Family History and Genealogy Services

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Illinois Genealogy Resources

Illinois Maps & Geographical Tools

Maps are used to locate the places where your ancestors lived. They identify political boundaries names of places, geographical features, cemeteries, churches, and migration routes. Historical maps are especially useful for finding communities that no longer exist. Maps are available from the National Archives, the Library of Congress, county agencies, and other libraries and historical societies.

An atlas is a bound collection of maps. It often contains historical and geographical information for a county or state. Collections of maps and atlases are available at numerous libraries and historical societies. Many county atlases show the names of landowners and are usually based on county plat maps.

list geographical names such as towns, settlements, villages, districts, rivers, and mountains. They identify these locations and sometimes, give historical and biographical information concerning early residents. The county or town offices that maintain land and property records often have plat books containing maps of property boundaries and land ownership within the county. (See Land Records).

County plat books (1870-1930) contain detailed township maps and generally show landowners at the time of publication. reprints by local societies often are indexed. The United States has been divided into sections called quadrangles by the United States Geological Survey (U.S. Department of Interior, Geological Survey, 1200 South Eads Street, Arlington, VA 22202). The USGS has produced highly detailed topographical maps showing physical and manmade features in each quadrangle. These maps are available at most university libraries. The National Archives—Cartographic Branch (841 South Pickett Street, Alexandria, VA 22304) and the Geography and Map Division of the Library of Congress have significant collections of a variety of maps, including land ownership, railroad and fire insurance maps. The Library of Congress has detailed ward maps of major cities. These show the census districts and political divisions of large cities. Map collections at the Illinois State Library are available via interlibrary loan. The ISL Web site lists its microfilmed pre-2001 landownership maps, atlases, and Sanborn fire insurance maps.

Aerial photos, U.S. Geological Survey topographic quadrangles, Library of Congress maps on microfiche, and some census enumeration-district maps round out ISL collections. Most of its maps can be located in I-Share.

The Newberry Library has three hundred thousand noncirculating maps and atlases and offers reproductions in various formats. Resources include the Newberry Library Cartographic Catalog (NLCC); the State, Provincial, and County Atlases and County Landownership Maps of the United States and Canada, with bibliographic information for about two hundred fifty Illinois county atlases in the library's collection; and Checklist of Chicago Maps in the Newberry Library.

The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library staff will search its indexed county landownership atlases for ancestors and will provide photocopies if the condition of the original allows. ALPL also houses nineteenth-century transportation guides, early settlers' gazetteers, and about three thousand maps from the mid-1700s. Some may circulate or be photocopied.

Illinois State Archives has digitized federal township plats for the entire state. These 3,457 hand-drawn maps show Illinois landscapes during preparation for federal land sales. Researchers can borrow Illinois State Library and Family History Library microfilm of original field notes and surveys used to create the plats.

Various print resources include:

  • Adams, James N. and William E. Keller. Illinois Place Names. Part of a series of occasional publications, number 54. Springfield, Illinois: Illinois State Historical Society, 1969. Addendum by Lowell M. Volkel. Springfield, Illinois : Illinois State Historical Library, 1989. It contains almost fourteen thousand entries drawn from records of the United States Post Office Department through 1931 and county histories, atlases, and newspapers.
  • Atlases of Historical County Boundaries. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1997.
  • Beck, Lewis Caleb. A Gazetteer of the States of Illinois and Missouri. 1823. Reprint, New York: Arno Press, 1975. This gazetteer is valuable for the historical insights it offers, since many communities listed were only settled a few years before this book was published.
  • Checklist of Illinois State Library's Complete Holding of Illinois County Land Ownership Maps and Atlases. Springfield, Illinois : The Library, n.d.
  • Cobb, David A., comp. Guide to U.S. Map Resources. Chicago: American Library Association, 1986.
  • Cobb, David A. and Marsha L. Selmer. compilers, Robert W. Karrow Jr., editor. Illinois, Checklist of Printed Maps of the Middle West to 1900, volume 4. Boston: G.K. Hall, 1981.
  • Conzen, Michael P., James R. Akerman, and David T. Thackery, comps. Illinois County Land Ownership Map and Atlas Bibliography and Union List. Springfield, Ill.: Illinois Cooperative Collection Management Coordinating Committee, Illinois Board of Higher Education, 1991.
  • Illinois: Guide and Gazetteer. Chicago: Rand McNally & Co., 1969.
  • Long, John H., ed. Historical Atlas and Chronology of County Boundaries, 1788–1980. Scale: 1:633,600. Vols. 1–5. Boston, Mass.: G.K. Hall, 1984. Maps show when and where each county changed boundaries.
  • Maps from The Covers of Saga of Southern Illinois  Carterville, Ill. : Genealogy Society of Southern Illinois, 1986. vi, 53 p. : maps ; 28 cm.
  • Mitchell, S. Augustus. County and Township Map of the State of Illinois. s.l. : s.n., 1979.
  • Moffat, Riley Moore. Occasional paper: Western Association of Map Libraries, no. 10. Santa Cruz, Calif.: Western Association of Map Libraries, 1986. Use a state map to find the quadrangle number. Then find the number in the state's map list to learn the name of the quadrangle.
  • Morrison, Olin Dee, Illinois "Prairie State", v. 3 Historical Atlas. Athens, OH., E.M. Morrison, 1959.
  • Newberry Library. Checklist of Printed Maps of the Middle West to 1900. Boston : G.K. Hall, 1980. - The eleven volumes list all known pre-1900 plat maps and plat books for the state of Illinois.
  • Peck, John Mason. A Gazetteer of Illinois, in Three Parts: Containing a General View of the State, a General View of Each County, and a Particular Description of Each Town, Settlement, Stream, Prairie, Bottom, Bluff, etc., Alphabetically Arranged. Philadelphia: Grigg & Elliot, 1837.  
  • Peck, John Mason. A Gazetteer of Illinois in Three Parts: Containing a General View of the State, a General View of Each County, and a Particular Description of Each Town, Settlement, Stream, Prairie, Bottom, Bluff, etc: Alphabetically Arranged. 1837; reprint Bowie, Maryland: Heritage Books, 1993.
  • Potterton, Aileen, compiler. Illustrated Atlas of Lake County, IL Index for the 1885 Illustrated Atlas of Lake County, Illinois. Lake County (IL) Genealogical Society, 1999.
  • Secretary of State (Illinois). Origin and Evolution of Illinois Counties. Springfield, Illinois: State of Illinois, 1999. Many versions of this publication exist. An online version without legal and boundary descriptions and derived from an earlier edition of the book is Michael L. Hebert. Illinois County Boundaries: 1790-Present.
  • Shelley, Michael H. Ward Maps of United States Cities: A Selective Checklist of Pre-1900 Maps in the Library of Congress. Washington, D.C.: s.n., 1975.
  • United States. Geological Survey. Topographic Maps of the United States. Scale varies. Suitland, Md.: National Archives and Records Service, 1976-. These maps were originally published from 1884 to 1983. The maps are arranged by the name of the quadrangle within each state. States are not in alphabetical order.
  • Vogel, Virgil J. Indian Place Names in Illinois. Springfield, Illinois: ISHL, 1963.
  • Walters, William D. Jr. "The County Atlas: The High Point in American Cartography." Illinois Heritage 10, 1 (January-February 2007): 25-28.
  • Ward Maps of United States Cities. Washington, D.C.: Library of Congress, 1975?