African American – Many African Americans came to Illinois with white settlers as slaves. They were brought up from the south. A law was passed in September of 1807 that allowed slaves who were over 15 to be brought into the region. However, the law stated that the clerk of common pleas had to be given a document registering the slave in question. On December 8, 1812 another law was passed that required all “mulattoes” and “free blacks” to register within 6 months after coming to Illinois. Those records still exist today. Salt wells located near Shawneetown drew several slave owners to the area and brought several slaves who were leased from Tennessee and Kentucky owners to white settlers in Illinois.
Governor Edwards declared the indenture law to be illegal in 1817. That led to the constitutional compromise of 1818, which stated that all indenture contracts were limited to one year. From January 17, 1829 onward, freedom certificates were issued to free African Americans. Some of the common pleas courts may have recorded copies of those certificates in their records. African American records may list places of origin as well.
African American death, marriage, and baptism records for Illinois before 1916 may be found in the following records: Immaculate Conception Church at Kaskaskia, St. Anne’s at St. Charles, St. Joseph’s at Prairie du Rocher.
Some county slave record books can be found at the Illinois State Library. Those records may include freedmen and French prior to 1860.
- Black Migration to Pulaski County, Illinois: 1860–1900; Illinois Historical Journal 80 (1987). Its focus is southern African Americans who settled in rural areas of the North.
- The History Of Negro Servitude In Illinois And Of The Slavery Agitation In That State 1719-1864. Also available on microfiche (LAC 12841): Microbook Library of American Civilization. Chicago: Library Resources, 1970.
- Hodges, Carl G. Illinois Negro Historymakers. Chicago: Illinois Emancipation Centennial Commission, 1964.
- Johnston, W. Wesley. “Illinois Free Black Records,” Illinois State Genealogical Society Quarterly 14 (Summer 1982): 72-73.
- Perrin, J. Nick, Collection. Tregillis, Helen Cox. River Roads to Freedom: Fugitive Slave Notices and Sheriff Notices Found in Illinois Sources. Bowie, Md.: Heritage Books, Inc., 1988.
- Illinois African American Books (amazon.com)
Native American – The Illinois Native Americans, or Illinewek wanted protection from the Europeans when the Europeans first came to Illinois. The New York Iroquois were trying to dominate them and they liked having the protection of European missions and forts. At one time, they were comprised of bands of Cahokia, Kaskaskia, Peoria, Tamroa, Moingwena, and Michigamea, making them the biggest tribe in the region.
Unfortunately, both disease and war led to the decimation of the Illinewek. As of 1832, only around 200 of them remained in the area. They ceded their lands that year and moved to a reservation in Kansas.
The Illinois State Archives is home to Record Group 103.62, “Executive Section, Executive File” (ca. 1824-32), as well as Record Group 100, “Records of the Illinois Territory.” The former includes peace conference speeches and treaties from Native Americans in Illinois. The latter includes similar information, as well as trade agreements and information about various tribes, which include: Cherokee, Delaware, Fox, Kickapoo, Osage, Ottawa, Potawatomi, Sauk, Shawnee.
Record Group 952.19, “Board of Commissioners, Ancient Grants Rejected” discusses Indian claims and land owner names for native lands. Record Group 953.14, “Terrier of Grants Made to Potawatomi Indians” lists land grants that were created as a result of the October 20, 1832 Treaty of Camp Tippecanoe. Record Group 953.18, “Abstract of Conditions of Surveys of Indian Grants and Reservations,” 1850 also contains useful Native American land grant information.
Immigrants from many different countries have come to Illinois over the years. In most cases, immigrants from a certain country or region settled together, forming their own communities. As of 1850, Germans made up about one third of the immigrants in Illinois. They were brought to the region by economic, political, and religious factors. Darmstadt and Dutch Hollow in St. Clair County were home to some of the early German settlers. “Ferdinand Ernst and the Germany Colony at Vandalia,” which was published in 1987 in Illinois Historical Journal 80, lists information on the Fayette County German settlement in 1820.
