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.

11 responses to “HI Mailbag: The Tomlinson Family”

  1. Terry Shumaker says:

    The Tomlinson Hall fire happened in January of 1958. If you have a source for your date, please provide it to me for my accuracy of providing data on the Tomlinson Hall. Thank you
    Terry Shumaker

  2. basil berchekas jr says:

    Will follow this blog! Interesting!

  3. Sharon Butsch Freeland says:

    You are correct. The fire was detected on Thursday night, January 30, 1958, and brought under control just after midnight on Friday, January 31, 1958. Reportedly, it smoldered and smoked for a day or so before it was totally out.

  4. Marilyn Jacobs says:

    Another thing you might want to do is check out the Tomlinson Family Forum at You can find any family researching the same name but googling the last name and then family forum like Tomlinson Family Forum. There is a spot to search within that forum for any particular name, city or by state so you can find things that have been already posted. Then you can post your own question.

    Another favorite search of mine is Google books. Go to the Book section of Googles web site and use words you would like to find. You will find any books or magazines that have been digitalized with that name. If you get lucky you will find entire books like a county history or maybe just a snipit. From there you can find a tab that will tell you where you can find that book – it will tell library has the book closest to you if you signed up with google. I was able to find marriage record for my 5 great grandparents. Also found book written by a great uncle on the civil war that was in a library in England not far from our house when we lived in England. It is fantastic search. I used it last night to find something that appeared in book my daughter was reading but could not find. I searched for the book and then for the word.

    Good luck with your search.

  5. Tom Davis says:

    Stephen D. Tomlinson and other family members are buried in Section 2 Lot 40 at Crown Hill Cemetery. Marjorie Main’s parents, Reverend Samuel Tomlinson and his wife Jennie, or as I like to say, Ma Kettle’s Ma and Pa, are buried in Section 40 Lot 247 along with another daughter named Jennie. By the way, Marjorie Main’s bronze marker in Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Los Angeles includes both Mary Tomlinson Krebs and “Marjorie Main” on it.

  6. Sharon Butsch Freeland says:

    Thanks, Tom. I have been to the Tomlinson CHC graves and taken photos of them. I didn’t go into a lot of detail about either Stephen Tomlinson or Mary Tomlinson / Marjorie Main in this particular post, though, since I was attempting to make the points that 1) neither one of them had any descendants and 2) that most people named Tomlinson are NOT related to them. Many people named Tomlinson who live in central Indiana assume that they are related to one or the other of these two, when they are not. The submitter of the HI Mailbag question seemed to suggest that Tomlinson is an uncommon name and information easily found on persons with the Tomlinson name. I know firsthand that Tomlinson is a more common name than you might think. My mother’s maiden name is Tomlinson, and when I was growing up, relatives always suggested that surely we were related to Stephen Tomlinson or Marjorie Main (or both!), since we all lived in the same city. Until I did the research on my ancestors and theirs, I didn’t know that we clearly are NOT closely related to either one. I suppose if I could get back far enough in time, my mother’s Tomlinsons might connect to Stephen’s Tomlinsons or Mary’s Tomlinsons, but any relationship would likely have occurred “across the pond” in England or Ireland, several centuries ago.

  7. Sharon Butsch Freeland says:

    Speaking of the aforementioned Tomlinson graves at Crown Hill Cemetery, there are some online FIND A GRAVE memorials that contain errors in them, which the poster attributes to a Facebook post by Tom Davis! I assume that is you. I have written to this person about correcting the mistakes, but he has neither replied to me nor revised the errant information.
    The bio on Samuel J. Tomlinson, Sr., says he was the son of Stephen D. Tomlinson. This is absolutely false. Samuel’s father was named Joseph. Samuel’s Tomlinson family came to Colonial America from Ireland and migrated from Maryland, to Virginia, to Kentucky, and then to Indiana. You can find more details in my database at RootsWeb WorldConnect: .
    The FIND A GRAVE page for Stephen D. Tomlinson shows Samuel J. Tomlinson as his child. Again, this is not true. Stephen and wife Mary T. Brown Tomlinson had no child who made it to adulthood — certainly not Samuel J. Tomlinson. Stephen and Mary Tomlinson had three children, a son named John and two daughters named Fannie and Mary, but ALL of them died in childhood. The children were originally buried at Greenlawn Cemetery (before Crown Hill was incorporated), but at some later date a marker was placed in their memory at Crown Hill. Stephen’s Tomlinson family came to Colonial America from England and migrated from New Jersey, to Pennsylvania, to Ohio, and then to Indiana. You can find more in my database at RootsWeb WorldConnect .
    This is a good example of how people jump to the erroneous conclusion that all people named Tomlinson who live (or lived) in Indianapolis must be related to each other. However, there is no known connection between these two Tomlinson familes, going back to the 1600s.
    Here are links to the incorrect FIND A GRAVE postings:;
    Perhaps you would have more luck in getting some corrections made than I have had?
    Thanks for any assistance you might be able to provide,

  8. Tom Davis says:

    Sharon, It’s been so long ago, I don’t remember if I made the erroneous jump to the conclusion or if I read it in some materials that Crown Hill provided and took their word for it. At any rate, thanks for the correction. I’ve sent a request to the find a grave poster to correct it.

  9. Peri says:

    I have a fair amount of Tomlinson information; my mother’s maiden name was Tomlinson. These are the Tomlinsons of West 38th Street whose home is now on Reed Road after having been moved from the 38th St location in the late 1970s. I would like to post the information somewhere (for free to me) & need advice on how to do it. Thank you for any help you can give me —

  10. Curt says:

    Mary went to Franklin College I have heard all my life from different people.

  11. Sharon Butsch Freeland says:

    According to a 1978 interview with Mary/Marjorie by Ball State University radio and television professor David Smith, she took a college preparatory class at Franklin College in 1905-1906. However, she was only 16 years old at the time and not really a full-fledged college coed. While she was attending the class at Franklin, she became interested in dramatics. She enrolled in the Hamilton School of Dramatic Expression in Lexington, Kentucky. She completed a three-year course, which qualified her to teach drama. After a short stint as a teacher, she decided she would do acting than teach it.

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