Saturday, November 26, 2011

Saturday Night Genealogy Fun ~ Historical County Boundaries

Thank you to Randy Seaver at Genea-Musings for the idea for this blog post. See the challenge details at Genea-Musings. In a nutshell, I visited the Historical U.S. County Maps page on Randy Majors website at and chose a location to explore its historical jurisdiction in time.

I chose Winnetka (a village in the township of New Trier), Illinois (where the Greeley family was for many decades), but I could just as easily have chosen Chicago, Illinois (where the Adsit family was from soon after its founding) which is about 16 miles south of New Trier. Both communities are currently in Cook County. Because Illinois did not become a state of the United States until December 3, 1818, the very early history of the area had many jurisdictional changes, which made this more of a challenge than I originally anticipated. However, it is interesting to see how often these territory and county boundaries changed in these early years of our country.

Map images and descriptions of territory and county changes come from Randy Majors County Maps page.

07/13/1787: The U.S. created the Northwest Territory to govern all territory west of Pennsylvania, north of the Ohio River, and east of the Mississippi River.

Knox Co., NW Terr., 1790-1796

06/20/1790: KNOX (Ind.) created by the Northwest Territory from non-county area; included parts of present Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, and Wisconsin.

Wayne Co., NW Terr. 1796-1805

Between 1787 and 1818, when Illinois became a state, the area that is currently known as Cook County, Illinois, underwent many changes in jurisdiction. Early on, the area was known as Wayne County in Indiana Territory.

In 1809, Illinois Territory was created from Indiana Territory. The area where Winnetka and Chicago are now located was known (in chronological order between 1809 and 1818) as St. Clair County, Madison County, Edwards County, and Crawford County. This territory included land in present day Michigan and Wisconsin.

Illinois county
boundaries, 1818

12/03/1818: Illinois became the 21st state of the United States. The county of Crawford lost all territory in present Michigan and Wisconsin when the state of Illinois was created from Illinois Territory.

Illinois county
boundaries, 1830

Between 1819 and 1831, the county names of this area included: Clark, Pike, "non-county area," Putnam, then on 01/15/1831, Cook County was created from Putnam. Later in the 1830's, Cook County lost some area to the creation of McHenry County, then to Du Page County.

Moving along year by year with the Illinois map at Randy Majors County Maps page shows how the state was populated by people moving northward from south of present-day Illinois.

The Town of Chicago was organized in 1833.

Illinois county
boundaries, 1840

My second great (paternal) grandfather, James Monroe Adsit, arrived in Chicago in 1838. He lived the rest of his life in Chicago.

My second great (maternal) grandfather, Samuel Sewall Greeley, arrived in Chicago in 1853. His obituary indicates that he moved to the village of Winnetka in 1898.


  1. I love old maps, so thanks for the heads up about that site.

    This is also an excellent reminder of how borders change over time.

  2. It's really interesting how the boundaries changed. I've found similar changes in the states that I've done research on.

  3. Karen and Sheryl - thanks for reading and commenting. Yes, this is a fun website to "play" with. I also took a look at early 19th century Maine, which is also interesting, as Maine was part of Massachusetts until 1820.