Illinois Search Strategies
Strategies for research in Illinois will vary depending upon the amount of identifying information that is already known about an ancestor (such as relationships and places of residence), record availability, and the time period of interest.
Overall Search Strategies
- Gather – what you know.
- Choose – what you want to learn.
- Find – a record.
- Evaluate – what you’ve found.
- Share – Your new information.
The wiki article, United States Basic Search Strategies, presents further information on similar steps to research.
Illinois Research on the Internet
Although the bulk of records useful to genealogists are not yet available online, the following important online resources are available.
Look for ancestors in every available federal and state census taken during their lifetime. Many of these are indexed with images available online. Details on availability and strategies for searching are available in the Illinois Census wiki article.
The Global Database Search created by the Illinois State Archives examines all index databases on their website and can be searched by name. A list of all databases containing the name you enter will be returned. You must click on a database from the list which is returned and enter the name again to search for the record in that database. The search field is at the bottom of the webpage.
See the Illinois Vital Records wiki article for more information on the availability of birth, adoption, marriage, and death records and for additional links to online indexes and images.
Compiled Family Trees
Several websites offer databases of user-submitted family information. These collaborative sites are continually being updated by individual contributors, so review them frequently. The following list is only a sampling of what’s available:
- FamilySearch Largest free online collection of genealogical databases.
- RootsWeb World Connect Over 640 million names on family trees with sources, pedigrees, family groups, and submitter contact data.
- WikiTree Contributors control the access to each individual they add.
- Ancestry Public Member Trees ($) Contains millions of references to lineage linked individuals and families identifying research on given family lines.
Illinois Regional Archives Depository System (IRAD)
Illinois Regional Archives Depository System (IRAD) consists of seven depositories which archive records from local governments in Illinois. Go to their website to determine which county records are held at each depository. In addition, the depository sites can help you discover other possible sources for records and information not available from IRAD.
IRAD Research Policy
You may visit an IRAD depository to research available records. Because many of the depositories are associated with universities and observe university holidays, be sure to call before planning a visit.
IRAD welcomes mail and telephone requests for research help. No e-mail requests are available at this time. There is no charge for research help, except for photocopy costs. You will be informed if your copies exceed $5. Otherwise you will be billed for your copy requests. IRAD requests that you limit your request to two names at a time and that you wait for that response before submitting additional requests. Send your request directly to the IRAD regional depository holding the county records of interest. You may send requests to up to five different depositories at a time.
IRAD Records Listings
Regional Map of IRAD Depositories Click on the appropriate region, then click on the county of interest for contact information, county formation, and other information about the county. To search which county records are available in IRAD, from any IRAD page click on Local Governmental Records Holdings Database. By entering the county name in the search box on this page, you can see all IRAD holdings for any individual county.
Illinois Regional Archives Depository System (IRAD)
Springfield, IL 62756
Records of the Family History Library
The major holdings of Illinois records at the Family History Library include censuses and county courthouse records, such as probate, land, military, naturalization, and vital records of most counties. They generally date from the year the county was formed to the early 1900s, although some indexes for later years are available. The library has acquired many printed transcripts and indexes of Illinois county records as well as copies of census and biographical indexes found at the Illinois State Archives. The Family History Library also has some important collections and indexes for records of the city of Chicago and Cook County.
Many early records of Latter-day Saints (Mormons) in the city of Nauvoo and Hancock County are mentioned in the Tracing LDS Families wiki pages.
Family History Library Catalog
The library’s records are listed in the Family History Library Catalog. Copies of records on microfilm and microfiche can be ordered for viewing at Family History Centers. Search for records in the Family History Library Catalog by using a Place Search and then enter Illinois and the county of interest. (The name of the county can be selected from the drop-down list as it appears.) Select Search to locate the categories of records kept by the county.
- Schweitzer, George K. Illinois Genealogical Research. Knoxville, Tennessee: Geo. K. Schweitzer, 1997. Includes types of records, research procedures, and county listings. FHL book 977.3 D27s
- Illinois Record Selection Table can assist you in determining alternate records to consider.
- Illinois For Further Reading provides a list of handbooks and guides for Illinois research.