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.
County and local histories often contain biographical and historical information about residents and their families. They may provide the occupation, previous residences, birth date, or birthplace (city, county, and state or country).
Information about a family may be found in a history under the married name of a daughter or sister. Relatives or clues are often found by studying the pages that have biographies of residents or that tell the history of the town or township where an ancestor lived.
Histories are great sources of genealogical information. Many contain biographical information about individuals who lived in the area, including:
The following important events in the history of Illinois affected political jurisdictions, family movements, and record keeping.
- 1699: French priests founded a mission at Cahokia, the oldest permanent white settlement in Illinois, in what is now St. Clair County.
- 1703: Kaskaskia, now in Randolph County, founded by the French as a Native American mission with Indian converts by Jesuit missionaries.
- 1720: Fort Chartres founded by settlers from France.
- 1763: France ceded the Illinois country to Great Britain after the French and Indian War.
- 1778: Illinois became a county of Virginia after Americans captured Kaskaskia, the British seat of government. Virginia relinquished its claim in 1784.
- 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.
- 1791: Special Act of Congress, 400 acres of land were granted to each head of a family who had made improvements in Illinois before 1788. There were 244 entitled to land of who eighty were Americans and the balance French.
- 1795: Indians land ceded
- 1803: Part of the Louisiana Purchase
- 13 August 1803: Indians land ceded (southwest and central part of Illinois)
- 3 November 1804: Indians land ceded. (northwest part of Illinois)
- 30 December 1805: Indians land ceded (southeaster)
- 3 February 1809: The Illinois Territory was formed when the Indiana Territory was divided.
- 1812: Chicago Massacre (Indians)
- 1813: Peoria Indian War
- 24 August 1816: Indian land ceded.
- 1818 - 1819: Indians land ceded
- 3 December 1818: Illinois became a state after the Wisconsin region was transferred to the Michigan Territory.
- 1818: 200 English settlers arrived in Edwards County.
- 1820: The census listed 917 slaves and 457 free African AMericans
- 1825: Opening of Erie Canal
- 1825: Fifty-three Norwegian families settled in Fox River, by the way of the Erie Canal.
- Winnebago War
- 1827: Fever River Indian War
- 29 July 1829: Indians land ceded
- 1832: Black Hawk War The last serious Indian threat to white settlement ended when Sauk and Fox warriors were driven from the state during the Black Hawk War. Sacs led by Chief Black Hawk massacred white settlers near Rock River. The war started because Chief Black Hawk and some of his people had re-crossed the Mississippi River in order to plant corn in the Sac's old corn field. Settlers killed an Indian holding a truce flag.
- 1832: Last land cession Indians removed to Kansas.
- 1832: Kickapoo Indians removed to Kansas
- 1833: Chicago became a town.
- 1836: Second Norwegian settlement established at Mission in LaSalle County.
- 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.
- 1840: Census listed 331 slaves and 3,598 free African American in Illinois
- 1839–1846: Latter-day Saints (Mormons) from Missouri and Ohio built the city of Nauvoo before their westward exodus. See the LDS Record Selection Table for records of Latter-day Saints in Illinois.
- 1847: Hollanders arrived from Krabbenden and settled what is now Roseland in Cook County.
- 1861–1865: About 250,000 Illinois men served in the Union armed forces during the Civil War.
- 1871: Great Chicago Fire Fire destroyed much of Chicago's downtown area and its public records.
- 1898: Over 300,000 men were involved in the Spanish-American War which was fought mainly in Cuba and the Philippines.
- 1917–1918: More than 26 million men from the United States ages 18 through 45 registered with the Selective Service. World War I over 4.7 million American men and women served during the war.
- 1930's: The Great Depression closed many factories and mills. Many small farms were abandoned, and many families moved to cities.
- 1940–1945: Over 50.6 million men ages 18 to 65 registered with the Selective Service. Over 16.3 million American men and women served in the armed forces during World War II.
- 1950–1953: Over 5.7 million American men and women served in the Korean War.
