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Illinois Genealogy – Guide to Ancestry and Family Tree Records


In 1673, Louis Joliet and Jacques Marquette became the first Europeans to visit the area that is now Illinois. Cahokia, which was located near what is now the eastern part of St. Louis, was established in 1699 by the French. It was the first permanent settlement in the area. When the French and Indian Wars came to a close, which was in 1763, Great Britain controlled the region. The Indian wars and the Revolutionary War had a major impact on the region throughout the early part of the 1800s.

The State of Illinois was organized as a Territory on March 1, 1809 and entered the union as the 21st state on December 3, 1818 . It has 102 Counties.

Searching for Illinois Genealogy Details

Set in the very heart of the United States, Illinois has seen a lot of different groups of people settle into its unique landscape. Cities and farmland fill this state, and it has seen a large number of people settle or pass through on their way to other destinations. This is why there is so much call for Illinois genealogy data, which the state is able to readily supply!

Ways of Searching for Illinois Genealogy Information – Modern researchers now head to their computers before heading out to a library or archive when looking for Illinois genealogy. This is due to the simple fact that many of the state’s largest institutions are putting as many records online as possible, and this makes it easier than ever to find the data and order copies of materials for Illinois genealogy.

This, however, does not mean that everything you need will be found online. Most researchers searching for Illinois genealogy will end up in a county clerk’s office or some library or archive because the materials are not yet digitized. What all of this adds up to is the simple fact that anyone doing research for Illinois genealogy will want to learn which sources will supply them with what they require.

Searching for Illinois Genealogy Materials – Anyone looking for materials for Illinois genealogy is going to handle, seek, and use the following types of records:

  • State Records – from probate information to surname lists, state census information, private manuscripts, newspapers, military or veterans information, marriage details, maps, land records, genealogical folders, estate information, deeds, death records, cemetery information, birth certificates and more, these are records usually available as online and offline resources for Illinois genealogy.
  • Local Records – researchers looking for Illinois genealogy may need to visit a county clerk’s office at some point should data be unavailable in the online format. They may also have to head to the local genealogical societies, small local libraries, historical societies, and school or college libraries for Illinois genealogy information as these are the places that are usually offline and/or open only by appointment or special arrangement.
  • Vital Records – these include the birth, marriage, divorce and death records from county, state, and national archives, and can also contain census records, cemetery or obituary information, immigration and naturalization details, newspaper items, military records, passenger lists and records as well. These are available as online and offline resources for Illinois genealogy.

Popular Resources for Illinois Genealogy – Rather than putting a lot of emphasis on a list of small or general resources, we have listed some of the most targeted locations for Illinois genealogy data below:

  • Division of Vital Records, Illinois Department of Public Health, 925 E Ridgely Avenue , Springfield, IL 62702; Website: . This is where you will order birth, death, marriage and divorce records via a written request or online.

Additional state and local records can be found at the:

  • Illinois State Archives, Genealogy Section,  Norton Building, Capitol Complex, Springfield, IL 62756; Website: .
    This is a great resource for anyone seeking for Illinois genealogy details because it includes a bit of information about getting started in genealogy, and then goes on to an array of pamphlets for conducting genealogical research in their different collections of records.

Finally, these websites provide a tremendous amount of state-specific details to those in search of facts for Illinois genealogy projects.

Illinois Ethnic Group Research

African American – Many African Americans came to Illinois with white settlers as slaves. They were brought up from the south. A law was passed in September of 1807 that allowed slaves who were over 15 to be brought into the region. However, the law stated that the clerk of common pleas had to be given a document registering the slave in question. On December 8, 1812 another law was passed that required all “mulattoes” and “free blacks” to register within 6 months after coming to Illinois. Those records still exist today. Salt wells located near Shawneetown drew several slave owners to the area and brought several slaves who were leased from Tennessee and Kentucky owners to white settlers in Illinois.

Governor Edwards declared the indenture law to be illegal in 1817. That led to the constitutional compromise of 1818, which stated that all indenture contracts were limited to one year. From January 17, 1829 onward, freedom certificates were issued to free African Americans. Some of the common pleas courts may have recorded copies of those certificates in their records. African American records may list places of origin as well.

African American death, marriage, and baptism records for Illinois before 1916 may be found in the following records: Immaculate Conception Church at Kaskaskia, St. Anne’s at St. Charles, St. Joseph’s at Prairie du Rocher.

Some county slave record books can be found at the Illinois State Library. Those records may include freedmen and French prior to 1860.

Native American – The Illinois Native Americans, or Illinewek wanted protection from the Europeans when the Europeans first came to Illinois. The New York Iroquois were trying to dominate them and they liked having the protection of European missions and forts. At one time, they were comprised of bands of Cahokia, Kaskaskia, Peoria, Tamroa, Moingwena, and Michigamea, making them the biggest tribe in the region.

Unfortunately, both disease and war led to the decimation of the Illinewek. As of 1832, only around 200 of them remained in the area. They ceded their lands that year and moved to a reservation in Kansas.

The Illinois State Archives is home to Record Group 103.62, “Executive Section, Executive File” (ca. 1824-32), as well as Record Group 100, “Records of the Illinois Territory.” The former includes peace conference speeches and treaties from Native Americans in Illinois. The latter includes similar information, as well as trade agreements and information about various tribes, which include: Cherokee, Delaware, Fox, Kickapoo, Osage, Ottawa, Potawatomi, Sauk, Shawnee.

