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Saturday, April 23, 2016

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Hunting for Treasures at the Library

Joliet Public Library, Robin Foster 22 April 2016 © 

One of the greatest divides in genealogy is the distance between us and the resources that a library has which cannot be found online. Are they the first go-to items we gravitate to when documenting our ancestors? No. When we get desperate for records, their treasures are worth the time and travel to access them. I visited a library in the town where I grew up, Joliet. I hope this makes you curious about the library where your ancestor grew up.

History I wish I had in school

There is a local history section full of resources on the second floor that I never bothered to approach out of all the time I spent here growing up. With limited time now, I am anxious to document myself and the previous generation using these unique records. Can anyone else relate?

I made a full sweep of everything first taking photos, and then I went back to determine record content and time period.  In this process, I figure someone else that I am connected to may somehow also have Joliet roots.

What of education? The topic bewilders me especially since my parents paid for me to go to private schools. If we do not teach the history of the area in which we live and how we are connected to it, how can we inspire true leaders, public servants, productive communities? Below are resources right in the Joliet Public Library that document a history that was never even mentioned throughout all the years I spent in school here.

Always check the library website to learn what local history and genealogy resources they have, however, remember that other resources may be available on site that are not mentioned online. If you have items that may be of interest to other patrons, you should make a donation to the Friends of the library to be added to the local resources.

Funeral programs

                                                       Robin Foster, April 2016 ©

The first items that drew my attention were these colorful binders. Can you imagine 19 volumes of funeral programs documenting African American people who died in the Joliet area and the history that each program holds? Funeral programs often give rich biographical details, and they also mention parents and other members of the person's family group. They are a great starting point to discovering historical documentation.

Funeral Service Brochures for African Americans of Joliet and Lockport, Illinois, Robin Foster, 22 April 2016 © 

 Obituary index

Obituary index in binders, Robin Foster, 22 April 2016 © 

The library is working to make an obituary index searchable online. So far, the online index of obituaries indexed in the Joliet Herald News covers 1979-2010. They also have a printed obituary index in binders.  Notice on the shelf they have a Joliet Daily News Obituary Index from 1909 to 1913.  If you use the index books onsite, you can look up the obituary on microfilm after you find it.


People ask me all of the time how to go about finding photos of family members. We all want to be able to know what our ancestors looked like. One great place to check are the yearbooks at the local library. While I was there a brother and sister who looked to be high school age found there mother in a yearbook. It was fun to watch them. 

Yearbooks may exist for elementary school, high school, and college. I noticed the following school yearbooks at Joliet Public Library (some are extinct schools or schools that have been renamed):

Joliet Central High School
Joliet East High School
Joliet East Crown
Joliet West High School
Lewis College
Lewis University
Plainfield High School
Ridgewood Baptist Academy

                                               Robin Foster, 22 April 2016 © 

                                            Robin Foster, 22 April 2016 © 

                                              Robin Foster, 22 April 2016 © 

                                                Robin Foster, 22 April 2016 © 

Robin Foster, 22 April 2016 © 

City directories

City directories are great for finding the location of family members between census years. The Joliet Public Library has directories as far back as 1881. You can also find the directory includes name of spouse, adress, occupation, and business addresses if they own a business. 

I found my parents in the 1966 Joliet city directory.  My father, Robert Foster, was a mathematical statistician at a local ammunition procurement plant. My mom is also listed. Also included on this page is Theba Foster who was a realtor and good friend of the family but not related. 


The library has map and plat books for Will and surrounding counties. One of the earliest for Will County was published in 1862. I was able to locate the area I grew up in the Will County plat books:

                                                Robin Foster, 22 April 2016 © 

I did not know Joliet had so many newspapers. The current newspaper is the Joliet Herald News. The liibrary has the Herald on microlfim from 1940 to 2015. Prior to April 1940, the local paper was the Joliet Evening Herald News. Several different papers extend back to 1846.  I will discuss them in a future post.

I have not yet been able to find an online newspaper database that has all the Joliet newspapers. If you know of one, please share. When newspapers are not digitized, you have to access them on microfilm, and that takes times. It is difficult on your eyes to work for more than a couple of hours researching newspapers on microfilm, but I have done it many times when that was all there was. 

Hopefully, these treasures will make you curious enough about what libraries may hold in the area where your ancestor lived. My next sweep through the local history department included pulling open every drawer, and spying local history on the shelf. Stay tuned for my next post!


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