Several German immigrants were farmers, although there were also some artisans and professionals who came to the area and managed to stay in the same trades they were in back in Germany. Some also came with no money in their pockets just hoping to start a new life. They came to Chicago across the Great Lakes. Several of them worked in the city until they could afford to buy farms. That took quite a while, since the cost of living was so high in the cities and the cost of land for farming kept going up. Some people chose to stay in the city and give up on their farming dreams entirely.
Irish immigrants also came to Illinois. Many of them worked as day laborers or worked in factories within the cities. Some of them moved around to wherever new work could be had. As of 1869, most of the Illinois immigrants that were Irish had settled in Chicago. Some of them also worked on the Michigan and Illinois system of canals. However, that project was stopped temporarily in the beginning of the 1840s, leading many of the Irish workers to get into the farming industry, instead.
Several immigrants came to Illinois from England as well. Some were enticed by the London Roman Catholic Emigration Society, while others came to the area as a result of Joseph Smith sending Mormon missionaries from Nauvoo. Several Welsh immigrants settled in Kane County, while Cornish immigrants came to the area to work in the lead mines. The Scottish came to the area beginning in 1834 and, as of 1850, their population had grown to 4,660.
A group of Norwegians from New York created the first Midwest Norwegian settlement near Ottawa and the Fox River in 1834. Henry County’s Bishop Hill became home to a group of about 500 Swedish immigrants.
Illinois was home to a few French-Canadian immigrants in its early days. However, immigrants from France were scarce in the region until 1830. In 1831 the first major French section was established at Metamoram which was in Woodford County. Other French settlements soon followed. Kankakee County became home to Bourbonnais, which had 1,719 people living in it as of 1850. It was a French-Canadian settlement and its Canadian customs remained for many years after the settlement was founded.
In 1849, Portuguese immigrants who had been exiled for religious reasons settled in Jacksonville and Springfield. Some Bavarian Jews settled in Chicago. There were not many Swiss in Illinois, but some did settle in Madison County and others settled at Galena, in St. Clair County.
Informational bibliographies on different ethnic groups in Illinois can be found in a publication by Szucs. Szucs states that “At different times in its history, Chicago has been the largest Lithuanian city, the second largest Ukranian city, and the third largest Swedish, Irish, Polish, and Jewish city in the world.” Groups covered in that publication are: African Americans, Bohemians, Chinese, Czechoslovakian, Dutch, German, Greeks, Irish, Italian, Japanese, Lithuanian, Mexican, Norwegian, Polish, Russian, Swedish, Ukrainian.
Swedish-American newspapers – Church records, and other Swedish documentation from Illinois Swedes can be found at Augustana College Swenson Swedish Immigration Research, Rock Island, IL 61201. The Swedish-American Historical Society publishes Swedish Pioneer Historical Quarterly, which also contains useful genealogical information. Some of that information consists of family histories, newspapers, books, photographs, reference files, letters, and organization records.
A collection of more than 31,000 volumes of Czech-American documents can be found at the University of Illinois, Slavic Reference Service. The Illinois Benedictine College Library also holds a large collection of Czech historical documents, including family Bibles.
English and Irish reference materials can be found at the Newberry Library – The DePaul University, Lincoln Park Campus Library and the Irish American Heritage Center also hold many records relating to Irish immigrants in Illinois.
The Palatines to America – Illinois Chapter is home to many Illinois German records. The Cook County church records can also be quite useful when searching for information on German ancestors.
The Polish collection at the Portage-Cragin Branch Library and the Polish Genealogical Society can both provide Polish records.
Other facilities which may have information on Illinois ethnic groups include: Ukrainian National Museum of Chicago,
Chicago Public Library, Chinatown Branch,
Balzekas Museum of Lithuanian Culture
- Melvin G. Holli and Peter d’A. Jones, eds., Ethnic Chicago (Grand Rapids, Mich.: William B. Eerdmans, ca. 1984);
- Melvin G. Hilli and Peter d’A. Jones, eds., The Ethnic Frontier: Essays in the History of Group Survival in Chicago and the Midwest (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, ca. 1977);
- Ellen M. Whitney’s Illinois History: An Annotated Bibliography (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1995)
- Mark Wyman, Immigration History and Ethnicity in Illinois: A Guide (Springfield, Ill.: Illinois State Historical Society, 1989).