Record Group 952.19, “Board of Commissioners, Ancient Grants Rejected” discusses Indian claims and land owner names for native lands. Record Group 953.14, “Terrier of Grants Made to Potawatomi Indians” lists land grants that were created as a result of the October 20, 1832 Treaty of Camp Tippecanoe. Record Group 953.18, “Abstract of Conditions of Surveys of Indian Grants and Reservations,” 1850 also contains useful Native American land grant information.

Immigrants from many different countries have come to Illinois over the years. In most cases, immigrants from a certain country or region settled together, forming their own communities. As of 1850, Germans made up about one third of the immigrants in Illinois. They were brought to the region by economic, political, and religious factors. Darmstadt and Dutch Hollow in St. Clair County were home to some of the early German settlers. “Ferdinand Ernst and the Germany Colony at Vandalia,” which was published in 1987 in Illinois Historical Journal 80, lists information on the Fayette County German settlement in 1820.

Several German immigrants were farmers, although there were also some artisans and professionals who came to the area and managed to stay in the same trades they were in back in Germany. Some also came with no money in their pockets just hoping to start a new life. They came to Chicago across the Great Lakes. Several of them worked in the city until they could afford to buy farms. That took quite a while, since the cost of living was so high in the cities and the cost of land for farming kept going up. Some people chose to stay in the city and give up on their farming dreams entirely.

Irish immigrants also came to Illinois. Many of them worked as day laborers or worked in factories within the cities. Some of them moved around to wherever new work could be had. As of 1869, most of the Illinois immigrants that were Irish had settled in Chicago. Some of them also worked on the Michigan and Illinois system of canals. However, that project was stopped temporarily in the beginning of the 1840s, leading many of the Irish workers to get into the farming industry, instead.

Several immigrants came to Illinois from England as well. Some were enticed by the London Roman Catholic Emigration Society, while others came to the area as a result of Joseph Smith sending Mormon missionaries from Nauvoo. Several Welsh immigrants settled in Kane County, while Cornish immigrants came to the area to work in the lead mines. The Scottish came to the area beginning in 1834 and, as of 1850, their population had grown to 4,660.

A group of Norwegians from New York created the first Midwest Norwegian settlement near Ottawa and the Fox River in 1834. Henry County’s Bishop Hill became home to a group of about 500 Swedish immigrants.

Illinois was home to a few French-Canadian immigrants in its early days. However, immigrants from France were scarce in the region until 1830. In 1831 the first major French section was established at Metamoram which was in Woodford County. Other French settlements soon followed. Kankakee County became home to Bourbonnais, which had 1,719 people living in it as of 1850. It was a French-Canadian settlement and its Canadian customs remained for many years after the settlement was founded.

In 1849, Portuguese immigrants who had been exiled for religious reasons settled in Jacksonville and Springfield. Some Bavarian Jews settled in Chicago. There were not many Swiss in Illinois, but some did settle in Madison County and others settled at Galena, in St. Clair County.

Informational bibliographies on different ethnic groups in Illinois can be found in a publication by Szucs. Szucs states that “At different times in its history, Chicago has been the largest Lithuanian city, the second largest Ukranian city, and the third largest Swedish, Irish, Polish, and Jewish city in the world.” Groups covered in that publication are: African Americans, Bohemians, Chinese, Czechoslovakian, Dutch, German, Greeks, Irish, Italian, Japanese, Lithuanian, Mexican, Norwegian, Polish, Russian, Swedish, Ukrainian.

Swedish-American newspapers – Church records, and other Swedish documentation from Illinois Swedes can be found at Augustana College Swenson Swedish Immigration Research, Rock Island, IL 61201. The Swedish-American Historical Society publishes Swedish Pioneer Historical Quarterly, which also contains useful genealogical information. Some of that information consists of family histories, newspapers, books, photographs, reference files, letters, and organization records.

A collection of more than 31,000 volumes of Czech-American documents can be found at the University of Illinois, Slavic Reference Service. The Illinois Benedictine College Library also holds a large collection of Czech historical documents, including family Bibles.

English and Irish reference materials can be found at the Newberry Library – The DePaul University, Lincoln Park Campus Library and the Irish American Heritage Center also hold many records relating to Irish immigrants in Illinois.

The Palatines to America – Illinois Chapter is home to many Illinois German records. The Cook County church records can also be quite useful when searching for information on German ancestors.

The Polish collection at the Portage-Cragin Branch Library and the Polish Genealogical Society can both provide Polish records.

Other facilities which may have information on Illinois ethnic groups include: Ukrainian National Museum of Chicago,
Chicago Public Library, Chinatown Branch,
Balzekas Museum of Lithuanian Culture

  • Melvin G. Holli and Peter d’A. Jones, eds., Ethnic Chicago (Grand Rapids, Mich.: William B. Eerdmans, ca. 1984);
  • Melvin G. Hilli and Peter d’A. Jones, eds., The Ethnic Frontier: Essays in the History of Group Survival in Chicago and the Midwest (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, ca. 1977);
  • Ellen M. Whitney’s Illinois History: An Annotated Bibliography (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1995)
  • Mark Wyman, Immigration History and Ethnicity in Illinois: A Guide (Springfield, Ill.: Illinois State Historical Society, 1989).

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