- 1950's–1960's The building of interstate highways made it easier for people to move long distances.
- 1964–1972: Over 8.7 million American men and women served in the Vietnam War.
Some of the most valuable sources for family history research are local histories. Published histories of towns, counties, and states usually contain accounts of families. They describe the settlement of the area and the founding of churches, schools, and businesses. You can also find lists of pioneers, soldiers, and civil officials. Even if your ancestor is not listed, information on other relatives may be included that will provide important clues for locating your ancestor. A local history may also suggest other records to search. Local histories are extensively collected by the Family History Library, public and university libraries, and state and local historical societies.
- A general search on the Internet may bring in information. On Google search for phrases which include the name of a county or town or even Illinois history.
- Google books often has local histories available to read for free online. Try entering the name of a town or a county with the state. For example, as I type in the phrase, Kankakee County, Illinois, several options are presented of which one is titled "Portrait and Biographical record of Kankakee County, Illinois" by Lake City Publishing Company.
- Internet Archive also often has histories of local areas. Again, typing in the name of a town or county may bring several options of books to read. For example, as I type in the words Momence, Illinois,one of the options presented is a book titled, "Memories of Momence Township, 1776-1976." by Elizabeth B. Morrison and the Kankakee County Bicentennial Commission.
- The Harold B. Lee Library at Brigham Young University has a family history digital archive which contains many local histories. The name of a place may be typed into the "title" or "search all" field to learn what is available, or try an advanced search.
- Find Illinois History resources available at other libraries (WorldCat). One way of finding local histories in WorldCat is to type the name of the place and add the word history. For example, as I type the phrase Knox County History, Illinois, several books appear with one titled "History and families, Knox County, Illinois. To learn more about WorldCat explore the WorldCat Wiki page.
- Ancestry.com has many local histories. To access them, go to the Ancestry Card Catalog and at the keyword search type the name of a county or town. For example, if I type in the words Ford County, Illinois, one of the matches is "History of Ford County, Illnois : from its earliest settlement to 1908." This is a ($) website.
Family History Library
The Family History Library, Salt Lake City, Utah has a sizable history collection for the state of Illinois which includes local and county histories. These consist of two main types of records with the first as published histories of the state, its counties, and towns. They often contain maps, information on religious and civic organizations, and biographies of individuals and families who have lived in the area. Second, there are copies of documents on microfilm and in published form that broaden a genealogist’s understanding of the times and places their ancestors lived in. Many of the documents include names of individuals involved in the event being documented. To find histories of specific localities in the Family History Library Catalog, use a Place Search.
Additional resources for Illinois history may be found in the Illinois-History Sources topic page of the Family History Library catalog (FHLC). Copies of records on FHL microfilm and microfiche can be ordered for viewing at Family History Centers. and the FHLC.
- A bibliography of older local histories for Illinois is included in:
A Reference Guide for Genealogical and Historical Research in Illinois 
- A similar bibliography, but less complete list is included in:
Manual for Illinois Genealogical Research Gooldy, Pat, and Ray Gooldy. The source gives addresses of county courthouses, genealogical societies, and record repositories and gives Illinois locations of record categories such as census, land, military, and church records. A few recent titles not in Wolf's list are in the Gooldy list.
- Illinois History: an Annotated Bibliography is a more recent bibliography of historical sources for Illinois.
- A Bibliography of American County Histories 
- United States Local Histories in the Library of Congress 
Effective genealogists strive to understand the life and times of their ancestors. In this sense, any history is useful. But certain kinds of state, county, and local histories, especially older histories published between 1845 and 1945, often include biographical sketches of prominent individuals. The sketches usually tend toward the lauditory, but may include some genealogical details. If these histories are indexed or alphabetical, check for an ancestor's name.
The following are histories concerning Illinois available through a library, archive or online. To find an extensive list of books about Illinois history, go to linkpendium.com - Illinois - History.
