Illinois Ancestors: Boundary changes can affect research

Illinois Ancestors: Boundary changes can affect research

Genealogical researchers need to be aware of boundary changes in order to conduct successful research. An ancestor may have lived on the same piece of property for his entire life, and yet the name of that geographical location may have changed several times. Knowing the geographical boundaries of an area where an ancestor lived is essential in order to determine the governing body's jurisdiction over records of that area.

Pennsylvania's counties' boundaries have changed considerably between 1682 (when the original counties of Bucks, Chester, and Philadelphia were established) and 1932 (when the state established 67 counties). A colorful, descriptive map that illustrates Pennsylvania's boundary changes can be found at Perhaps the records of that elusive Pennsylvania ancestor can now be ascertained and searched.

Illinois research can be greatly enhanced by a knowledge of Illinois' counties' boundary changes, which is detailed in the free booklet, "The Origin & Evolution of Illinois Counties," which can be viewed/downloaded (in PDF format) at

Whether one is seeking land records in a county courthouse or locating family records in a census record, it is important to determine if the correct location is being searched. To locate similar boundary changes in other states, do a Google search for "county boundary changes" + state (e.g., Indiana, Missouri, etc.)

A helpful reference that illustrates county boundary changes for every county in the US during each census year from 1790 to 1920 is "Map Guide to the U.S. Censuses, 1790-1920" by William Dollarhide and William Thorndale (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., Inc. 1987). Many genealogical libraries have this large book available for research.

An interesting and helpful website, enables one to click on any state and a county within that state for information on boundary changes and other information.

City directories

An oft-overlooked resource is the city directory where an ancestor lived. Census records taken every ten years can miss important family details that occurred during that 10-year period, but if an ancestor lived in a city large enough to warrant a city directory, important information can be ascertained.

Barbara Snow has written a helpful guide, "Your Guide to Finding Ancestors in City Directories," at

The Newberry Library has several Chicago city directories available online. From the library's website at one can select Chicago city directories for the years 1866, 1870, 1871, 1875, 1880, 1885, 1892, 1900, 1910 and/or 1923.

Some other city directories recently discovered online: "Quincy (IL) Directory, 1860" at and "Minneapolis (MN) City Directory Collection 1859-1917" at

Library of Congress

The most recent issue of "Library of Congress Magazine," (September/October 2013) is now available free to read and/or download at This issue is especially designed to help teachers use the library's primary resources.

The Library of Congress' "Chronicling America" website at enables one to search America's historic newspapers from 1836 to 1922. It is easy to search for a surname or keyword in all states or an individual state.

Steve Morse's shortcuts

A recent genealogy newsletter article by Dick Eastman, urges genealogists to search the Social Security Death Index by using Steve Morse's shortcuts. Some misguided politicians have introduced legislation to prohibit the publication of the SSDI but Eastman has repeatedly explained that the SSDI prevents identity theft rather than enabling it. (Read his article at

Since it has become increasingly difficult for researchers to find/use the SSDI, researchers should use Morse's search engine at, which "offers more search options than any of the other online sites" and enables SSDI searches in each of several websites: Keep in mind that some of these websites may require a paid subscription. Click on Morse's "other web pages" to access his other one-step tools that make researching easier.

Queries, genealogical questions from researchers and genealogical materials readers would like to share will be printed in this column free. Joan Griffis may be reached via email at or by sending a letter to Illinois Ancestors, c/o The News-Gazette, P.O. Box 677, Champaign, IL 61824-0677.

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