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Local and Family History Research

A guide for beginners in searching local or family history using government and association sources.

Tips from Federal Agencies

Census Materials

Federal Census search
Every ten years since 1790, the federal government has taken a census to enumerate the population. Census enumerators would canvass their districts house-to-house, collecting information about individuals and households on large forms called population schedules. Milner owns all the available decennial population schedules for Illinois from 1820 through 1930 (in microfilm on floor 4) and provides online access to the 1940 census. Milner also owns other state population schedules for selected years. We have selected print indexes for Illinois and other state censuses.

City Directories

City directories are usually published annually for many cities across the nation and give a detailed view for that city. Directories list households and businesses by street address within the community. For researchers, the yearly information can fill the gap left by the decennial censuses.

American Directories through 1860. Microfiche E154.5 .A5, Onsite Storage--A large set of city directories includes several Illinois cities and counties.

United States City Directories (1861-81, 1882-1901). Microfilm E154.5 .A52, Onsite Storage--Sets includes directories for about 80 major cities in the U.S. Illinois cities include Chicago, Joliet, and Peoria.

Bloomington-Normal City Directory, et al. Print F549 .B65, Floor 4 and Special Collections.--Volumes from 1953 to the present are located on the 4th floor with earlier volumes located in Special Collections. The earliest volumes date back to the 1870s. Street indexes to Bloomington have been published since 1893. Normal streets were added to the street index in 1920.

County Histories

Milner Library holds many bound volumes of Illinois county histories, published in the late 1800s and early 1900s. All are listed in our Catalog. Most are located in the call number area F547 and are on the 3rd floor. County histories include biographical profiles of community members.

Illinois County and Regional Histories of the Old "Northwest." Microfilm F541 .C6, Onsite Storage.--In addition to county histories, this set also contains biographical records, plat books and atlases for various counties. An index is available in the Reference Collection, F541 .C6. Please seek assistance at the Reference Desk.


Sanborn Insurance Maps
Milner Library subscribes to a database of detailed, historic Sanborn Insurance maps dating from 1867 up to 1970. These maps were made for fire insurance purposes and show outlines of building structures, indicating all porches, wall materials (brick, wood, stone, iron) and the location of windows and the number of stories. Not all neighborhoods are covered by Sanborn maps. Images can be enlarged to view detail.

Plat Maps

The oldest plat maps we have for McLean County are in the atlas titled, McLean County Combined Indexed Atlases, 1856-1914. It is located in Special Collections.

Milner maintains current subscriptions to plat maps for Illinois counties. These are located on floor 4 in files near the map cases. Most of these date from the mid-twentieth century to the present.

Plat or survey maps may also be searched online via the U.S. Department of Interior's Bureau of of Land Management (BLM) General Land Office Records site.

Land Records

Illinois Public Domain Land Tract Sales The database contains information about nearly 550,000 land sales from the 54,740 square miles of the public domain sold within Illinois. Each purchase entry includes the purchaser's name, purchase date, number of acres, price per acre, numeric code indicating the county in which the land is located, legal description (township, section, range), volume and page numbers of original entry, and variously, the sale type, and the purchaser's sex and residence. More information


Digitized Newspapers

Microfilm Newspapers
Milner Library has a variety of local, regional and national newspapers, many extending back to the nineteenth century.

Bloomington Leader (Bloomington) 1870–97, 2nd floor microfilm (Encompasses Bloomington Daily Leader, Bloomington Leader, Daily Leader, and Weekly Leader)

Daily Bulletin (Bloomington) 1881–1927, 2nd floor microfilm

Pantagraph (Bloomington) 1853–present, 2nd floor microfilm [Also available online]

Normalite (Normal) 1929–present, 2nd floor microfilm

Chicago Defender 1921–present, 2nd floor microfilm

Chicago Tribune 1848–present, 2nd floor microfilm.  [Also available online]

Illinois State Journal (Springfield) 1836–1974, 2nd floor microfilm

Illinois State Register (Springfield) 1852–1900, 2nd floor microfilm

State Journal Register (Springfield) 1974–1980, 2nd floor microfilm

New York Times 1851–present, 2nd floor microfilm [Also available online]

Questions? Contact me!

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Angela Bonnell
Milner Library, Office #417
309 438-2354