mary, the remaining funds in his estate would go to the City of Indianapolis for the construction of a public venue.  In 1886, Tomlinson Hall was built on the northeast corner of East Market and North Delaware Streets.  That structure served as a convention center, municipal auditorium, social hall, disaster shelter, sports arena, and meeting hall for 72 years, until a fire destroyed it in 1958.  An arch from the original building remains today in the plaza west of the City Market.

Tomlinson Hall opened in 1886, having been built with a bequest to the City of Indianapolis by Stephen Decatur Tomlinson

A second person from Indianapolis named Tomlinson who achieved a measure of fame was Mary Tomlinson, the actress known by the stage name of Marjorie Main.  Mary’s father was a minister and did not approve of her career choice, so Mary adopted a different name to spare her family any embarrassment.  She debuted on Broadway in 1916 and in movies in 1931.  She appeared in numerous productions over the years with many well-known actors and actresses.  Marjorie Main was nominated for an Academy Award for her performance in The Egg and I in 1947.  She was best known for a long-running comedy film series whose main characters were named Ma and Pa Kettle.  Mary / Marjorie retired from acting in 1958.

Mary Tomlinson Krebs went by the name Marjorie Main during her acting career

Some Indianapolis people with the surname of Tomlinson have attempted to find a genealogical connection to either Stephen Decatur Tomlinson or Mary Tomlinson Krebs.  However, neither one had any descendants. Stephen Tomlinson and his wife, Mary Brown Tomlinson, had a son and two daughters in the late 1840s and early 1850s, all of whom died in childhood, probably from an epidemic like cholera or infulenza.  None of Stephen Tomlinson’s brothers had any children either, so their Tomlinson family’s name ended with the death of Stephen’s youngest brother, James, which occurred in 1903.   Mary Tomlinson aka Marjorie Main and her husband Stanley LeFevre Krebs never had any children.  Neither did Mary’s only brother have any children, so their Tomlinson family’s name ended with the death of Mary’s brother’s Samuel, Jr., in 1959.

To ascertain the facts of your own Tomlinson family’s history, it’s important to examine as many different records as you can.  Despite how convincing the oral stories passed down from earlier generations may seem, they are not always accurate.  Since Historic has a genealogy researcher as a contributor, you could start by reading all of Krystal Becker’s posts on the HI website for guidance on how to get started. Using some kind of genealogy software to store the information you collect on your ancestors is a good idea.  There are a number of different programs available, some of which are free.