Directories have been published for various Illinois cities and counties since the 1830s, though they may not exist for every year. Some directories focus on the businesses or occupations of an area, while others include heads of households, landowners, and voters.
City and county directories are similar to present-day telephone books and are useful records for locating people. They were often published annually, listing heads of households, employed household members, and their occupations and addresses. They can be used with census records or as substitutes for them.
Directories are particularly helpful for research in large cities where a high percentage of the people were renters, new arrivals, or temporary residents. In fact, a directory may be the only source that lists a person if he was not registered to vote and did not own property. Most households were included because the directories were created for salesmen, merchants, and others interested in contacting residents of an area.
Directories have other clues that may require careful study to discover. For example, people in similar or related occupations were often relatives, in-laws, or friends. A year-by-year study of directories may reveal the movements of ancestors and relatives within the city and sometimes to or from other cities.
Examples of directories that may be found in an archive are: city directories, telephone directories, church directories, occupational directories, farmers directories, or rosters of society members.
- The Newberry Library, the Chicago Historical Society, also known as the Chicago History Museum and other libraries have excellent collections of city and county directories. Contact the local library in the area where you believe your ancestor lived to learn what directories are available.
- Ancestry.com ($) has a selection of directories for cities through out the state.
- The Family History Library has various directories from throughout the state of Illinois. Many were published as county directories listing inhabitants of major towns in the county. Rural directories collected information on farmers, dairymen, and other rural residents. To find city directories in the Family History Library Catalog:
- 1. Type the word "Illinois" in the Place-names search; then click Search. Or you may type in the name of a county or town in the Place-names search.
- 2. Locate the subject "Directories."
- 3. Click on the highlighted blue title for a full description.
- ILLINOIS, DIRECTORIES
- ILLINOIS, [Name of County] - DIRECTORIES
- ILLINOIS, [Name of County, [Name of Town] - DIRECTORIES
- Current telephone directories can be found on the Internet. Whitepages.com is one such website that is useful in locating living relatives.
- Google books and archive.org often have a variety of directories. A general search of "Illinois city directories", or a specific search for a particular county or town of interest may provide interesting directories.
- The following are typical of the city directories in the Family History Library Catalog for Chicago and Cook County.
- 1839–1928 Family History Library fiche 6043786–6043808; film 1376659 (first film)
- 1844–1901 Family History Library films 1000739–1000754
- Lurie Index of People in Chicago in 1937 As Well As All of the Voters’ Registration for Chicago. Tucson, Arizona: Reproduction, 19–?. Family History Library films 933501–933538. Names and addresses of residents of Chicago in 1937.
- Directories for other cities, such as Peoria, Rockford, and Springfield, are also available at the Family History Library.
- Smith and DuMoulin : Montague T. Platt, Illinois state business directory, 1860, Chicago : J.C.W. Bailey and Co. Full book view is available at Internet Archive.
- Bailey, J.C.W., Chicago Pub., Illinois state gazetteer and business directory, for the years 1864-5, Chicago, J.C.W. Bailey. Full book view is available at Internet Archive.
- Saint Louis (Mo) - Commerce Directories, Montague's Illinois and Missouri state directory for 1854-5 to which is appended, a new and complete business directory of the city of St. Louis (1954), St. Louis : W.L. Montague. Full book view is available at Internet Archive.
- Illinois (State) Directories. Woodbridge, Connecticut: Research Publications, 1980–84. Family History Library fiche 6043985–6043989.A series of directories of businesses in Illinois and Missouri with the original directories in this collection published between 1847 and 1860.
- The Newberry Library
- Chicago Historical Society
- Illinois Online Historical Directories