Local History & GenealogyPPL2021-04-07T14:26:16-05:00
Visit our Local History & Genealogy Department
Located on Lower Level 1 of the Main Library, the Local History and Genealogy Room is a vast and growing collection highlighting the history of Peoria, reputed to be the oldest European settlement in Illinois.
Established in 1691 by the French explorer Henri de Tonti, Peoria has had a distinctive past. The Illinois River and the World’s Most Beautiful Drive. Whiskey. Vaudeville. Penicillin. Caterpillar. Every facet of our past has a home in Peoria Public Library’s archives.
Our knowledgeable and dedicated staff is available to assist you, whether you call, email or visit us in person.
Hours: 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., Monday through Saturday, Main Library Phone: (309) 497-2000 Email:
The largest collection of free family history, family tree and genealogy records in the world. From the Church of Latter Day Saints family history library.
Access the Ancestry.com Library Edition at Peoria Public Library and search billions of historical documents, millions of historical photos, plus local narratives, oral histories, indexes and other resources in over 30,000 databases that span from the 1500s to the 2000s. In library use only.
Includes family histories, genealogical serials, local histories, the U.S. Federal Census, 1790-1930 and primary sources in full images.
Find A Grave
Find the graves of ancestors by searching the world’s largest online grave collection, including more than 500,000 cemeteries in 243 different countries.
A free online resource including historical articles and essays, advertisements, photographs, maps from the 1830s on. Joint project of the Chicago Historical Society, The Newberry Library and Northwestern University.
Peoria County GIS. GIS stands for Geographic Information Systems and is a form of information technology that allows viewers to interactively explore and analyze geographic data.
• High School Yearbooks (mostly Peoria City high schools)
• Caterpillar News & Views
• Peoria County Histories (various authors)
• Obituary Indexes
• Cemetery Indexes
• Sanborn Maps (online and in print)
Sanborn maps are detailed maps of U.S. cities and towns in the 19th and 20th centuries. Originally published by The Sanborn Map Company, the maps were created for fire insurance purposes.
• Peoria City Directories (mid-1800’s forward)
• Other area city directories
• Biography File
• Vertical File (newspaper clippings of local interest) by Subject
• Peoria Picture File (photos by subject)
• Grassel Collection of Photos (1940’s-1960’s)
• The Peoria Story (history of Peoria written in 1957)
The Genealogical Collection includes indexes, bibliographies, magazines, books, microfiche, and microfilm. Please check the library’s catalog for specific titles. If we don’t have the specific title that you are looking for, remember that we can Inter-Library Loan most items through your Peoria Public Library card.
Ancestry.com is available in the library and Heritage Quest can be accessed in the library or remotely with your library card and PIN.
City Cemetery or The Public Graveyard
City Cemetery was located at 1312 W. Lincoln Avenue in the five acres now known as Lincoln Park. Originally named “The Public Graveyard” it was open from 1842-1886. It is the current site of the Peoria Public Library – Lincoln Branch. Official burial records are not located at this time but extensive research has begun to recreate the City Cemetery records. If you have information about an ancestor that was buried there, please contact 309.497.2000. Click below to get a list of local cemeteries and mausoleums.
The Local History Collection includes the formats of fiction and nonfiction. You will find the works of local authors Philip Jose Farmer, Betty Friedan, Ken Zurski, Kevin Stein, Norm Kelly and many more. The many items in this collection include Illinois county histories and subject magazines and journals such as the Illinois State Historical Journal. Please check the library’s catalog for specific titles. If we don’t have the specific title that you are looking for, remember that we can Inter-Library Loan most items with your Peoria Public Library card.
Our Local Historians have wonderful stories to tell. The talented local writers and researchers often find gems of local history that have escaped being chronicled. Please enjoy this collection of essays or the titles that reveal little know facts about Peoria and its history. You will find additional information about Peoria by enjoying these podcasts!
