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Illinois Genealogy Resources

Illinois History

Effective family history research requires some understanding of the historical events that affected your family and the records about them. Learning about wars, governments, laws, migrations, and religious trends can help you understand political boundaries, family movements, and settlement patterns.

State, county, and local histories often contain biographical sketches of local citizens, including important genealogical information. This may be one of the best sources of information for some families.

The following are important events in the history of Illinois that affected political boundaries, record keeping, and family movements.

700-1400 Cahokia mound builders, Illini Indians, and related tribes populated the Mississippi River Valley and eventually concentrated in southwestern Illinois.
1699 French priests founded a mission at Cahokia, the oldest permanent white settlement in Illinois, in what is now St. Clair County. Another early settlement was Kaskaskia, now in Randolph County, founded by the French in 1703.
1717-1763 Louisiana administered Illinois, where French inhabitants engaged primarily in the fur trade and farming.
1763 France ceded the Illinois country to Great Britain after the French and Indian War. Many residents of Illinois French villages, preferring Spanish rule to English, moved across the river to Ste. Genevieve and environs.
1778 Illinois became a county of Virginia after Americans captured Kaskaskia, the British seat of government. Some soldiers returned with their families and lived at Bellfontaine, in present-day Monroe County, Illinois. Virginians settled nearby, at New Design in 1786 and 1793, and populated fertile bottom lands along the Mississippi River.
1784 Virginia yielded claim to her "Illinois County," which became part of the Northwest Territory, where slavery was prohibited.
1787 Congress made Illinois part of the Northwest Territory. The Northwest Territory was divided in 1800 when the area that is now Illinois became a part of Indiana Territory.
1803 After the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, the U.S. government began clearing titles to land in the long-populated Mississippi River Valley. The Ohio River and Mississippi River were principal routes for pioneers migrating to Illinois. Marylanders, Pennsylvanians, and Virginians hauled wagons over the National Road from Cumberland, Maryland, to Wheeling, Virginia, and down the Ohio. Others made their way to Cincinnati or Louisville and took flatboats to Shawneetown, the Illinois jumping-off point. Pioneers then took the Goshen Road to Alton, Carlyle, Edwardsville, and Kaskaskia. Settlers also entered Illinois through Kentucky and Tennessee via the Wilderness Road and Cumberland Gap from North Carolina.
1809 The Illinois Territory was formed when the Indiana Territory was divided.
1818 Illinois became a state after the Wisconsin region was transferred to the Michigan Territory.
1832 The last serious Indian threat to white settlement ended when Sauk and Fox warriors were driven from the state during the Black Hawk War.
1830-1860 German and Swiss farmers, intellectuals, laborers, and merchants replaced Illinois pioneers' descendants, many of whom moved west. New York and New England families arriving via the Erie Canal and the Great Lakes accompanied Irish laborers recruited to work on the Illinois and Michigan Canal in northern Illinois.
1838–1856 Improvements in transportation hastened immigration to the northern counties. The National Road reached Vandalia, now in Fayette County, in 1838. The Illinois and Michigan Canal opened in 1848 and ran from Chicago to LaSalle on the Illinois River. The Illinois Central Railroad was completed in 1856, linking southern Illinois to Chicago.
1839–1846 Latter-day Saints (Mormons) from Missouri and Ohio built the city of Nauvoo before their westward exodus.
Mid-1800s Hard times accompanied the growth in Illinois. Financial panic delayed rail and canal construction. Although farm equipment boosted harvests, railroad fees prevented farmers from sending their grain to elevators. Their outcry led to America's first governmental regulation of commerce -- and 1870 Illinois law upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court.
1861–1865 About 250,000 Illinois men served in the Union armed forces during the Civil War.
1870-1900 Illinois rebounded from its economic hard times. Within a decade of the devastating fire in Chicago, the city -- heart of the state's transportation system -- had become the country's largest meat-processing center. East St. Louis, home of the National Stockyards, was a terminus for rail lines until 1874, when the Eads Bridge spanned the Mississippi to St. Louis. Iron and steel production, agricultural equipment manufacturing, and mining and quarry operations gradually surpassed agriculture as the state's leading industry.
1871 Fire destroyed much of Chicago and its public records.

