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Illinois Genealogy Resources

Church and Religious Records

Church records and the information they provide vary greatly depending on the denomination and the record keeper. They may contain information about members of the congregation, such as age; date of baptism, christening, or birth; marriage information and maiden names; and death date. Records may include names of other relatives who were witnesses or members of the congregation. The members of some churches were predominantly of one nationality or ethnic group.

In the decades following statehood, the largest religious groups in Illinois were the Methodist, Episcopal, Baptist, and Presbyterian churches. These groups came primarily from the southern states. At the same time, Congregationalists, Lutherans, and members of the Reformed faiths came from the eastern states. Roman Catholics became numerous in Illinois after 1860, especially in the northern industrial areas. Several counties in the northeastern part of the state became havens for Lutheran Scandinavians.

In the spring of 1839 a group of five thousand Latter-day Saints, following their expulsion from Ohio and Missouri, were led into Illinois by Joseph Smith. At Nauvoo, originally called Venus and Commerce, they established their Mormon community. The population increased, prosperity increased, and opposition against the Mormons increased. This opposition and dissension within their church ended in the murder of Joseph Smith. In September of 1845 the Mormons were told they were being expelled from the state, an expulsion that led to their migration west.

The Bishop Hill colony of Henry County was founded by a group of Swedish immigrants. Fifteen hundred of them, led by Eric Jaanson, established a communal existence of a "Bible only" sect in 1846. The murder of Janson in 1853 led to the 1860 dissolution of this religious community. Most of the Jansonists eventually became Methodists.

The Illinois State Archives collected some early Illinois church records that were given to the Illinois State Library. The Family History Library has microfilms of records from Presbyterian, Methodist, and Baptist churches and copies of many Catholic records from the Chicago area. The library also has some published histories of various denominations, including the Catholic, Methodist, Disciples of Christ, Brethren, Mennonite, and Baptist churches.

Illinois Church Record Repositories.

  • Central Illinois Conference, Bloomington (Methodist);
     
  • Jesuit-Krauss-McCormick Library, Chicago (Catholic, Lutheran, Presbyterian);
     
  • Spertus Institute of Jewish Studies, Chicago (Jewish);
     
  • Church of the Brethren General Board, Elgin; Eureka College, Eureka (Disciples of Christ);
     
  • Archives of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America Library, Elk Grove Village (congregational histories; microfilm of some congregational records, especially Norwegian-American);
     
  • Garrett-Evangelical and Seabury-Western Theological Seminaries, The United Libraries, Evanston (United Methodist, Evangelical United Brethren, Episcopal);
     
  • American Theological Library Association, Chicago (published church history and records);
     
  • Registrar of the Greek Orthodox Diocese of Chicago (records after 1979 for Illinois, Indiana (part), Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri, Wisconsin).
     
  • See also at Illinois State Archives, Springfield, Inventory of Church Archives, 1941-1942 (Illinois Historical Records Survey, 1941-1942).
     
  • Illinois Church Records Project - USGW Archives Church Records Project
     
  • The Restoration Movement in Illinois  -- This is a site regarding the history of the Christian Church
     
  • Thompson, Joseph J.  The first Chicago church records, 1833-44 : including a chronology of churches in northeastern Illinois, 1833-60 / by Joseph J. Thompson ; index by Nancy C. Thornton. Baltimore, Md. : Gateway Press ; Lemont, Ill. : Distributed by Canal Heritage Enterprises, c1988.vi, 98 p. : ill. ; 24 cm.

Baptist

The first Baptist church in Illinois was founded in 1796 at New Design in today's Monroe County. The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library has a vast collection of Baptist association minutes, early Baptist church histories, and some church records.

  • Baptist Historical Society.
     
  • Babcock, Rufus, editor. Forty Years of Pioneer Life: Memoirs of John Mason Peck, DD. 1864; reprint, Carbondale, Illinois: Southern Illinois University Press, 1965.
     
  • Dillow, Myron D. Harvesttime on the Prairie. Franklin, Tennessee: Providence House, 1996.
     
  • Illinois Historic Preservation Agency, "Manuscripts," Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library.
     
  • The John Mason Peck Collection. St. Louis Mercantile Library (Thomas Jefferson Library Building, 8001 Natural Bridge Road, St. Louis, MO 63121-4499). Writer, Baptist missionary, educator, humanitarian, Peck set about the process of bringing the civilization he knew and loved to the Mississippi  Valley. 
     
  • Moore, L. H. Southern Baptists in Illinois. Nashville, Tennessee: Benson Printing, 1957.
     
  • Primitive Baptist Church in Illinois - Family History Assistance for Searchers who had ancestors who were members of this church.
     
  • Southern Baptist Historical Society and Archives (901 Commerce Street, Nashville, TN 37203-3630) Has microfilm of the records of thirty-five Illinois Baptist churches and fifteen Illinois Baptist serial publications, including the Baptist Banner (1877-79 and 1887-89), Illinois Baptist (1906-99), and Watchman of the Prairies (1847-53).
     
  • Sweet, William W. The Baptists 1783-1830: A Collection of Source Material, Religion on the American Frontier, vol. 1. New York: Cooper Square Publishers, 1964.

Church of the Brethren

  • Heckman, John. Brethren in Northern Illinois and Wisconsin. Elgin, Illinois: Brethren Publishing House, 1941.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Mormons came to Nauvoo, Illinois, in 1839.