This is a collection of articles on genealogy by staff member Amber Lowery
Amber Lowery, on staff at Peoria Public Library, writes occasional articles about genealogy. The articles below contain a wealth of information and ideas for using resources at Peoria Public Library as well as information on traditional and genetic genealogy.
Having sisters who are wedding photographers means I find myself thinking about marriages quite often. It’s also in my nature, as a genealogist, to think about marriages, current and historical. I imagine my ancestors married for a number of reasons; arranged, wealth, desperation, social status, and love. One marriage was actually a case of revenge and spite! But that is a story for another time.
When doing family research, seeking out marriage records is key for getting that one next step back in our history. Historically, brides have changed their last name upon getting married. Sometimes the journey to discover who her parents were is fraught with misinformation, misunderstanding, and misidentification. We can look to obituaries sometimes for clues to a name, but the further we go back, the less likely they are to report about a woman’s history, unless her parents were well-known or well connected to society. So we have to look to the marriage records to see what information we can extract on the women in these documents.
Some states and counties provide a wealth of family information for researchers, including the maiden names of the mothers of the parties who married. Others only required a name and that person’s word that they were who they claimed to be. Then there are the cases where records have been lost or destroyed over the years due to one natural disaster or another.
Now, if you have some known German ancestors, you may be in luck. Using Ancestry Library Edition at the Peoria Public Library, you might find ancestors who you can trace through the German birth and marriage records available. Irish baptismal records found in Ancestry Library Edition can also help you trace your elusive female ancestors. That is not to say that if you have families that came from other countries that you will not be able to find records. Tomorrow may be the day you discover Canadian, Slovakian, Hungarian, English, Swedish, Mexican, or a number of other records that will take you further back in your research.
Remember next time you attend a family wedding, to ask the relatives you rarely see for what they know about the marriages in your own family. A new hint and library resources can take you far!
Have you ever been ready to just take all of your genealogy research and toss it out? Just stuff it all in the garbage and walk away from it? Wipe your hands clean of the binders, folders, and piles of dusty old books?
I was in that state last year, until I read a great blog that came out last year called Genealogy Do-Over. The blog, written by the incredible Thomas MacEntee, suggested doing just that…well, kinda. And with winter setting in, this is the perfect time to start on this project and plan for a less overwhelming, more organized approach to genealogy research in 2018.
The first thing MacEntee proposed is we take all of our previous research and set it to the side. Then we prepare to research like it is our first time, but keeping the skills and knowledge that we have accumulated over the years. As we get deeper into genealogy, our research methods are honed and sharpened. We learn to look for the details buried in obituaries, family histories, news clippings, and vital records.
For example, did you know that Peoria had a number of different newspapers, but they did not necessarily report all the same information? Perhaps you have an obituary for Great-Grandfather Edwin from the Peoria Journal, but did you check the Peoria Evening Star to see if perhaps that copy mentioned his mother’s maiden name? No? Well, then, off you go to Peoria Public Main Library to look at the microfilm and see if any new information is waiting to be discovered.
Maybe you have a bit of genealogical information on an ancestor in an old photocopy but you cannot remember where you got it from. Bring it with you on one of your planned research days and ask one of the staff in the Local History department if they recognize the source.
Rediscover your passion for the hobby by going back to the beginning with fresh eyes. Perhaps the breadcrumb you seek is already among your research, waiting to be found. And if it is not, make a trip to the Peoria Public Library to explore our resources and talk to staff about avenues you may be missing in your research.
Local Historians have wonderful stories to tell. Our talented local writers and researchers often find gems of local history that have escaped being chronicled. Here are a collection of essays that will reveal little known facts about Peoria and its history.
Norm Kelly Stories
Norman V. Kelly
Norm Kelly (1932-2020) was an avid local history chronicler who wrote more than 600 articles and a dozen books in his lifetime of looking into Peoria’s past. His book, UNTIL YOU ARE DEAD, which details the crime, trial and execution of ten murderers from Peoria’s past is available to check out at Peoria Public Library. Along with digging through our archives, Kelly always said much of his writing was informed from his real life experience as a private detective in Peoria.