Friday, January 15, 2021

Spotlight on McHenry County, Illinois

 McHenry County is in Northern Illinois, bordering on Wisconsin.  It is often considered part of the greater Chicagoland area.  It was formed in 1836 from Cook and LaSalle counties and has been its present size since 1839.  It was named for Major William McHenry who served in the Illinois Militia during Tecumseh’s War and the Blackhawk War, and later served in the Illinois legislature.

Birth and death records have been kept since 1878, Marriage records, Probate records and Land Records date to the founding of the county.  Many of the early records may be found on

Vital Records can be requested from the County Clerk’s office for a small fee.  Information is at

Early records may also be found at the IRAD depository at Northern Illinois University.  Additional records available at IRAD include school records and naturalization records.

Two libraries in McHenry County have genealogical collections.  They are the Crystal Lake Public Library at and the McHenry Public Library at


There is an active Genealogical Society for the County – the McHenry County Illinois Genealogical Society at


Note: This was originally published in the "County Spotlight" column in the Illinois State Genealogical Society Newsletter (September 2020).  

Friday, January 01, 2021

Tip - How can I find my ancestors in the census?

Q. How can I find my ancestors in the census?

A. The United States Government has been conducting a census of the population every 10 years since 1790.  Censuses from 1790 until 1940 are available for research with the exception of 1890 which was lost in a fire. Each census contains a little different information. Censuses from 1850 and later contain names of every member of the household, ages, birthplaces, and varying information on relationships.

Now that these census records are available digitally, it has become fairly easy to find ancestors in them.  Keep in mind that spellings vary, and not census takers had the best handwriting.  It still may be necessary to browse through the images to find that elusive person.

Illinois has taken part in every federal census since 1820, the first decennial census conducted after statehood.  In addition, Illinois conducted a territorial census in 1810 and again in 1818 to document that Illinois had enough inhabitants to become a state.  The state has also conducted its own census in 1825, 1835, 1845, 1855, and 1865.  Unfortunately many of the state census records did not contain names, and several counties have been lost.

Census records may be found online at and  Several of the early census records have also been transcribed and may be found in local libraries.

Although the purpose of the census is to provide an accurate count of the population for purposes of resource allocation and political representation, they have been a wonderful resource for genealogists. 2020 is a census year, so don’t forget to pay it forward by filling out your census form.


Note: This was originally published in the "Tips from the Genealogy Committee" column in the Illinois State Genealogical Society Newsletter (September 2020).  While these tips were written for those researching Illinois ancestors, many of the principles can be applied to other locations.