Illinois History and Research Overview

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The land on which Chicago’s glittering Michigan Avenue stands was a quiet wilderness 300 years ago. Illinois’ non-Indian beginnings were along the state’s southern waterways. In 1699, French priests founded a mission at Cahokia, in what is now St. Clair County. In 1703, the French also founded Kaskaskia, now in Randolph County; it eventually became the British seat of government. In 1763, France ceded the area to the British after the French and Indian War.

In 1778, the longtime home of the Winnebago, Miami, Illinois, Kickapoo, Pottawatomie, Fox and Sac Indians became part of the United States. Illinois became a county of Virginia after Americans captured Kaskaskia from the British. Virginia relinquished its claim in 1784, and three years later, Congress made Illinois part of the Northwest Territory. In 1800, Illinois became part of Indiana Territory. Illinois Territory was formed from it in 1809. Settlers were primarily from Virginia, Tennessee, Kentucky, and the Carolinas by way of the Ohio River. In 1818 Illinois became the 21st state. Most of the population lived near the state’s southern waterways.

The Black Hawk War of 1832 saw the Sauk and Fox Indians driven from the state and the last remaining Indian lands relinquished. Migration to Illinois during the 1830s was largely from New York and New England via the National Road or the Erie Canal to the Great Lakes. In the 1840s, that migration continued, and large numbers of German and Irish also began to arrive. While many soon moved farther west, many remained in Illinois. So did many of the Poles, Italians, Austrians, Hungarians, Russians, and Scandinavians who arrived after the Civil War. More than a quarter-million Illinois troops served the Union during the Civil War.

In the decades after the Civil War, Illinois and the rapidly growing Chicago area drew many African-Americans. Newcomers from around the world continued to migrate to Illinois throughout the 20th century.

(click to enlarge)
STATE state map with county outlines



  • Federal census: 1810 (Randolph County), 1820, 1830, 1840, 1850, 1860, 1870, 1880, 1890, 1900, 1910, 1920, 1930
  • Federal mortality schedules: 1850, 1860, 1870 (partial), 1880
  • State/territorial census: 1810, 1818, 1820 (Edwards County missing), 1825 (Edwards, Fulton Randolph counties only), 1830 (Morgan), 1835, 1840, 1845, 1855, 1865, 1835 (Fayette, Fulton, Jasper, Morgan), 1840 (35 of 87 counties), 1845 (Cass, Putnam, Tazewell), 1855, 1865 (all counties except Gallatin, Mason, Monroe; for Tazewell, only Elm Grove Township)


