Stephenson County Historical Society




Historical and Genealogical  Research: What Sources Does the Historical Society Have?

The Stephenson County Historical Society maintains a small research area for general use.  While we can not do your research for you, you are invited to use the sources for your own study.  

The Historical Society has an almost complete collection of Freeport City Directories, from 1867 to the present.  The City Directories are similar to our modern phone books.  The first section is an alphabetical list of residents, where they live and their occupation.  The second section, similar to a phone book's Yellow Pages, is an alphabetical list of services.  City Directories are great for confirming that someone lived in the area at a specific time or for determining what your subject's occupation was.  They can also be used to find out who lived in your home at a specific time.  

The 19th century and early 20th century City Directories also list officers of local fraternal organizations, social clubs, school board and library board members, etc.  Don't forget to check those pages as well.  

We also have an almost complete collection of the Freeport High School yearbooks, from 1900 to the present.  Use these to document the years a teacher taught, to find out what clubs and interests your ancestors had, or just to laugh at your parents' goofy hairstyles and clothes!

County histories were written in 1880, 1910 and 1970, all of which are available at the Historical Society.  The 1880 History was re-printed in the 1990s.  The re-print has an every-name index, so it's actually easier to use than the original.

We also have miscellaneous books to help you in your research.  Portrait and Biographical Album, written in 1888, is a Who's Who of Stephenson County in the 19th century.  Illustrated Freeport, 1896, is a collection of Freeport's important businesses, including sketches of the business buildings and important officers.  (Note:  Reprints of Illustrated Freeport are available in the Gift ShopIn the Footsteps of the Pioneers is a genealogical record of Stephenson County's leading citizens in 1900.  

All of these sources are available to the public during the Museum's regular open hours.  Summer Hours (May thru October) are Wednesday thru Sunday from noon to four and Winter Hours (November thru April) are Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays from noon to four. 

For more extensive research, you are encouraged to use the Francis Woodhouse Local History Room at the Freeport Public Library, maintained by the Stephenson County Genealogical Society.  They have all of the above named sources plus a large, well-organized collection of newspapers and cemetery records.  They are also a depository for official county records.  Many times genealogical researchers will give the Genealogical Society a copy of their research - it's possible a branch of your family has already been researched, so be sure to check. 

The Genealogical Society can do research by mail; please consult with them regarding their research fees.  The Genealogical Society can be contacted at:

The Stephenson County Genealogical Society

P.O. Box 514

Freeport, IL  61032

For a list of genealogical links related to Stephenson County and Illinois please visit our links page.

 

 
Historical Research:

How Can I find the History of my House?

 

Do you live in a historic home?  Finding the historical story behind your home takes some time, but it is not hard to do. 

To start, you'll need a list of everyone who owned your home.  The best place to find this is in the property tax records at the Stephenson County Court House.  Newer records are on a computer database, and the older records are handwritten in books.  The staff at the Courthouse can not do the research for you, but they will get you started and point you in the right direction.   

Pay attention to how much each owner paid in taxes.  A significant increase in a year may mean the owner put an addition on the home or added an extra barn or carriage house to the lot.

Once you have a complete list of all the owners, go to the City Directories to find each owner's occupation. (Find the City Directories at the Stephenson County Historical Society or the Local History Room maintained by the Stephenson County Genealogical Society.)  Check the advertisements carefully to find more details on the company the homeowner worked for.  Older City Directories also list fraternal organizations and their officers, school board members, city aldermen, etc.

Learning about the family who lived in your home will tell you a lot about the activities that took place in the home, and will help you continue your search.  

For example, if your home owner was the postmaster, find out when the town's first post office was built.  Before a post office was built, the town's "post office" was simply the home or business of the postmaster.  If one of your owners was a doctor, check the City Directory and newspaper advertisements to see if he advertises a separate address for his business.  If not, chances are he saw his patients in his (your) home, and may have even used the home as a hospital.  Was he a teacher?  If he was a private school teacher, or a music or art instructor, classes may have been held in his home.  What fraternal organizations was the owner a part of?  Perhaps early meetings were held in the home.    

If your home was owned by a businessman, politician or a wealthy man, check the newspaper society pages to see if the home was host to any famous people. 

And don't forget the wives of your home owners.  Check newspapers and City Directories to see if she served on the Library Board or School Board.  Just like the men, women had a number of women's clubs and organizations.  Many times newspaper articles state the name of women's club hostesses (which means the meeting was held in her home) and even tell if refreshments were provided and who served the tea!