Background Sources for Illinois

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This entry was originally written by Carol L. Maki and Michael John Neill for Red Book: American State, County, and Town Sources.

This article is part of
Illinois sil.png
the Illinois Family History Research series.
History of Illinois
Illinois Vital Records
Census Records for Illinois
Background Sources for Illinois
Illinois Maps
Illinois Land Records
Illinois Probate Records
Illinois Court Records
Illinois Tax Records
Illinois Cemetery Records
Illinois Church Records
Illinois Military Records
Illinois Periodicals, Newspapers, and Manuscript Collections
Illinois Archives, Libraries, and Societies
Illinois Naturalization
Ethnic Groups of Illinois
Illinois County Resources
Map of Illinois

A good general history for the state is Robert P. Howard, Illinois: A History of the Prairie State (Grand Rapids, Mich.: W.B. Eerdman Publishing, 1972).

For several years the local and family history section of the Newberry Library in Chicago has been compiling a biography and industry card index. This index, part of an ongoing project, includes references to biographical sketches found in over twenty-five local histories and biographical compendia published in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Most of the indexed works concentrate on Chicago and Cook County, although a few statewide biographical compendia containing a large number of Chicagoans have also been indexed as part of this project. Written requests for no more than three subjects per letter will be answered by the Newberry staff. For more detailed and original local sources, contact the local historical and genealogical groups and city and county libraries that may have regional history collections. The September 1988 Illinois Libraries (vol. 70, no. 7) is devoted to Illinois public libraries with genealogical collections, with emphasis on the unique features of each collection. An April 1986 issue (vol. 68, no. 4) of this same publication describes private genealogical collections, university libraries, governmental agencies, and the Shawnee library system.

The scope of historical and genealogical research for the city of Chicago, founded in 1833, is extensive. The Chicago fire of 1871 complicates the search for accurate records prior to that year. Chicago research and resources, however, are thoroughly and expertly covered by Loretto Dennis Szucs in Chicago and Cook County: A Guide to Research (Salt Lake City: Ancestry, Inc., 1996). This reference is highly recommended for anyone researching at any level in Chicago.

The bicentennial project sponsored by the Illinois State Genealogical Society (see Archives, Libraries, and Societies) endeavored to index at least one history for each of the 102 Illinois counties. It was completed in 1976 by the Genealogy Projects Committee of the Winnetka Public Library. This index can be used at the Winnetka Public Library or at the Illinois State Archives, where a search request can be made for no more than two specific individuals. If found, copies of the biographical sketches will be sent. A bibliography of county histories at that library can be found in Illinois Libraries 82 (2000): 92-141, published by the Illinois State Library. It is also available online at