Illinois Ancestors: 'Picturing Illinois' should appeal to postcard collectors

Illinois Ancestors: 'Picturing Illinois' should appeal to postcard collectors

"Picturing Illinois" is a new book that is sure to appeal to anyone interested in postcard collections, especially anyone with Illinois ancestors. Using captions on the cards, messages written by the senders, comments in guidebooks and observations by authors, it is demonstrated that postcards can reveal much about an area's history as well as illustrate places and times.

In the 1860s, the highest-quality postcards were printed in Europe. Originally in the United States, only official postal cards issued by the U.S. Postal Service could be legally sent through the mail. Postcards printed by commercial firms were legalized in 1893, when the earliest souvenir postcard was made of a view of the World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago. Postcards in this book's collection date from 1893 to 1965 and include "linen" type, created to "revive sagging postcard sales" in the 1930s, and black-and-white views created by amateur photographers (usually taken of homes or family gatherings).

The format of this book illustrates how the history of Chicago, as well as downstate, is reflected in postcards of the day. Idealized landscapes, cars instead of horses, modern buildings and attractive downtowns, as well as cartoon-like novelty cards, have reflected what individuals would want to send or receive. Postcards may contain errors, however. A postcard of the University of Illinois' Memorial Stadium in Champaign is captioned, "Chicago"; it also has a dubbed-in lake and mountains.

"Picturing Illinois: Twentieth-Century Postcard Art from Chicago to Cairo," written by John A. Jakle and Keith A. Sculle, is a 232-page, indexed, hardcover, 8-by-10 -inch book with 202 color photographs, ISBN 978-0-252-03682-8, published by the University of Illinois Press, 1325 S. Oak St., Champaign, IL 61820, and costs $32.95. To order, phone 217-244-4689 or visit

Jakle is a professor emeritus of geography at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Sculle is the former director of the educational services for the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency. The Abraham Lincoln Library in Springfield holds some 5,200 postcards related to Lincoln and Illinois.

Many families have collections of old postcards — either from traveling friends or family members or as souvenirs of places visited. Owners of such collections usually do not give much thought to the historical importance of such portrayals nor the reasons for such pictures. Perhaps it would be wise to re-examine such cards for the clues provided by the senders and the cards themselves.

"Through vintage postcard art, one can see not just what the past looked like, but also what people were once encouraged to see and think about the time in which they were living ... Postcard images ... (are) both windows and mirrors."

The Internet Archive

The Internet Archive, briefly mentioned earlier this year for its free books, recently celebrated having 10 petabytes of data online. According to Richard Eastman's online newsletter on Oct. 16, this amount is "roughly the equivalent of books filling 300 million feet of shelving or 200 million four-drawer filing cabinets filled with text ... (or) 15 million CD-ROM disks full of information."

At, one can read more about this vast amount of available information as well as conduct a search. In addition to its texts, the Internet Archive contains movies, videos, historic photographs and music. For example, a search for the word "genealogy" resulted in 77,243 "hits."

Of more importance, however, genealogists (and scholars in general) need to bookmark this website in order to have free access to these digitized collections both now and in the future. (It is estimated that 1,000 books are being added every day.)

Professional genealogists

The Association of Professional Genealogists is "an international organization dedicated to support those engaged in the business of genealogy through advocacy, collaboration, education and the promotion of high ethical standards." Whether one is interested in becoming a professional genealogist or wishing to hire an expert to assist with personal research, the APG website is sure to provide advice. For example, from the website at, one can locate a professional by name, state or specialty. The search for Illinois experts results in a list beginning with Roberta D. Allen of the Danville Public Library; a click on her name provides contact information. One can search for someone with a research specialty (from Acadian-Cajun to Scots-Irish and Scottish Clans) and then click on a name for that member's contact information, etc.

The APG home page also provides links to news, chapters, activities and more. It is handy that the APG Directory can now be accessed online.

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.