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Biographies provide useful genealogical information such as a person’s birth date and place; names of family members, including maiden names; education; occupation; and social, political, and religious affiliation. They may also contain a physical description of the person, previous residences, and immigration information. Biographies are the product of family knowledge or previous research about early settlers and prominent citizens of a state, county, or town. Local histories may contain biographical sketches of lesser-known people.
Major Biographical Collections
Two major archives and libraries in Illinois have biographical indexes to local histories and other sources in their collections. The Illinois State Archives has card indexes to biographies (not every name) found in selected local histories. The archives also have most of the collection of county biographical volumes edited by Newton Bateman, titled Historical Encyclopedia of Illinois (subtitles, places, and dates of publication vary by county). Many of these are also at the Family History Library. See Illinois History for this source.
The Illinois State Historical Library, a division of the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency, has an extensive collection of local histories. It has a biographical card index to about 10,000 Illinoians featured in local histories and other sources. The library also has every-name indexes to some of the histories. Many of its printed sources are available through interlibrary loan, and the library will do limited searches for a fee. Excellent collections are also at the Newberry Library. See Illinois Archives and Libraries for addresses.
Examples of statewide biographical encyclopedias are:
The United States Biographical Directory and Portrait Gallery of Eminent Self-made Men, Illinois Volume. Two Volumes. Chicago, Illinois: American Biographical Publishing, 1876. (Family History Library book 977.3 D3u; fiche 6048198 [set of 8].) This book is a reprint of the 1883 edition, published under a slightly different title. (Family History Library film 1000172, item2.)
Illinois Biographical Dictionary: People of All Times and All Places Who Have Been Important to the History and Life of the State. New York, New York: Somerset, 1993. (Family History Library book 977.3 D36i.)
The Biographical Encyclopedia of Illinois of the Nineteenth Century. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: Galaxy Pub., 1875. (Family History Library film 1000172.)
To find biographies and published family histories on specific surnames in the Family History Library Catalog, use a Surname Search. Typing the word Illinois in the Keyword Search will limit the search to families in Illinois.
The Family History Library has many collected biographies and local or county histories with biographical sketches on residents. These can be found in the Family History Library Catalog by using a Place Search under any of the following:
ILLINOIS, [COUNTY]- BIOGRAPHY
ILLINOIS, [COUNTY]- HISTORY
ILLINOIS, [COUNTY], [TOWN]- HISTORY