Historical References

I return periodically to conducting family research, and one of the more interesting parts of that is combing through historical documents trying to find some mention of an ancestor. Sometimes searches come up with nothing, and sometimes you find something good.

Today was an example of the latter.

Some time ago, on ancestry.com, I came across a piece of posted media about John Foulk. It was a short biography discussion his life before coming to Illinois as well as his time on the prairie. The title line at the top of the page indicates the book is called Past and Present of LaSalle County. This shows up in searches - in Google books, among other locations - but the version that shows up was published in 1877. A text search of that version does not find John Foulk, however. This is not surprising, given that the text refers to his "having continued farming operations until 1902" and notes that he has "now retired... having reached the age of eighty-four years". John Foulk was born in 1822, so this would put the manuscript right around 1906 - nearly 30 years after the version available online.

Still, while I could not find the book I was looking for (I suspect this may actually require a trip to the library - you know, that physical location where they keep the dead tree versions of books), I did come across an interesting resource:

Digital Research Library of Illinois History provides a list of history references for each county in the state. And for fun, it also lists counties, like Marquette, which have since been abolished. There are four references for LaSalle County, and six for Lee. These are all vintage references - the newest in this list is from 1918. But this is the very sort of perspective one is looking for when it comes to this sort of research.

One does find that the editors of these tomes feels no compunction against reprinting material from earlier sources - there is word for word repetition in some, albeit with credit given to the original authors. Still, this is hardly surprising. When one is working with historical accounts this specific, there will only be a handful of potential sources to choose from. And one does find that later sources seem to have edited down longer accounts. For example, while I did not find the information I was looking for about John Foulk, I did find references to three ancestors from another part of the family - Smith H. "Prairie" Johnson, and his sons Benjamin Franklin and Truman Johnson. These included accounts of how Prairie got his nickname, as well as the fact that BF Johnson was the Commissioner of the Inlet Swamp Drainage District (undoubtedly quite an honor), and of the fact that Truman’s marriage to Mary Melugin was the third to occur in Viola Township.

This is not extensive information, but they are little details that help flesh out and humanize people from the past. I find, reading through them, that I begin to get a glimpse into the lives that they had.

The Digital Research Library provides more than a simple list. The links listed that I’ve followed thus far each have provided an apparently complete PDF of the book in question. Though the text is not searchable, opening these into a good PDF reader (I’d suggest something like PDF Expert) gives you a text you can visually search through fairly quickly and efficiently.

I’m looking forward to digging through more of the links on the page. And, I suppose, eventually working my way to the library to see if they have a slightly more updated copy of Past and Present of LaSalle County...