Kaskaskia was already a village inhabited by the Kaskaskia Indians when French Jesuit priests established a mission there in 1703. France claimed the territory by virtue of the expedition of Marquette and Joliet in the seventeenth century. Kaskaskia (and all of present-day Illinois) was originally part of Quebec until the Mississippi River Valley was annexed by Louisiana on 27 September 1717. During its time as a French possession, Kaskaskia was the largest town in Illinois.
The French ruled Kaskaskia from 1719 to 1763, when they lost it (and all of their territory east of the Mississippi River, except New Orleans) at the end of the French and Indian War. The British held Illinois and Kaskaskia until July 4, 1778, when American General George Rogers Clark captured the town without firing a single shot.
Americans started arriving almost immediately, and many of the French speaking colonists left the town to settle in Missouri (then under Spanish control) or in other French colonies. By the 1810 U.S. Census (the first surviving American census for Kaskaskia), there were far more Americans in the town than Frenchmen. The transformation from French colony to American city was so complete that the area is today called the American Bottom.
Illinois became the 21st state on 3 December 1818, and Kaskaskia was its first capital. Two years later, though, the capital moved to Vandalia and in 1839 to Springfield. When the capital moved, Kaskaskia lost its importance. People left the town and it soon became an irrelevant farming community on the edge of Illinois. The town was struck a crippling blow in 1881 when the Mississippi River changed course and buried Old Kaskaskia. What remained of the town became an island and one of the few parts of Illinois that lies west of the Mississippi River.
Today Kaskaskia barely exists. In the 2000 census, it had 9 citizens.
The Catholic parish register survives in fragments only. Christenings/Baptisms are lost from mid-1721 to 1759. No marriage records before 1724 or from mid-1729 to 1740 are extent, nor are burial records before 1721 or from late 1727 to mid-1764.
Censuses during the colonial period were irregular, but several exist. Like early American censuses, these only give the names of the head of household and the number of people in the household, but the information they contain is still of great use.
- 1726 French census: The Census Tables for the French Colony of Louisiana from 1699 Through 1732, by Charles R. Maduell, Jr. Genealogical Publishing Company: Baltimore, MD, 1972, p. 50-60. Also available in La population des forts français d'Amérique (XVIIIe siècle) by Marthe F. Beauregard. Bergeron: Montréal, Canada, 1984, p. 206-211.
- 1732 French census: The Census Tables for the French Colony of Louisiana from 1699 Through 1732, by Charles R. Maduell, Jr. Genealogical Publishing Company: Baltimore, MD, 1972, p.150-153.
- 1752 French census: Kaskaskia Under the French Regime, by Natalia Maree Belting. Polyanthos: New Orleans, 1948, p. 86-98. Belting includes a genealogical commentary on each entry in the census. The census is also available in La population des forts français d'Amérique (XVIIIe siècle) by Marthe F. Beauregard. Bergeron: Montréal, Canada, 1984, p. 212-213.
- 1787 American census: Kaskaskia Records, 1778-1790, by Clarence Walworth Alvord. Illinois State Historical Library: Springfield, IL, 1909, p. 414-419. Alvord also includes a commentary that contains some genealogical information, although not all of it is accurate. This census only has French names on it. A (perhaps non-comprehensive) list of American men in Illinois (not just Kaskaskia) can be found at Alvord, p. 421-423, 443-445. Also available in La population des forts français d'Amérique (XVIIIe siècle) by Marthe F. Beauregard. Bergeron: Montréal, Canada, 1984, p. 214-217.
The Church of the Immaculate Conception was a Catholic parish established originally as a Jesuit mission among the Indians in 1695 that had moved to the current site of Kaskaskia in 1703. It became a full parish in 1719. The parish register is the best available record for genealogical information before the early 1790's and the arrival of a large influx of Americans. The parish register is available (in French only) in the following sources:
- La population des forts français d'Amérique (XVIIIe siècle) by Marthe F. Beauregard. Kaskaskia's parish record is in volume 2. (Note: Beauregard only compiled records through 1799, even though the parish register goes well into the 19th century.)
