We have many free online books, articles and maps, as well as links to online collections; all of which can be useful to anyone investigating family history or local history in Illinois. If you scroll down the The Great Lakes States Past & Present Directory, you will find 15 subject pages with resources for Illinois. The pages and materials below might be a good place to start.
Update: Since this post was prepared, many additional modern books have been added to the pages below.
For a similar guide to family history and local history resources for Indiana, see: Indiana Genealogy & Local History Resources.
Biographies & Memoirs in Illinois History
The United States Biographical Dictionary and Portrait Gallery of Eminent and Self-Made Men; Illinois Volume
Illinois Cultural History
Scott, Franklin W., Newspapers and Periodicals of Illinois 1814-1879
A guide to newspapers published throughout the state. To find online versions, see below under Illinois Periodicals.
Illinois History: Documents & Collections of Records
University of Illinois Library, Illinois Harvest
Contains numerous collections of free online books and other materials, including “Genealogy Resources”, County and Local histories, biographies, military history, Chicago history, church history, atlases and more.
State of Illinois Library, Illinois Digital Archives
Contains free online collections of images, manuscripts, maps, newspapers, local archives, oral histories and more.
Western Illinois University Library, Illinois Historical Collections
Includes volumes on early 19th century Illinois census returns and a bibliography of county archives.
See our Encyclopedia Britannica free download
Explorers and Travelers in Illinois History
Buck, Solon, Travel and Description, 1765-1865, together with a list of county histories, atlases, and biographical collections and a list of territorial and state laws
A useful and extensive bibliography.
Illinois General History
Bateman etc., Historical Encyclopedia of Illinois and History of Knox County
A useful reference work that also contains many biographies.
This page contains a number of histories of Illinois.
History of Illinois Cities, Counties & Regions
Online Illinois County Histories Website
A huge collection of old county histories, all online and free. Most county histories are packed with biographical information.
Chicago Historical Museum, Encyclopedia of Chicago
An online searchable encyclopedia, and a good modern source for local history in Chicago.
Pease, Theodore Calvin, ed., The County Archives of the State of Illinois
An early 20th century inventory of records available in county courthouses.
This page contains a number of histories of Chicago and other cities, and most have lots of biographical information.
Illinois Maps, Map Collections & Gazetteers
Historic MapWorks, Illinois Historical Maps and Atlases
Big collection of Illinois atlases, containing county, township and city maps.
University of Illinois Library, Historical Maps Online
Old Maps Online
Illinois State Archives, Federal Township Plats of Illinois (1804-1891)
You’ll need to download their plug-in to view the plat maps. There is also a link here to a separate dbase of public domain land sales.
Hughes, Edward J., comp., Counties of Illinois: their Origin and Evolution, with Twenty-three Maps Showing the Original and the Present Boundary Lines of each County of the State
Beck, Lewis C. A Gazetteer of the States of Illinois and Missouri, containing a general view of their counties, and a particular description of their towns, villages, rivers, &c
Contains descriptions of towns and villages as they were in about 1820.
Hawes, George, Illinois State Gazetteer and Business Directory for 1858 and 1859.
This odd collection of reference materials includes lists of men in business in several cities.
Native Americans in Illinois History
Beckwith, Hiram W., Some Account of the Indian Tribes formerly Inhabiting Indiana and Illinois
Information about Illinois tribes, and locations where they resided.
There are several other works about Native American tribes that resided in Illinois; two of them about tribes in the Chicago area.
Navigation on the Great Lakes & the Region’s Rivers
Beeson’s Sailors’ Hand Book: A Complete Directory of the Northwestern Lake Ports Relative to the Customs Service, and Synopsis of Marine Laws
An annual directory produced for people who were engaged Great Lakes shipping business. Contains ads and info on all sorts of port services, lists of Great Lakes vessels and their owners, and a variety of articles, tables and reports. Almost every directory from 1888 to 1921 is here.
R.L. Polk and Co.’s Marine Directory of the Great Lakes. Vol. 3, 1891
A directory similar to Beeson’s (above). Only one volume available.
Maritime History of the Great Lakes
A web site with historical documents, articles, ship lists, images of ships etc. Very extensive information.
Illinois History Periodicals: Magazines, Historical Journals & Newspapers
The historical journals at the top of the page are mainly useful for articles on local history. Most have indexes at the front of each annual volume. Transactions has a single 2-volume index covering nearly 40 years’ issues.
For free online newspapers, use the websites at the bottom of the page; The Ancestor Hunt and Illinois Digital Newspaper Collections.
Illinois Social History Books and Articles
Strand, A. E., A History of the Norwegians of Illinois
Waller, Elbert, Illinois Pioneer Days
Entertaining and informative book about what life was like on the frontier.
Conflict, War and Military History in Illinois
Dornbusch, Charles Emil, Regimental Publications & Personal Narratives of the Civil War: A Checklist. Vol. 1, Part 1 – Illinois
This bibliography lists known works covering all Civil War military units. If you find a title of interest, you may find Searching for Free eBooks helpful.
Eddy, T. M., The Patriotism of Illinois. A Record of the Civil and Military History of the State in the War for the Union with a history of the campaigns in which Illinois soldiers have been conspicuous, sketches of distinguished officers, the roll of the illustrious dead …
Elliot, Isaac H., ed., Record of the Services of Illinois Soldiers in the Black Hawk War, 1831-32, and in the Mexican War, 1846-8 containing a complete roster of commissioned officers and enlisted men of both wars … with an appendix, giving a record of the services of the Illinois Militia, Rangers and Riflemen, in protecting the frontier from the ravages of the Indians from 1810 to 1813
Illinois Adjutant General, Report of the Adjutant General of the State of Illinois (9 vols)
Rosters of officers and enlisted men in the Civil War, Black Hawk War, Mexican War and Spanish-American War. Also rosters of “Militia, Rangers and Riflemen” who served in 1810-1813.
States Publications Society, comp. , Illinois in the World War; An Illustrated History of the Thirty-Third Division
Includes rosters of companies in the division, with many photos of groups and individuals.