Because of my husband’s extended Williams family, I have done a lot of research in Illinois. Here are some of the best free sites that I have come across:
1. IRAD – First and foremost is the Illinois Regional Archives Depository system, abbreviated to IRAD, which has a wealth of information. Take a look at some of the databases it houses. You will find everything from a statewide marriage index to emancipation records.
The university records section covers a good portion of the state. Don’t overlook the first category, as it not only includes Illinois Servitude and Emancipation Records (1722-1863), but buried there is the Public Domain Land Tract Sales Database. That is hiding a great finding tool for those ancestors who acquired land in Illinois because the BLM database link is found there.
2. Illinois GenWeb – Part of the USGenWeb, the Illinois site has county links, along with statewide links. The Cook County site is advertising an upcoming project abstracting vital records and other news from old newspapers, especially important considering the 1871 Chicago fire.
3. FamilySearch.org – The FamilySearch Historical Records Collections includes 25 databases of digitized Illinois records, including browsable probate records and six databases related to Chicago and Cook County.
4. Illinois State Genealogical Society – Although a membership society, its website does offer links to some free databases, including IL Resources, Free Databases and Surname Research.
5. Illinois State Historical Society – Choose “Links” in the menu on the left side. In addition to History Resources at the top of the page and IL Highways at the very bottom, the page has TONS of links to historical societies all over Illinois. These local societies just might have the impossible piece of documentation that you’ve never been able to find.
6. Illinois Labor History Society – Did your ancestor work in Illinois, particularly in a city? Are you interested in the history of the Labor Movement in the U.S.? Click “Resources” on the home page and then “Links” to access information.
7. Illinois Digital Archives – Looking for oral histories? Old photos? Maps? documents? You will find them here.
8. Illinois Digital Newspaper Collections – Check the database to see if the area and time period covers your family.
9. University of Illinois at Chicago – A multi-topic database of digital collections can be found here. Some are searchable, while others are links to other sites.
10. Northern Illinois University Digital Collections– There are links to 15 different collections, some relating to Illinois, others elsewhere.
11. Local colleges and public libraries – Don’t forget to check collections of college and libraries local to your ancestor’s residence.