  • Bial, Raymond. Nauvoo: Mormon City on the Mississippi River. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 2006.
     
  • Bushman, Richard Lyman. Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rollin. New York, 2005.
     
  • Center for Hancock County History. Mormon Collection. (Western Illinois University Libraries, Archives and Special Collections, 1 University Circle, Macomb, 61455-1390). The Mormon Collection contains a wide variety of materials relating to the Mormon era in Nauvoo (1839-1846).
  • Cuerden, Glenn. Nauvoo. Charleston, South Carolina; Chicago: Arcadia Publishing, 2006.
     
  • Flanders, Robert Bruce. Nauvoo: Kingdom on the Mississippi. Urbana, Illinois: University of Illinois, 1965.
     
  • Gabbert, Dean and Marilyn S. Candido. Nauvoo: A History Featuring the Paintings of Lane K. Newberry. Decatur, Illinois: William Street Press for the Nauvoo Historical Society, 2006.
     
  • Hallwas, John E. and Roger D. Launius, editors. Cultures in Conflict: A Documentary History of the Mormon War in Illinois. Utah State University Press, 1995.
     
  • Kimball, Stanley Buchholz. Sources of Mormon History of Illinois, 1839-1848. Edwardsville, Illinois: Southern Illinois University, 1966.
     
  • Launius, Roger D. and John E. Hallwas. Kingdom on the Missippi Revisted: Nauvoo in Mormon History. Urbana, Illinois: University of Illinois, 1996.
     
  • Lovejoy Library, The Louisa H. Bowen University Archives and Special Collections, Box 1063, Southern Illinois University, Edwardsville 62026-1063. The library holds 105 reels of microfilm, with an annotated catalog, on Mormon history in Illinois from 1839 through 1848, the largest collection outside Utah.
     
  • Rugh, Susan Sessions. "Conflict in the Countryside: Rural Communities in the 1840s Mormon War." Illinois Heritage: 10, 8 (May-June 2007) p. 6-9.

Jewish

The oldest Illinois Jewish congregation, KAM Isaiah Israel in Chicago, was established in 1847. Synagogues at Quincy in 1856 and Peoria in 1859 followed. The state's Jewish congregations are autonomous. Generally a lay person keeps the congregation's records or they are deposited in private archives.

  • American Jewish Archives. Jacob Rader Marcus Center. (3101 Clifton Avenue, Cincinnati, Ohio 45223). Has minutes, cashbooks, and membership applications of B'nai B'rith, Grand Prairie Lodge No. 281 in Champaign for 1867-1930 and records of the Loeb Farm School for Jewish Children in Chicago for 1941 through 1963.
     
  • Cutler, Irving. The Jews of Chicago: From Shtetl to Suburb. Urbana, Illinois: University of Illinois Press, 1990.
     
  • Meites, Hyman L. History of the Jews of Chicago. 1924; reprint, Chicago: Chicago Jewish Historical Society, 1990.

Lutheran

The earliest Lutheran congregations in Illinois were established in Monroe, Randolph, and Washington counties by 1846. They joined the German Evangelical Synod of Missouri, Ohio, and Other States after its formation in 1847.

  • Buecher, Robert. Family Registers of Trinity and Holy Cross Lutheran Churches : St. Clair County, Illinois. 1971.
     
  • Buecher, Robert. Holy Cross Lutheran Church Records : Sugar Loaf Township, St. Clair County, Illinois. 1971.
     
  • Buecher, Robert. 125th Anniversary History of Trinity Lutheran Church, 503 East Washington, Millstadt, Illinois, 1849-1974 . 1974.
     
  • Buecher, Robert. Trinity Lutheran Church Confirmations, Marriages and Death Records Index : Millstadt, St. Clair County, Illinois, 1848-1925. 1970.
     
  • Concordia Historical Institute (804 Seminary Place, St. Louis, MO 63105) Holds records of extinct Lutheran churches in Illinois.
     
  • Evangelical Lutheran Church in America Archives (8765 W. Higgins Road, Chicago, IL 60631). Preserves some congregational records for Illinois churches and personal papers from pastors of ELCA and its predecessors. Holding mainly records of Danish, German, Norwegian, and Swedish congregations, ELCA has microfilm for few than 10 percent of ELCA-related congregations. Microfilm may be borrowed or purchased.
     
  • Evangelical Lutheran Church in America Regional / Synodical Archives. In addition to holding material from the districts and synods of The American Lutheran Church and the Lutheran Church in America, it is also the main repository for the former Iowa Synod, a church body that existed from 1854-1930. Illinois, Iowa, Wisconsin, Upper Michigan. (ELCA Region 5 Archives, 333 Wartburg Place, Dubuque, IA 52003-7797

Roman Catholic

  • Illinois, Diocese of Belleville, Catholic Parish Records, 1729-1956 – Imaged Records currently Browsable by Parish – unindexed – Records are found for the following 26 counties: Alexander, Clay, Clinton, Franklin, Gallatin, Hamilton, Hardin, Jackson, Jefferson, Johnson, Lawrence, Marion, Massac, Monroe, Perry, Pulaski, Randolph, Richland, Saline, St. Clair, Union, Wabash, Washington, Wayne, White, and Williamson. Images of parish registers recording the events of baptism, first communion, confirmation (to 1907), marriage (to 1930) or death (to 1956) in the Diocese of Belleville (Illinois), Roman Catholic Church. FamilySearch.