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Sunday, July 27, 2014

Browsing in an Old Gazeteer of Northern Illinois Counties

Recently I came across a digital copy of the 1855-56 Gazetter and Directory for the Northern Counties of Illinois.  Have you ever browsed through one of these resources?  It's a great source to find out Who's Who in history of "east pudunk", meaning those old towns and villages.  It also has advertisements of the businesses of the areas that are referenced.  It's almost like an early type of Yellow Pages.  You can find out who the local politicians were, the post office locations and postmaster identities.  Some even have maps showing the locality of government buildings, schools, and the like. Where can you find old gazetteers?  Internet Archive, Mocavo, and Google are just a few of the online sources.  Libraries that have local history reference sections should have some gazetteers and local directories.

Here's the title page of the Gazetteer that I was happy to peruse: 

Since I live in DuPage County, I wanted to find out who the "Movers and Shakers" were in this locale.

The DuPage County entry as printed:

Notice the location of  the county, that it's origins were a part of Cook County, and that it was organized in 1838.  I was not aware that the first settlers were from Ohio, thinking that they were from a little farther east, like New York or Vermont.  It does mention the German emigrants that came through Pennsylvania, which I did know.  

The description of  the land reads like a real estate advertisement.  Wood land, prairie and fertile soil...who wouldn't want to move here?  Then I stopped dead in my tracks.  The County Seat was located in Naperville????? Oh, yes, there is a nasty history about that.  The County Seat is now in Wheaton.  And, after the Civil War, there were some disputes about relocating the seat. I found the following excerpts from Wikipedia, which we all know is the honest truth (NOT!!!)  Read on...

In 1857, the Illinois state legislature authorized an election to be held to decide the question of whether the DuPage county seat should remain in Naperville or be moved to the more centrally located Wheaton, which was on the Galena and Chicago Union Railroad. Naperville won the election by a vote of 1,542 to 762. Hostility between the two towns continued for the next decade and another election was held in 1867, in which Wheaton narrowly won by a vote of 1,686 to 1,635. At a cost of $20,000, the City of Wheaton quickly built a courthouse to house a courtroom, county offices, and a county jail. The building was dedicated on July 4, 1868.[10]
However, animosity between the two towns continued, and in 1868, as records were moved from the old Naperville courthouse to the new one in Wheaton, Naperville refused to turn over the remaining county records, prompting a band of Civil War veterans from Wheaton to conduct what came to be known as the "Midnight Raid" on the Naperville courthouse. As Wheatonites fled back on Wheaton-Naperville Road, Napervillians were able to secure some of the last remaining records, which were then taken to the Cook CountyRecorder in Chicago for safekeeping. During this time, Naperville was mounting a lawsuit against Wheaton accusing election judges of leaving their posts for lunch during the vote when duplicate ballot stuffing allegedly occurred. As the courts deliberated the fate of the county seat, the records were destroyed in the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. Shortly thereafter, Wheaton was officially proclaimed the county seat.[11],_Ill.

I live in the eastern half of DuPage County, and I wanted to browse the text to see what information was written about this general area.  I found three entries:

        The first is a nice description of Cottage Hill, which is present day Elmhurst, Illinois.

Gee, they make it sound like a respite place from the bustling city of Chicago.  Further historical information, again from Wikipedia.....

 a native of Ohio named Gerry Bates established a community on a tract of "treeless land" in 1842.[4]
The following year, Hill Cottage Tavern opened where St. Charles Road and Cottage Hill Avenue presently intersect. In 1845, the community was officially named Cottage Hill when a post office was established. Four years later the Galena and Chicago Union Railroad was given right-of-way through Cottage Hill giving farmers easier access to Chicago.[4] The community changed its name to Elmhurst in 1869.,_Illinois

The Township of York is still alive and well here in eastern DuPage County.  Apparently it was organized and fully staffed back in 1855-56, too.  Here's the posting, although small, for York...

