Saturday, December 25, 2010

Researching in Northern Illinois Counties

Everyone Didn’t Go to Chicago or Springfield
 Many of us have found ancestors in Chicago, Cook County.  Immigrant workers and emancipated slaves flocked there for work.  More privileged ancestors settled there to establish businesses and to capitalize on its central location.  But research n the neighboring rural counties and other parts of Illinois is not mentioned often, even though they too have a past full of activities, struggles, and successes.  These smaller rural counties are filled with valuable resources for family search if your family happened there.

It would behoove the researcher looking for a missing ancestor, to forsake  a failed Cook County search and widen their research efforts to  neighboring northern or central counties.

Widening Your Search
I often take state county maps and divide it into three to four sections. For Illinois it is north, upper-central, lower-central and lower counties. I found wonderful information on my “subject” in Winnebago (Rockford), Ogle, Kane, and Dekalb counties. Townships in these counties were often established by German settlers often from the upper northeast colonies.

Importance of County/Township Histories
One of the first things I do when searching for early settlers is research the history of the county and peruse the list of townships.  History books of the counties may mention your family name and their significance to the settlement of a county or township.  Since many neighbors traveled together, be sure to take note of neighbors.  You may find the whole immigrant community moved to a neighboring county in subsequent census record searches. This may reveal a political issue, an epidemic, or other social history of your ancestors.

Every Illinoisan didn’t get off a ship, and go straight to Chicago. I found my subject in Chicago in early 1900’s, but to pinpoint when they migrated to Illinois was rather challenging, until I opened up my research to the surrounding counties. The idea is to expand your research. 

I got the clue needed from the county formation information provided on FamilyHistory 101 ( which showed an extreme amount of activities in these northern counties in 1836.  I found my “subject” in Winnebago, Ogle, Kane, and Dekalb counties, after narrowing the possibilities based on the information given on how a county was formed.  For example:
Kane County was created on January 16, 1836 (Laws, 1836, p. 273) and was formed from unorganized land (La Salle County ) and Cook County. Present area, or parts of it, formerly included in: LaSalle County (1835–1836) , Putnam County (1825–1835) , Fulton County (1823–1825) , Pike County (1821–1823) , Clark County (1819–1821) , Crawford County (1816–1819) , Edwards County (1815–1816) , Madison County (1812–1815) , St. Clair County (1801–1812) and Knox, Northwest Territory (1790–1801).
My family county search led me to Rockford IL, Winnebago County, where I found a wealth of information within the Winnebago County records. These records are readily available on the Winnebago County website which gives direct links to online historical records of birth, death and marriage records:

Local Library Assistance
With the help of the librarians, I was able to obtain copies of obituaries at a reasonable research rate.  A good example is the $15.00/hour fee for research at the Rockford IL Public Library, (Winnebago County).  The librarian quickly located and sent obituary clippings from the newspapers (Rockford Register and Rockford Morning Star), marriage records, and cemetery records. In hours time I received a lot of information from a bookworm who is as dedicated to research as I am.  Thanks Jean!

Happy researching this Holiday Season and remember someone had to establish those other counties in Illinois!

Accurate, Accessible Answers

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