- Historical Encyclopedia of Illinois  Each volume focuses on a different county and contains historical and biographical information on that county. The Illinois State Archives has a biographical index to most of the Bateman volumes but may not have all volumes. Explore a list of available counties and where to access each volume. Each volume of the collection is cataloged separately and can be found in the Family History Library Catalog by using a Place Search. Explore how to use the Family History Library Catalog.
- Illinois: A History of the Prairie State. 
- The Centennial History of Illinois. Each volume has a different author and title representing a period of the state’s history. The Sesquicentennial History is an exact reprint of the original series. Some of the Centennial books are being microfilmed.
Volumes 1 - 5 are available online at Internet Archive (type Centennial history of Illinois.)
- 1818 Illinois in 1818 
- 1673–1818 The Illinois Country 
- 1818–1848 The Frontier State 
- 1848–1870 The Era of the Civil War 
- 1870–1893 The Industrial State 
- 1893–1918 The Modern Commonwealth 
- A Complete History of Illinois from 1673 to 1884: Embracing the Physical Features of the County 
- Collections of the Illinois State Historical Library. (Family History Library book 977.3 B4i.) Each publication in this series of at least 38 issues is published under a different title. Some issues have been bound together and some have been microfilmed. This collection includes land records and correspondence from the 1700s, court records, census returns, laws that were enacted, records of the Black Hawk War, election returns, and diaries. It includes French and English versions of the early records from the Kaskaskia settlement. See the Collections of the Illinois State Historical Society wiki page to learn where to locate these volumes in the Family History Library as well as through on line sources.
- Blue Book of the State of Illinois  The Blue Book includes many items relative to state government and contemporary history, including a roster of state officials and employees. The Family History Library has volumes for 1921–24, 1951–52, 1955–58, 1969–1970, 1985–86.
- History of Illinois: Hon. Edward F. Dunne; pub. 1933, Chicago
- Illinois and Her People: George W. Smith; pub. 1927, Chicago
- Encyclopedia of Biography of Illinois: Century Pub. and Engraving Co.;pub. 1892-1902, Chicago
- Illinois Guide and Gazeteer pub. 1968, Rand McNally Co.
- Prominent People from Illinois
- Illinois Events
- Historical Stories
- Historical Timeline
- Early History of Illinois
- Geography, places of interest and more
- Genealogy Trails has several resources for the history of Illinois. These include:
- Origins of Illinois County Names
- Historical Anecdotes
- Illinois Forts
- Timeline of the History of Illinois 1690 - 1825
- Signers of the 1818 Constitution of Illinois
- Prairies and Pioneers of Illinois
- Government Topics
- People, Places and Things including church information
- Slavery and other African Ameircan topics of Interest
- And more
An important source with historical information about persons involved in the settlement of Illinois from 1800 to 1818 is:
- The Territorial Papers of the United States Volumes 2 and 3 pertain to The Territory Northwest of the River Ohio, 1787–1803, which included present-day Illinois. Volume 7 contains The Territory of Indiana, 1800–1810, and volumes 16 and 17 contain The Territory of Illinois, 1809–1818. Each volume has an every-name index and contains thousands of names of residents in the area that is now Illinois. The volumes contain lists of residents, taxpayers, and petitioners, and information about persons associated with forts, land offices, Indian interpreters, express riders, and post offices. The original records are in the National Archives.
The Draper Manuscripts
The Draper Manuscript Collection is a significant regional source that includes records of Illinois. The collection includes many items of a genealogical or biographical nature.
- Draper Manuscript Collection  The collection consists of nearly 500 volumes of manuscripts, papers, and books collected by Lyman Copeland Draper about the history of the trans-Allegheny West, a region including the western areas of the Carolinas and Virginia, all the Ohio River Valley, and part of the upper Mississippi Valley from the 1740s to 1830. The collection is divided into 50 series. Some series are titled by geographic area, some by the names of prominent frontier leaders, and some by topic. The bulk of the collection consists of notes from interviews, questionnaires, and letters gathered during Draper’s extensive travels and research to learn about frontier history. Personal papers are much more rare than government or military records.