 It mentions the name of Gerry Bates, once again, but this time as the post-master of Babcock Grove.  Having lived in another town just west of here, I know that Lombard, IL used to be called Babcock Grove.  And, the famous Graue Mill, located in my village of Oak Brook, is mentioned with the owners name....Frederick Gray.  Members of the Graue family changed the spelling of their last name so that newcomers would not have a problem pronouncing it.  Horace Grant was the owner of a General Store in the area of Fullersburg, which is a historic area along the Salt Creek bounded by current day Hinsdale and Oak Brook. Supposedly, Mr. Grant was a cousin of General Grant.

Lastly, I found the descriptive information for Downers Grove, which is still a strong community today.

Once again, consulting Wikipedia, I find what has been contributed to this site regarding the history of Downers Grove :

Downers Grove was founded in 1832 by Pierce Downer, a religious evangelist from New York. Its other early settlers included the Blodgett, Curtiss, and Carpenter families. The original settlers were mostly migrants from the Northeastern United States and Northern Europe. The first schoolhouse was built in 1844
Wikipedia .org/wiki/Downers Grove

There were no advertisements for the businesses in these three areas. However, larger, densely populated towns like Rockford, Naperville, Wheaton, etc. had many advertisements printed in this gazetteer.  It fun to browse through those and see what kind a businesses were necessary to keep the communities functioning.  

So, when you want to find out who was running the show in some of these old towns and villages , consult an old gazetteer.  They have been around for a long time, and can still provide some bits of information that your I Phone won't give you.  Go "old school" in your research.  It's fun.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Eugene W. Farrar - First White Person Born in DuPage County Passes Away in 1921

I enjoy reading the Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society.  There are some fabulous articles written in these volumes. This week I browsed Mocavo @  There are so many digitized volumes of this Journal.  Information right at your fingertips.  History is just so easy to access with Mocavo.
Illinois State Historical Society Journal, Volume 14, accessed 16 July 2014,
Searching for articles that mention DuPage County, I came upon this article:

Farrar, Eugene W. , Editorial, Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society, 1921, Volume 14, page 218
How interesting that this man had this honor attached to his name....first white child born in DuPage County.  In 1835, there wasn't much in the way of paved roads, fast food restaurants and bustling suburban life.  More likely, it was dirt paths, prairie plants and a few Indians left over from the aftermath of the Black Hawk War.  The white man had just started purchasing the land from the government and setting up their homesteads.  

Here is an artist's rendering of the Farrar property in Downers Grove, IL, which was found on Ancestry, U.S., Indexed County Land Ownership Maps, 1860-1918[database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2010.
Original data: Various publishers of County Land Ownership Atlases. Microfilmed by the Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.
Searching the Federal Census reports from Ancestry,, I find that this homestead was located at 48 West Maple Street which was in Downers Grove at the time of the enumerations. However the property is located in what is present-day Clarendon Hills,  IL, a suburb just west of the Downers Grove border.  I found Mr. Farrar and his family listed in the 1870 Federal Census :

1870 U.S. Federal Census, Farrar, Eugene W., Downers Grove, IL,  Ancestry, accessed 15 July 2014
Note that he was an employee of the railroad, had a wife (noted as Jane, which differs from the article that referenced his death) and three small children.  Perhaps Martha was going by her middle name, Jane.  Who knows?  Further images of the Federal census show Eugene in 1880, 1900, 1910 and 1920 (1890 Census was burned) living at the same location...48 West Maple Street, Downers Grove, IL.

1880 Federal Census, Downers Grove, IL

1900 Federal Census, Downers Grove, IL

1910 Federal Census, Downers Grove, IL

1920 Federal Census, Downers Grove, IL

Ancestry also has Mr. Farrar referenced in a family tree which was posted by one of their subscribing members (omitting the name to preserve privacy), which lists his parents, wife and children :

Mr. Farrar passed away in 1921, according to the article in the Journal, so he should not appear in any further census lists.  When searching for his place of burial, I found him listed as being interred in the Oak Crest Cemetery, situated in Downers Grove, IL.  Here is the memorial placed for him, by contributor BB and Farrar and Related Families...