  • Alvord, Clarence Walworth (ed.). Centennial History of Illinois. v. 1, The Illinois Country, 1673-1818. Springfield, Illinois: Centennial Commission, 1920.
  • Andreas, Alfred Theodore. History of Cook County, Illinois. Chicago, A.T. Andreas, 1884.
  • Angle, Paul M. Prairie State: Impressions of Illinois, 1673-1967. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1968.
  • Bartholomew, Harland & Associates. The Comprehensive Plan, Skokie, IL. St. Louis: Harland Bartholomew & Associates, 1969.
  • Beaudette, E. Palma. Niles Township. Chicago: Beaudette. 1916.
  • Beaver, Joseph. The Geographic Growth of Skokie, Illinois. Skokie, IL., 1983.
  • Beckwith, Hiram W. The Illinois and Indiana Indians. Chicago: Fergus' Historical Series No. 27, 1884.
  • Bennett, Fremont O. Politics and Politicians of Chicago, Cook County and Illinois. Blakely Printing Company, Chicago, 1886
  • Biles, Roger. Illinois: A History of the Land and Its People. DeKalb, Illinois: Northern Illinois University Press, 2005.
  • Blanchard, Rufus. History of Illinois, Chicago: National School Furnishing Company, 1883.
  • Buck, Solon Justice. Illinois in 1818. Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press,1967.
  • Buisseret, David. Historic Illinois from the Air. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1990.
  • Carpenter, John Allan. Illinois, from Its Glorious Past to the Present / Illus. by P. Austin. Chicago: Childrens, 1979.
  • Carpentier, Charles F. Counties of Illinois: Their Origin and Evolution With Twenty-Three Maps . . . [Springfield, Ill.: Secretary of State. State Journal Co., 1919.]
  • Clayton, John. The Illinois Fact Book and Historical Almanac, 1673-1968. Carbondale, IL: SIU Press, 1970.
  • Davidson, Alexander and Stuve. A Complete History of Illinois from 1673 to 1884. Springfield, Ill.: H. W. Roker, 1884.
  • Early Colonial History
  • Farnsworth, Kenneth B., editor. Early Hopewell Mound Explorations: The First Fifty Years in the Illinois River Valley. Champaign, Illinois: Studies in Archaeology No. 3. Urbana, Illinois: University of Illinois Press, 2004.
  • Federal Writers' Project (Illinois). Illinois, A Descriptive and Historical Guide. Chicago: A.C. McClurg & Co., 1947.
  • Feldman, Jay. When the Mississippi Ran Backwards: Empire, Intrigue, Murder, and the New Madrid Earthquakes. New York: Free Press, 2005. Stores related to the New Madrid Earthquakes of 1811-12.
  • General Overview of Illinois History
  • History of Illinois and Prairie Indian Nations
  • History of Women's Suffrage in Illinois and USA
  • Howard, Robert P. Illinois; A History of the Prairie State. Grand Rapids, MI., W.B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1972.
  • Illinois: A Descriptive and Historical Guide, Harry Hansen (ed.). New York: Hastings House. 1974.
  • "Illinois County Histories at the Illinois State Library," Illinois Libraries 82 (2000): 92-141.
  • Illinois Family History Research Timeline for Genealogy
  • Illinois History Documents, 1673-2000
  • Illinois Sesquicentennial Commission, Illinois 68I: Marking 150 Years on the Nations Frontier. Chicago, IL.: Andrew C. Quale & Associates, 1968.
  • Kapustiak, Margaret M. "Early Illinois: Settler, Native Americans, and the US Government." Illinois State Genealogical Quarterly. 37:3 (Fall 2005) pp. 17-22.
  • Kilhoffer, Mildred Green. Memories of Salt Creek. Lakewood, Illinois: The author, 2006.
  • List of all Historical Markers in Illinois
  • Mazrim, Robert. The Sangamo Frontier: History and Archaeology in the Shadow of Lincoln. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2006. Native American, French, and early American habitation in Illinois.
  • Morrison, Olin Dee, Illinois "Prairie State", v. 3 Historical Atlas. Athens, OH., E.M. Morrison, 1959.
  • Morrison, Olin Dee. Illinois "Prairie State", v. 1 History of Illinois. Athens, OH., E.M. Morrison, 1960.
  • Ogorek, Cynthia. Along the Calumet River. Charleston, South Carolina, Chicago, Illinois, Portsmouth, New Hampshire, and San Francisco: Arcadia Publishing, 2004.
  • Pease, Theodore Calvin. The Frontier State: 1818-1848. 1918; reprint, Urbana, Illinois: University of Illinois Press, 1987.
  • Perrin, J. Nick. Perrin's History of Illinois, Springfield, IL.: Illinois State Register, 1906.
  • Pooley, William Vipond. The Settlement of Illinois from 1830 to 1850. Madison, WI.: Bulletin of the University of Wisconsin, No. 220, 1908.
  • Rubincam, Milton. “Migrations to Illinois, 1673–1860.” Illinois State Genealogical Society Quarterly. (Springfield, Ill.: The Society) vol.4, no.3 (Oct. 1972):127–34.
  • Southern Illinois History Inventory / Patsy-Rose Hishiko, Project Director. Carterville, Ill. : Southern Illinois History Project, 1983. ix, 414 p. : ill., map ; 28 cm.
  • Southern Illinois History Page
  • Whitney, Ellen M. (compiler) A Chronology of Illinois History. Westport, CT.: Greenwood Publishing Group, reprint, 1999.