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Start with your family members (parents, grandparents, great grandparents).  Families usually pass down stories, pictures, family records and documents, keepsakes and other information and this is the best place to start.  Check for a family Bible, obituaries that have been saved from old newspapers, funeral books, baby books, things like that.  These family records hold valuable information.  *My mother's baby book gave me several generations on both her parent's families.  There were notes included about family members and stories.

Once you have your family information organized (think about keeping your information in binders and /or in a genealogy program on your computer), pick one side of your family you want to research first.  If you try to take them all on at once, it can become pretty confusing if you are new to all of this. As you gradually learn all the "ins and outs" of research, you can then begin on your other family lines. The following records are located at the County Courthouses (County Clerk's office) in Illinois and are good to use to find the next generation back:

1.  Marriage Licenses - after about 1875, Illinois marriage licenses contain wonderful information. It will give you the occupation, birth place and parents of each person. Many times the witnesses to the marriage were close friends or relatives (write their names down too, for future reference).  If they were married in a Church, you will have the name of that Church and you can check for any records that may be there.

2. Birth and Death Records - It was a requirement in the State of Illinois, to record these records after about 1916. Prior to that time, it will just depend on whether the County recorded either in their record books.  If you get stuck and can't seem to locate a birth or death record, try looking for a probate or a will (the probates and wills will come in very handy as you get back further in your family research) in the Circuit Clerk's office at the courthouse.  You can also use tombstone readings as a guide.

The Illinois State Archives now has the 1916-1951
Illinois death index online!

3. Land Records - Land records are normally held by the County Clerk's office. These can help you locate and prove your ancestor lived in that County during a certain time period.

4. Military and Pension Records - Pension records are available through the National Archives in Washington, D. C. While military records will give you "some" genealogical information (my ancestor's Civil War file contained two handwritten letters), the pension files normally are the most informative. Instructions on how to order pension records, can be found on our Civil War Guide page. Instructions on how to find your ancestor in Military records are also included. The Illinois Trails Military page offers a wide variety of online records as does the State of Illinois Archives website.

For a listing of what records each Illinois County Courthouse has available, along with the earliest date the records are available,
click here.

The Illinois Trails History and Genealogy Project is a volunteer project and has no commercial ties. Our hosts are required to provide you with free genealogical records and can not profit from a county website and will never ask you for money, donations or try to sell you genealogical data of any kind. If a host should approach you asking for money or to try and sell you data, please contact Susan  immediately.


Census:  This is a great way to find other family members, document your family in a county, find out where they were born, where their parents were born, occupations, etc. From 1850 on, the census will list all of the family members. Prior to that time, only the head of household will be listed and the family will be listed under special headings according to their age and sex. Again, pay close attention to the surrounding families, they often times are family members too. To see what Census information Illinois Trails has to offer, visit our Census page.

Cemeteries:  Death certificates and obituaries often times list the cemetery where your ancestor is buried. Pay close attention to the stones that surround your ancestor. Many times married daughters and other relatives are buried nearby.

Divorce records:  Yes, people did divorce "back then" and these records can really be a great help to you. They would be located in the Circuit Clerk's office at the Courthouse.

Wills, Probates and Guardianships: Also located in the Circuit Clerk's office, these records can offer you a variety of h elp. Wills and Probates will give you the date of death. They usually tell you the family members that were left items the deceased owned and any land he owned. Guardianship records may prove useful to find out where the minor children went to live. These are especially gratifying records when you cannot locate your family member after the death of a parent or parents.

The Railroad Retirement Board: For those of you whose ancestors worked for the Railroad, the Railroad Retirement Board should help you access employee/pension data.

Also check the County histories, old newspapers, funeral homes, church records, etc. As you research, you will become aware of all the different resources available to you.

The Illinois State Archives , located in Springfield, has all Illinois census on microfilm, with exception of the 1890, which was destroyed in a fire in 1921. They also have listings for the military in Illinois, which includes, for Civil War Veterans, a description of each man (eye, hair color, etc.) Illinois Trails has some of the Descriptive Rolls online now, click here to view them. The Archives also houses books on Illinois in general and some on individual County history. Mortality indexes that still survive can also be found here.  There are many other items the Archives has available, and a visit to their website is a definite must. One area that seems to get passed over is the Descriptive Inventory at the Illinois state archives. There are all sorts of records listed that may prove to be beneficial to your research. One example is the Illinois Convict Register. (well...if you have an elusive ancestor, you have to check for them everywhere!). We have started to transcribe this register. You can view what we have online by clicking here.