Farrar, Eugene W., FindaGrave, accessed 17 July 2014
Since Eugene Farrar was born in 1835, he could have been involved in the Civil War.  The article from the Journal indicates that he did participate.   In 1861, when the war started he would have been about 25 or 26.  Searching Fold 3,, because it has the most military records of online databases, I found his pension index card:

Farrar, Eugene W., Pension Index Card, Fold3, accesses 18 July 2014
It appears that Mr. Farrar applied for a pension as an invalid, and his wife applied for her pension as a widow.  The referencing application and certificate numbers can guide you to the proper documentation.  I found him listed in the 1883 List of Pensioners from the State of Illinois, having begun his $8.00 payouts in June of 1882. This I found on the Mocavo website.

Certificate 210,241 Farrar, Eugene W.,  Mocavo,, accesses 18 July 2014

Looking back at the military records of Ancestry,, I find Mr. Farrar listed in the Civil War Soldiers Records and Profiles, 1861 - 1865 :

Farrar, Eugene W., Civil War Soldier Record, Ancestry,, accessed 18 July 2014
Well, it looks as though we have found lots of information on Eugene W. Farrar, first born white child in DuPage County.  But is this all there is?  Heck no!!!  We have not even begun to uncover his life story.  Don't forget that he owned land, which means that there would be records for that and he had to pay taxes.  He could read and write, and there were a few schools in Downers Grove, so he would be listed in those records.  He was a man of stature in the  community, and would have been mentioned in the local newspapers.  He was  probably a man of God, and his records would have been listed within the church registers.  He married Ms. Carpenter, so the record of his marriage would be in the  County of Dupage Marriage records.  Since he served in the Civil War, there are the records of the G.A.R.  which was very active in Downers Grove and surrounding areas. He could have had a will and that would have been on record with the County, or if not, then a probate record could have been recorded with the County.   The list goes on and on.  But, alas, I only have so much time to write about his life story in this blog.

When researching the life of someone you "Stumble Across", be sure to search under every rock and stone.  Stories of the past help to paint a picture of the lives of those who suffered hardships before our time.  Before there were highways, there were forests and paths to explore.  

Saturday, July 12, 2014

1956 Tragedy : Four family members die in plane crash

Section H Lot 24  Ward family of four, all deceased 2 January 1956

I have taken photos of over 10,000 graves for the Bronswood Cemetery here in Oak Brook, Illinois.  Today I was adding grave photos to the FindaGrave website ( ) for this cemetery.  When I came upon a family of four, I paused and looked at my notes that I had transcribed from the original burial log, which is held in the cemetery office in a vault.  The owners of the cemetery had allowed myself and my assistants to view these logs in the past, and we made careful notes from what we could glean from the records.

The Ward family, buried in Section H Lot 24, holds the remains of six persons.  Four of them passed on the same day....January 2, 1956.

Bronswood Cemetery Burial Index, Oak Brook Historical Society website,

  As I gazed at my notes, I read "family plane crash".  My curiosity got the best of me.  I finished adding photos for the burials of Section H, then headed on-line to discover what I could about this unfortunate family disaster.

I use several on-line websites to discover old newspaper articles.  My most profitable search came from My Heritage ( ),  There I found several articles about this family and the terrible incident that took their lives.  Newspapers from across the nation had reported on this tragedy.
Rockford Morning Star, Rockford, IL, 1956 Jan 3, page 1

Racine Journal Times, Racine, WI, 1956 Jan 3, page 1

The four members of the Ward family were visiting relatives in  St. Louis, Missouri, during the holiday season.  They were in a small Cessna 170, headed back to the Chicago suburbs, when it crashed in a farm field before the family could reach their home destination.  Reports reveal that the fog was thick that day.  Paul Ward, his wife Harriet and daughters Barbara and Sharon were killed when the plane burst into flames after crashing into a field.

Such is a sad story to come upon when recording the burial records in a cemetery.  To know that this family was killed after visiting relatives during the holiday season is very sad.  They are laid to rest with two other family members,  Ruby and Orie Ward.  Both passed away within 8 to 9 years of their younger relatives.  It must have been a very sad day for them to bury four of their family members on the same day in the dead of winter in 1956. Who could have predicted this sorrowful end?

The next time I get a chance to visit Bronswood Cemetery, I'll be sure to stop by the  Ward family plot and say hello to the entire family.  It was a pleasure to take time to learn about their story, even though it was a tragic end for them.  To leave this earth together must have been something that they did not expect.

Ward Family stone, Bronswood Cemetery, Oak Brook, IL