White County, Illinois

In the fall of 1998 I did a couple of genealogy programs on behalf of the White County Historical Society.  I thought people researching our county might be interested in my outlines.

1.   Learn your Illinois history:

     State settled from edges to middle and south to north--learn to work with a map and maybe a gazetter--many books that show development of counties--not a big problem in southern parts of state except for Saline Co. and Pope, since the counties were established pretty early. In first IL census, 1810, Randolph County included just about all of southern Illinois. Of course, the very first IL residents, besides native americans, were the french, in southwestern part of state, but I have not encountered a many french descendants--I'd like to see if that is true with Vincennes people, as that was a French settlement taken over by English and then Americans.

     Original settlers were mostly from Carolinas and GA thru Tenn or KY--used to living on frontier--many Scotch-Irish Presbyterians, starting 1810-1818--there was problem in GA land ownership rules starting about 1814 so people who had just moved there took off north.

     Original settlements in hilly areas because of protection offered by forests and hills from Native American tribes and floods--this was the first time people encountered prairies, and early plows could not break the roots in the prairie grass--they actually thought something was wrong with the soil since it couldn't grow trees--also much different development due to natural resources and rivers--coal in many area, like Hillsboro--lead in Galena.

     Later settlers from OH and IN, mostly original had lived in PA--lots of Germans and Irish from 1840s on--very few came straight from europe to IL, although many boats did dock in New Orleans--we don't think about those. Building of Illinois Central Railroad in the 1840s speeded development of middle portion of state, and railroads were always a magnet for land speculation and immigrant laborers.

     Was your family part of an ethnic or sponsored communities, which include Germans in Piopolis, Irish in Enfield, to Polish in Posen (Jefferson County) to Italians in Herrin to Swedes in Bishop Hill--Albion and Vandalia and Cairo were promoted as model towns. Vandalia was also the western terminus of the Cumberland Road, which existed until the 1830s. This is part of going sideways in genealogy when you can't go straight back.

     Migration out of Illinois partially due to depletion of early forests and soil and lure of west--most from SI went through southern MO to TX or CA--floods changed much of southern Illinois--lots from southern to central IL--many had "itchy heels" and left when parents passed away or when there was no more land or after Civil War.  The biggest single recipient of White County residents appears to be Stoddard County, MO, where swamps and cyress forests originally covered most of the area. Some people moved back after the swamps were drained, but most went farther west, or joined the urban migration.  The St. Louis, Chicago, Detroit, Hammond, IN, and Akron, OH were popular locations for White County natives to obtain jobs, and, of course, Evansville, Indiana has become home to many native White Countians.

     Remember 1871-76 switch from voting precincts to townships--change of names and boundaries--this made big changes in White County--townships were basically laid out to mirror congressional townships.  In White Co. Fox River Precinct was replaced by Phillips and Emma Twps, with Gray getting some land, Mill Shoals established.

     Marriages were always recorded, but only with parents after 1870s, births start in 1870s and deaths about the same time, but not required until 1930s, so there are many omissions, especially in rural areas. Records normally did not move when counties were split up.

2.   Use libraries and published materials to get started

     This is predicated on starting by using family contacts--they may help point you to published resources, like the person who came and interviewed them or the cousin who is working on the family tree.

     County histories--most counties have old ones from the 1880s and 1890s, mostly based on subscriptions--new ones started to come out from 1960's on, with the early ones being more local history books than family histories--lots of towns or counties did or are doing something for 150th anniversary, which was 1965 for White Co. and Carmi and 1997 for Saline Co.  Many towns have local histories which can help you see patterns of residents. Atlases are good if one was published in your county, like the 1901 one for White County. Again, these include biographies of subscribers.

     Legacy of Kin by Harold Felty--great book for Hamilton, White and surrounding counties--I can set it by my computer and add names by the bunch, as it matches children and parents.

     Cemetery books--I almost prefer these to actually going to the cemeteries, since so many cemeteries have had older stones destroyed or are illegible. Some are more accurate than others, based on the familiarity of the compilers with the cemetery. Many people have no markers, especially for pre-civil war burials. White and Hamilton have multiple copies, but the Gallatin and Wayne ones seem to be out of print.

     Transcribed obit, census, marriage records available for many areas--sometimes these are newspaper gleanings--use the censuses to get migration patterns--good obits don't start until about 1910, but those might be long-living children of original settlers. White is great with 4 books of marriages transcribed up to 1930 and new indexes. Wayne starts in 1850, Hamilton has up to 1870s, haven't seen much on Gallatin. This might be a good place to look at CD-Roms.  I like census transcriptions for ease of use.