- LDS Family History Library microfilm #1026607, Item 3
- The Drouin Collection at ancestry.com.
- Quebec Catholic Records Database. Fully searchable database of nearly 700,000 baptismal, marriage, and burial certificates. Illinois parishes are not included, but many Illinois families had ties to Canada and sometimes moved from one to the other.
- Kaskaskia Manuscripts, 1714-1816. These records contain tax lists, debts, wills, inventories, adoptions, land records, marriages, selling of slaves, requisitions, etc. Originals held in the Randolph County Courthouse. Microfilm copy held by the Illinois Regional Archives and the Family History Library. (Microfilm is difficult to read in places.)
- Kaskaskia Records, 1778-1790, by Clarence Walworth Alvord, 1909. This is a compilation of civil records during the beginning of American rule in Kaskaskia. Includes a mix of court records, petitions to the American government, military records, and censuses.
- New France Court Records Database, Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec. Illinois was part of the French colony of New France until 1717, and closely connected to that colony until 1763. The names of Illinois residents and traders appear frequently in court recorts from Montreal, Quebec, and other French colonial towns. This collection is indexed and searchable, with links to online photographs of the original manuscripts. All records are in French.
- Database of Servitude and Emancipation Records (1722-1863). Searchable database from the Illinois State Archives of more than 3,400 names of servants, slaves, and former slaves. Especially useful for African American and (occasionally) Native American research, but also has information on slaveholding families.
- The Illinois Country, 1673-1818, by Clarence Alvord. Stil the most comprehensive history of the French period in Illinois. Fully searchable Google Books digital copy.
- French Roots in the Illinois Country: The Mississippi Frontier in Colonial Times, by Carl J. Ekberg. Detailed overview of French settlements pre-1763, with many family names mentioned. Extensive bibliography of local records. Google Books digital preview.
- A Directory, Business Mirror, and Historical Sketches of Randolph County by E. J. Montague - the first history of Randolph County, Illinois, published in 1859. It includes biographical sketches of early settlers of Randolph County (mostly Americans) and a directory listing the head of household and occupation of every 1859 resident of the county.
- Kaskaskia Under the French Regime by Natalia Maree Belting, published in the 1940's and still one of the authoritative sources on French colonial life in Randolph County (especially Kaskaskia).
- The History of Kaskaskia, Illinois, in a Family History Context
- Early Kaskaskia, Illinois Newspapers, 1814-1832, by Lola Frazer Crowder: Frontier Press, 1994.
See Kaskaskia Manuscripts, under Court Records.
- The Illinois Statewide Marriage Index. Database maintained by the Illinois State Archives, includes indexed marriage records from Kaskaskia, 1726-1768, and 1809-1910. Records are organized by county, even for periods that predate the county's formation.
Societies and Libraries
- Belting, Natalia Maree. (1948). Kaskaskia Under the French Regime. Polyanthos: New Orleans, p. 16-17
- Belting, Natalia Maree. (1948). Kaskaskia Under the French Regime. Polyanthos: New Orleans, p. 38
- Historical Encyclopedia of Illinois. (1915). v. 1, p. 251-252.
- Norris, F. Terry. The Illinois Country--Lost and Found:Assessment of the Archaeological Remains of French Settlements in the Central Mississippi Valley, 1703-1763. Doctoral dissertation presented to Saint Louis University, 1997, p. 236.
- Historical Encyclopedia of Illinois. (1915). v. 2, p. 315.
- Norris, F. Terry. The Illinois Country--Lost and Found:Assessment of the Archaeological Remains of French Settlements in the Central Mississippi Valley, 1703-1763. Doctoral dissertation presented to Saint Louis University, 1997, p. 194.
- Mason, Edward Gay. (1881). Kaskaskia and its Parish Records. Chicago: Fergus Printing Company, p. 19
- Mason, Edward Gay. (1881). Kaskaskia and its Parish Records. Chicago: Fergus Printing Company, p. 11, 14, 15, 19.
- Belting, Natalia Maree. (1948). Kaskaskia Under the French Regime. Polyanthos: New Orleans, p. 10-12.