The Archival Record
The written records of the colonial and early American Communities of the Midwest are more numerous and wide-ranging than one might realize. In the Illinois Country, that record began in the 1670s with the correspondence of priests and traders. By the early 1700s, a variety of legal, governmental, and church records were being created in the new French colony. Today, those records are much more dispersed than those of post-Statehood eras. The limits of the colony itself extended across many of the territorial and state lines that were created later during the American period. Various 17th and 18th century records were moved around the region with changes in the seats of colonial and American government. For this reason, historical research still relies on the piecing-together of records widely scattered across county courthouses, libraries, and archives in Illinois, Wisconsin, Louisiana, Canada, and France .
The Kaskaskia Manuscripts
The “Kaskaskia Manuscripts” collection is a group of over 6,000 original documents dating from 1708 to 1816. Consisting primarily of French notarial records made here in the Illinois colony, the collection includes marriage contracts, wills, inventories, deeds, depositions, partnerships, labor contracts, leases, and other transactions. The majority have not been translated or published. Together they form an extraordinarily vivid chronicle of life in eighteenth-century Illinois.
The Illinois-Miami Dictionaries
Very shortly after the first contact between the Illinois and the French, a concerted effort to not only learn but interpret and record the indigenous language was made by several French Jesuit priests. The dictionaries they created are a priceless record of the language spoken by the Illinois and Miami nations at the time of contact with European. Today, these dictionaries are used to revitalize the use of the ancient language.
Peoria and Pimiteoui
Where the Illinois River widens into two connected lakes now known as Peoria Lake, the place first known to the Illinois and French as Pimitéoui has deep roots in the Indigenous and French Colonial communities of the Illinois Country. During the height of the Illinois Colony, Peoria was home to the Illinois tribe of the same name, was an important fur trading locale, and was also considered the gateway to Canada by the settlements in southern Illinois.
Mission and Parish Records
The earliest church records in Illinois date to the 1690s, and are affiliated with the Jesuit Mission to the Peoria Tribe. The first Parish in Illinois was created in 1719 at Kaskaskia. A compendium of some of the earliest church records in the colony was made by historian Edward Mason in the 1870s, and provides important vital records from the Mission and early Parish eras.
Early records associated with the French mission and village at Cahokia are fewer than those affiliated with the colonial communities of Kaskaskia and Chartres. Some information is contained in the Kaskaskia Manuscripts. Important supplements to this are the 1790-1813 records transcribed and indexed by Raymond Hammes. Never published, these transcriptions are available for study here.
Le Rocher or "Starved Rock"
This impressive limestone cliff on the Upper Illinois River was the first real center of operations for the French traders and explorers who came to the Illinois Country during the late 1600s. And greeting them here were the Kaskaskia and Peoria Tribes of the Illinois, who had lived in and utilized the region since the 1630s.
The Jesuit Relations
“Relations” or reports by the Jesuit missionaries working in North America during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries were initially intended to update their superiors as to the progress in the conversion of various Indigenous North American tribes. They were also published and read by the general public back in France. Today, they contain some of the earliest and richest accounts of the Illinois Country.