- Guide to the Draper Manuscripts This guide gives series and volume descriptions for some of the Draper manuscripts. There are several indexes at the end of the book, including a name and subject index, an additional personal data index, and a list of references to Illinois.
- Index to Lyman C. Draper Manuscripts. The name index gives the series and volume numbers, but is not complete.
Kaskaskia and Cahokia
Kaskaskia and Cahokia were important early Indian and French settlements.
- Kaskaskia Manuscripts, 1714–1816. These records were filmed at the Randolph County Clerk and Recorder’s office in 1975. These manuscripts were created by the early French Kaskaskia settlement in Randolph County. Records include tax lists, debts, wills, adoptions, land records, marriages, and selling of slaves. Most of this collection is in French and is not indexed. Some records have been translated into English and are indexed. A partial index to the historical records in this collection is:
- Kaskaskia Records, 1778–1790 Collections of the Illinois State Historical Library, Volume 5. Springfield, Illinois: Illinois State Historical Library, 1909. (Family History Library book 977.3 B4i v.5; film 978493.) The preface states that a number of papers have been omitted from this work because "they are of a private character and add very little to knowledge of the history of the period."
- The Raymond H. Hammes Collection maintained at the Illinois State Archives is an excellent collection of early land and other historical records from Kaskaskia in Randolph County and settlements along the Mississippi River, including the Cahokia settlement in St. Clair County, which at the time covered a large portion of present-day Illinois. Most of the Hammes collection has been microfilmed and can be found as 10 entries in the Family History Library Catalog in an Author/Title Search under the title Raymond H. Hammes Collection. It is indexed in Consolidated Index for the Raymond H. Hammes Collection cited in the "Land and Property" section.
United States History
The following are only a few of the many sources that are available.
- The Almanac of American History, This provides brief historical essays and chronological descriptions of thousands of key events in United States history.
- Dictionary of American History, Revised ed  This includes historical sketches on various topics in U.S. history, such as wars, people, laws, and organizations. A snippet view is available at Google books.
- Webster's Guide to American History: A Chronological, Geographical, and Biographical Survey and Compendium This includes a history, some maps, tables, and other historical information.
See the United States History for information on nationwide historical collections. See also the "Biography" and "Genealogy" sections for additional sources. You may wish to explore biography, history and genealogy sections in the wiki at county levels also.
For other record types that also provide historical background, see the "Church Records," "Emigration and Immigration," "Military Records," "Minorities," and "Indians of Illinois" portions of this site.
See the Illinois Archives and Libraries page for information on how to access information in these facilities in Illinois.
- Illinois Facts
- Illinois History
- Illinois History - Wikipedia
- The Illinois History Resource Page
- The Illinois State Museum's "At Home in the Heartland" online exhibit describes the environment and cultural influences that affected people of Illinois during various time periods.
- Wolf, Joseph C. A Reference Guide for Genealogical and Historical Research in Illinois. Detroit, Michigan: Detroit Society for Genealogical Research, 1963. FHL Book 977.3 A3w Other Libraries (Worldcat)
- Manual for Illinois Genealogical Research. Indianapolis, Indiana: Ye Olde Genealogie Shoppe, 1994. FHL Book 977.3 D27g Other Libraries (Worldcat)
- Whitney, Ellen, comp. Illinois History: an Annotated Bibliography. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 1995. FHL Book 977.3 H23w Other Libraries (Worldcat)
- Filby, P. William. A Bibliography of American County Histories. Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing, 1985. FHL book 973 H23bi Other Libraries (Worldcat)
- Kaminkow, Marion J. United States Local Histories in the Library of Congress. 5 vols. Baltimore: Magna Charta Book, 1975-76. FHL Book 973 A3ka Other Libraries (Worldcat)
- Bateman, Newton, et. al. Historical Encyclopedia of Illinois. Chicago, Illinois: Munsell Pub., 1908.WorldCat 657034755FHL Book 977.31/E1 H2e Historical Encyclopedia of Illinois available copies online and in other libraries and FHL
- Howard, Robert P. Illinois: A History of the Prairie State. Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1972. Other Libraries (WorldCat) FHL Book 977.3 H2hr
- The Centennial History of Illinois Six Volumes. Springfield, Illinois: Illinois Centennial Commission, 1917–1920. Online Digital Copy Google Books
- Buck, Solon Justus.Illinois in 1818. Chicago:A.C. McClurg and Co: 1918. Other Libraries (WorldCat)FHl Book 977.3 B4ic v. 0
- Alvord. Clarence W. The Illinois Country. Springfield, Virginia: Illinois Centennial Commission, 1920 Other Libraries (WorldCat)FHL Book 977.3 B4ic v.1 Reprint available.