  • The Biographical Encyclopedia of Illinois of the Nineteenth Century (Galaxy Publishing Company, 1875)
  • Brethren in Northern Illinois and Wisconsin by John Heckman (Brethren Publishing House, 1941)
  • A Brief History of the Regular Baptists, Principally of Southern Illinois by Achilles Coffey (Martin Steam Printers and Binders, 1877)
  • Chicago and Cook County: A Guide to Research by Loretto Dennis Szucs (Ancestry, ca. 1996)
  • A Complete History of Illinois from 1673-1968 by Alexander Davidson (Illinois Journal Company, 1874)
  • Descriptive Inventory of the Archives of the State of Illinois, 2nd edition, edited by Robert E. Bailey and Elaine Shemoney Evans (Illinois State Archives, 1997)
  • Encyclopedia of Biography of Illinois, 3 vols. (Century Publishing and Engraving Co., 1892-1902)
  • Finding Your Chicago Ancestors by Grace DuMelle (Lake Claremont Press, 2005)
  • The Frontier State, 1818-1848 by Theodore Calvin Pease (Centennial Commission, 1918)
  • Genealogical Sources in Chicago, Illinois, 1835-1900 compiled by the Bicentennial Committee, Virginia M. Meyer, chairman (Chicago Genealogical Society, 1982)
  • Guide to Church Vital Statistics Records in Illinois, preliminary edition prepared by Illinois Historical Records Survey (Illinois Historical Records Survey, 1942)
  • A Guide to County Records in the Illinois Regional Archives by Roy C. Turnbaugh, Jr. (Illinois State Archives, ca. 1983)
  • Guide to Depositories of Manuscript Collection in Illinois, preliminary edition
  • prepared by the Illinois Historical Records Survey (Illinois Historical Records Survey, 1940)
  • A Guide to the History of Illinois edited by John Hoffman (Greenwood Press, 1991)
  • A Guide to Illinois Area Genealogical Societies and Illinois Researchers (Illinois State Genealogical Society, 1986)
  • Historical Encyclopedia of Illinois, 3 vols., edited by Newton Bateman, et al. (Brookhaven Press, ca. 2001)
  • A History of Illinois from its Commencement as a State in 1818 to 1847 by Thomas Ford (S.C. Griggs and Co., 1854)
  • History of Illinois and Her People, 6 vols., by Professor George W. Smith (American Historical Society, Inc., 1927)
  • History of the Presbyterian Church in the State of Illinois by A.T. Norton (W.S. Bryan, 1879)
  • How to Research a Family with Illinois Roots by Lowell M. Volkel and Marjorie Smith (Heritage House, ca. 1977)
  • Illinois Biographical Dictionary (Somerset, ca. 1993)
  • Illinois: Crossroads of a Continent by Lois Carrier (University of Illinois Press, ca. 1993)
  • The Illinois Fact Book and Historical Almanac, 1673-1968 by John Clayton (Southern Illinois University Press, 1970)
  • Illinois Genealogical Research by George K. Schweitzer (G.K. Scweitzer, ca. 1997)
  • Illinois, the Heart of the Nation by Edward F. Dunne (Lewis Publishing Co., 1933)
  • Illinois: A History of the Prairie State by Robert P. Howard (W.B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1972)
  • Illinois Libraries with Genealogical Collections edited by Lowell M. Volkel (Illinois State Genealogical Society, 1992)
  • Illinois Quaker Meeting Records (Shelby Publishing and Printing, ca. 1996)
  • Illinois Research Outline by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (online at
  • Illinois State Genealogical Society Surname Index, 1981 compiled by Mrs. O.B. Lunde (Illinois State Genealogical Society, 1982)
  • The Indians of Illinois: A History and Genealogy by Helen Cox Tregillis (H.C. Tregillis, ca. 1983)
  • Log Cabins to Steeples: The Complete Story of the United Methodist Way in Illinois by J. Gordon Melton (Commissions on Archives and History, Northern, Central, and Southern Illinois Conferences, 1974)
  • Manual for Illinois Genealogical Research
  • by Pat and Ray Gooldy (Ye Olde Genealogie Shoppe, ca. 1994)
  • Men of Illinois (H. Witherspoon, 1902)
  • Mennonites in Illinois by Willard H. Smith (Herald Press, 1983)
  • The Methodist Movement in Northern Illinois by Almer M. Pennewell (The Sycamore Tribune, 1942)
  • Newspapers in the Illinois State Historical Library by the Illinois State Historical Library (1964)
  • Newspapers and Periodicals of Illinois, 1814-1879, revised edition, by Franklin Wililiam Scott (Illinois State Historical Library, 1910)
  • The Patriotism of Illinois. A Record of the Civil and Military History of the State in the War for the Union, 2 vols., by T. M. Eddy (Clarke and Co., 1865-1866)
  • Plains People; the Midwest (Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, Missouri): Research Sources and Bibliographies (Fiske Genealogical Foundation, 1990)
  • Prairie Pioneers of Illinois, 2 vols., edited by Beth Rochefort (Illinois State Genealogical Society, 1986-1988)
  • A Reference Guide for Genealogical and Historical Research in Illinois by Joseph C. Wolf (Detroit Society for Genealogical Research, 1963)
  • Searching in Illinois: A Reference Guide to Public and Private Records by Gayle Beckstead and Mary Lou Kozub (ISC Publications, ca. 1984)
  • Sources of Mormon History in Illinois, 1839-48; an Annotated Catalog of the Microfilm Collection at Southern Illinois University, 2nd edition, compiled by Stanley B. Kimball (Southern Illinois University, 1966)
  • A Summary Guide to Local Government Records in the Illinois Regional Archives
  • edited by Robert E. Bailey, et al. (Illinois State Archives, Office of the Secretary of State, ca. 1992)
  • The United States Biographical Dictionary and Portrait Gallery of Eminent and Self-made Men, Illinois Volume (American Publishing Co., 1883)
  • We Were There: An Oral History of the Illinois Baptist State Association, 1907-1976 edited by Robert J. Hastings (Illinois Baptist State Association, 1976)
  • Who’s Who in Illinois, Women, Makers of History by Agness Geneva Gilman and Gertrude Marcelle Gilman (The Electric Publishers, 1927)
  • The Women of Illinois by Henry McCormick (Pantagraph Printing and Stationery Company, 1913)

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From the Family Tree Sourcebook
Also available: the State Research Guide Book, State Research Guides CD and The Researcher’s Guide to American Genealogy.