The archives will do a search by email, phone or by mail (limit 2 per request). 
Click here to use their online records request form. The Archives also has online data that you can search today, including the Marriage database, Illinois Land Sales Database, the Chicago Council Proceedings for 1833-1871, the Civil War Veterans of Illinois, the Spanish American War Veterans and many other online data, as does the Illinois Trails Military page.
Some people living along the Mississippi in Illinois did cross the river into Missouri for marriage, employment, etc. Be sure to check bording states if you're unable to locate your ancestor in Illinois.

The Bureau of Land Management has an online database of land patents that are searchable AND include images of the original patents. Be sure to check this out!
The National Archives can be of great help to you. They house many records, important to any genealogist. A few of their main resources are Immigration , Passenger Lists and Military Files. Visit their website for more information.  You might also want to check the Great Lakes Regional Archive Site, located in Chicago, for more information on what they have available to you. They also have the NAIL database where you can find files online.

The Illinois State Historical Library , just down the road from the Archives, is another great resource. They have, among other things, old newspapers that have survived over the years. To do a search to see what newspapers are available for the area in Illinois you are researching, click here to access the Illinois Newspaper Project's Database. You can purchase a roll of microfilm or request a lookup.  More information can be found at their website. Included here are a large assortment of books on Illinois and other States.  A terrific resource for anyone researching in Illinois. To read about Events in Illinois, such as slavery, the 1811/12 Earthquake, Epidemics, etc., visit the Illinois Trails Events page. To find records regarding Illinois' history, Governors, Old Laws and Trails, Institutions, Early Settlers, helpful hints and forms and so on, visit the Illinois Trails State Data page.

Other State resources include the Illinois Genealogical Society and the Illinois Heritage Association. Most historical and genealogical societies have publications you can purchase. These include, Census, Marriage, Cemetery, Military and other transcriptions that can help you if you can't visit the Courthouse yourself. The local county librarian can also be one of your resources. For a listing of Illinois Public Libraries, click here. You can do a search at the VIC (Virtual Illinois Catalog) database, by clicking here. Be sure to check the Illinois Trails County pages as well, for more information on a specific County. We are working hard to bring this type of information to you via our website.

Illinois is rich in history.  The Illinois State Museum has provided a terrific timeline that should be a great help to you.  It gives a wonderful view of different periods in Illinois history.

Located at the ISGS site online, are the listings of Genealogical and Historical societies in Illinois . Most Societies have publications that can help you in your research. The Illinois Regional Archives Depository (IRAD)(*see The Illinois State Archives, IRAD section, for more information concerning your area's IRAD*), also houses County records. Their website gives you information on where to look for these records, and you can also do a search of what is available by County. We've provided you with a listing of what records are available at each County Courthouse, courtesy of Kim Torp.

Need to locate a church, cemetery or find out what county a town is located in? You can find the answers through the Geographic Names Information System (GNIS). The GNIS search form can pinpoint any place in the United States. Simply use the search form, follow the directions and you should find what you are looking for.

If you're looking for a town that no longer exists, try using the
1895 Atlas. It lists all towns in all states that were in existence in 1895,

Finally, if you are planning a visit to Illinois to do research, here are a few links to Illinois Travel Information.

Stay Illinois. com - Hotel listings and reservations

Enjoy Illinois - Tourism information, Trip planner, State Parks, Visitor's bureau, etc.

Inside Illinois - Links to Maps, directions, counties

IDOT - Illinois Department of Transportation

Illinois Airport Directory

Cities and Counties Online - For more local information on courthouses, hotels, emergency services, tourism, businesses in the area, libraries, etc.

The Illinois State Archives

IRAD -Illinois Regional Archives Depository

Illinois Libraries

Illinois State Data/ Illinois Census/Illinois Military/Illinois Events/

/Illinois Counties/Volunteer information/

Illinois Trails Main Page


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