- Pease, Theodore C. The Frontier State 1818–1848. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1987. Reprint. Other Libraries (WorldCat)FHL Book 977.3 B4ic v. 2 1987
- Cole, Arthur Charles. The Era of the Civil War, 1848-1870. Springfield, Illinois: Illinois Centennial Commission, 1919. Other Libraries (WorldCat) FHL Book 977.3 B4ic v. 3
- Bogart, Ernest Ludlow B. and Charles M. Thompson. The industrial state, 1870-1893. Springfield, Illinois: Illinois Centennial Commission, 1920. Other Libraries (WorldCat) FHL Book 977.3 B4ic v. 4
- Bogart, Ernest Ludlow and John Mabry Mathews. The Centennial History of Illinois: The Modern Commonwealth, 1893-1918. Springfield, Illinois: Illinois Centennial Commission, 1920. Other Libraries (WorldCat) FHl Film 1697272 Item 3
- Davidson, Alexander, and Bernard Stuvé. A Complete History of Illinois from 1673 to 1884: Embracing the Physical Features of the County [Country], Its Early Explorations, Aboriginal Inhabitants. Springfield, Illinois: H.W. Rokker, 1884. FHL Film 889341 Fiche 6051133 (set of 13) Book 977.3 H2d; Online Digital Copy Other Libraries (Worldcat) Digital Copy Online Also available at www.ancestry.com ($)
- Illinois. Secretary of State. Blue Book of the State of Illinois. Springfield, Illinois: Illinois Secretary of State, 1903–. (Family History Library book 977.3 N2ib.)
- United States. Department of State. The Territorial Papers of the United States. 26 volumes. National Archives Microfilm Publications, M0721. Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1934–1962. (Family History Librarybook 973 N2udt; on 15 Family History Library films beginning with 1421059.)
- Draper, Lyman Copeland. Draper Manuscript Collection. Chicago, Illinois: University of Chicago Library, 197–?. (On 147 Family History Library films beginning with 889098.)
- Harper, Josephine L. Guide to the Draper Manuscripts. Madison, Wisconsin: State Historical Society of Wisconsin, 1983. (Family History Library book 977.583/M1 A3h.)
- Wolfe, Barbara Schull. Index to Lyman C. Draper Manuscripts. Logansport, Indiana: B.S. Wolfe, 197–?. (Family History Library book 977.583/M1 A3w.)
- Kaskaskia Manuscripts, 1714–1816Salt Lake City, Utah: Genealogical Society of Utah, 1975. (Family History Library films 956798–814.)
- Alvord, Clarence Walworth, ed. Kaskaskia Records, 1778–1790.
- Schlesinger, Jr., Arthur M. The Almanac of American History. Greenwich, Conn.: Bison Books, 1983. (FHL book 973 H2alm)
- Dictionary of American History, Revised ed., 8 vols. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1976. (FHL book 973 H2ad.)
- [WorldCat|oclc|2507380 Worldcat]
- Webster's Guide to American History: A Chronological, Geographical, and Biographical Survey and Compendium. Springfield, Mass.: G and C Merriam, 1971. (FHL book 973 H2v)
- Limited view at Google Books
- Other Libraries (Worldcat)
- Writings on American History By American Historical Association, Library of Congress, United States National Historical Publications Commission, Published by KTO Press, 1921 FHL book 973 H23w
- Other Libraries (Worldcat)