     Scrapbooks and newspapers available and surname or vertical files--Grayville and Carmi genealogy libraries have good sets of obit scrapbooks--I have used the surname files to get email addresses of potential contacts--Of course, I've also been lucky to have a first cousin, Verla Fleck Young, involved in transcribing obits so I have found many of my people

     Civil war records and especially military service records--Illinois sent a large number of soldiers to union army, and GAR was founded in Illinois--1929 state project to record all military graves is available but incomplete and many cemeteries go by different names--there is a 5 volume set of pension books from 1882 which can be used to get pension numbers and get copies of pension files. These are mostly CW soldiers but some 1812.  Sinking of General Lyon had traumatic effort on White County area--maybe 250 died in that. Also many area men died in Memphis, more from disease than battle.

     Illinois state archives have many items available--have cw database on line--also free requests for death info--sources for newspaper microfilms. See links on the links page.

     There are lots of abandoned towns or loosely organized communities that are only faintly remembered in Illinois--many times mentioned in obits or newspaper columns--most of these can be located by use of maps of old school districts or a church might still be functional--To illustrate changes in our county, right now White County has about 16,000 people, or somewhat less, in 1880 it had 23,089, and in 1860 it was only 11,872.  Because of this migration the state 1855 and 1865 censuses are helpful. A good book is Ghost Towns of Southern Illinois. It told me things about Sacramento I didn't know.

     Courthouses for me are best used for probate records and land transactions, and proofs if there are conflicts in your data--this depends on your goal and depth. The original records can sometimes clear up lots of problems, as when things have been misspelled, or there is probate activity for a young person.  Marriage copies run $5 each, while births and deaths are $5-10 each, uncertified. Birth and death records are to be accessed only by family members. Current death certificates are held at the Egyptian  Health Department located on Commerce Street in Carmi.

3.   County survey

     Gallatin--much migration from the county--some loss of records and structures and tombstones from floods, especially 1937--probate index and cemetery records available from 1960s--good 1988 history, and many books by Lucille Lawler, who is a descendent of General Michael Kelly Lawler, an early Irish settler. There is a library at Shawneetown but its hours are limited.  The school district has a nice web site for history.

     Saline--only organized in 1847, so there is lots of confusion between Gallatin and Saline areas--genealogy library open mon-fri mornings--lots of books available--Janet Armstrong likes to work at the Eldorado library, which has a lot of reference books but no real genealogy section.  Eldorado also home to the nearest FHC.

     White--good selection of printed sources from Harriet Vaught--probate index, marriages to 1930, cemetery listings--at least four good library genealogy departments, including the public library, genealogy, Grayville (lots of obits and funeral cards), and Norris City (Ira Shain's work). There was once a big stave factory in Mill Shoals, fruit industry in Herald.

     Wayne--courthouse fire in 1886 destroyed many early records--marriage transcription starts  1850--there is a good set of cemetery books and newspaper gleanings, prepared by Doris Bland and others--a couple of county histories. Many more Ohio settlers than lower counties--one twp. is named Massilion for Ohio settlement.

     Edwards--home to early English migration which is well-documented but not very successful--seems to have attracted a number of early KY settlers--not much genealogy available at Albion library, as it is very small--offset by two good modern county histories available, with Terry Harper as excellent leader of internet discussion group. There is genealogy library in Historical Society open Thursday evenings.

     Hamilton--Legacy of Kin V I and II are great resources--Hamilton is almost like Gallatin with much movement of people in and out of county--marriage transcription only up to 1854 or 1870 makes this harder--have that 1997 history book but it is pretty useless for family history, good for town history--even Martin's store is listed--a couple of cemetery books and a probate index is available. Genealogy library is open Monday, Wednesday and Friday mornings.

     Jefferson--Brehm Library is good source with long hours--A couple of county histories are available, one of which drives me crazy as it was typed in script print--I haven't found a good batch of cemetery and marriage books--Brehm is also good for interlibrary loans. A good listing of obituaries is available. Railroad car factory was magnet for people in late 19th century.

     Clay--have article from IL state genealogy society with listing of materials available--no fires in county courthouse--also seems to have lots of migration in and out, as much of its early industry was logging.

     Southern counties need to see materials of GSSI at JAL college--many items available--Pope is a problem as late organized.  Several of the counties have lost much population, while Carbondale & Marion area have grown.

     Wabash--Illinois room at Mt. Carmel library--good printout with all county cemetery listings--some recent county histories.  Elsewhere I have a link to their library.

Return to the White County ILGenWeb Page

The Coordinator for the White County, Illinois US GenWeb page is

 Cindy Birk Conley
Personal Web Site: home.midwest.net/~cbconly


Created by Laurel Crook, 05 Aug 1998

Copyright ©1998, 1999, 2000 by Laurel Crook  and  Cindy Birk Conley, all rights reserved. For personal use only. Commercial use of the information contained in these pages is strictly prohibited without prior permission. If copied, this copyright notice must appear with the information.