Research

Advice from historian Bob Brunkow, PhD, on researching the history of homes in Belleville.

A home on East D Street in Belleville. Photo taken in 2011.

These resources can help you learn more about the history of homes in Belleville, Illinois, including archival maps and photos and previous owners and residents. Information compiled by historian Bob Brunkow.

Ownership

In a perfect world, when you bought your home you acquired a title abstract that listed all the previous owners of the property. In reality you probably just know who the last owner was. Tracing back ownership from this one piece of information is possible using resources in the Belleville Pubic Library and the Recorder of Deeds Office on the fifth floor of the St. Clair County Courthouse. The most recent deeds are available on-line in the Recorder of Deeds Office. To find the previous owners you need to enter the parcel number in the appropriate box on the Recorder of Deeds computers. The on-line records extend back to the 1990’s. For earlier owners, you will need to look at the microfilm grantor (seller)–grantee (buyer) indexes. In addition to the name of the owner you need to find the legal description of the property, e.g., Lot 4, Stuart and Phillips’ Addition. The indexes are in the Recorder of Deeds Office. The grantor-grantee indexes to about 1910 are available and easier to research at the library. The indexes are arranged alphabetically by the seller’s name in the grantor index and by the buyer’s name in the grantee index.

Normally, researchers work backwards, from the most recent grantee. Search the grantee index for the entry that shows both the grantee’s name and the legal description of the property. That entry will also identify the grantor who sold the property to the grantee. Repeat the research steps. This time search the grantee index using the new name of the grantor you found on the previous deed. As in the previous search, the entry that has both the name of the grantee and the legal description will provide the name of the grantor. Continue to work backwards from grantee to grantor until you find the original deed.

What happens if you do not know the names of the grantees or grantors? Using the legal description, try working forward from the first sale of the property in the addition, e.g., Stuart and Phillips’ Addition. Especially for the early additions, the one or two people who platted the addition gave their names to it. Theodore Hilgard, for example, was the original grantor of Hilgard’s Fourth Addition. Using his name and the legal description check the grantor index until his name and the description appear in the index entry. That entry will identify the grantee. To find the next sale search for that name in the grantor index until that name and the legal description line up in the entry, which also provides the name of the next grantee. Repeat the search until you end with the current grantee.

Do not be satisfied with the list of grantors and grantees from the index. Check the microfilm deeds in the Recorder of Deeds Office. The indexes do not always give complete information. Sometimes they are in error. Always they use the date the deed was recorded. Sometimes the property was sold years before the deed was recorded, a fact unknown until the original deed is checked.

Houses

Your list of grantors and grantees is a list of the owners of the lot, not necessarily a listof homeowners. Lots often changed hands many times before someone built on them.

Several steps should help to identify the original house owner and approximate age of the house. Often the deed will provide the price of the property. A major change in price between two deeds may indicate when a house was built—another reason to check the actual deeds. A first mortgage may also indicate new construction. The Recorder of Deeds has mortgage indexes that work just like grantor-grantee indexes, except that the borrower is the grantor, and the lender is the grantee.

Maps also help to determine the existence of homes. Map of St. Clair County,Illinois, (1863), available in the library, includes a map of Belleville that shows which lots had buildings on them in 1863. (Of course the building now on the lot could be of later construction.) The Bird’s-eye View Map of Belleville (1867), available on the Library of Congress website, has drawings of the town’s buildings. The Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps, available on microfilm at the library, were published periodicallyfrom 1884 to 1949. They show the footprints of buildings. A comparison of the maps over time will reveal how the building’s configuration changed.

Contemporary photographs of buildings in portions of the Old Belleville Historic District along with some history is in Jane Eiseley, Belleville Intensive Survey of Historic Buildings (1995), available in the library. Greater Belleville (1910), available in the library, and at the Internet Archive website, has numerous photos of buildings. Though difficult to reproduce, photos are also available in the Belleville News Democrat Centennial Edition (1914) in the library.

A good source of information on architectural styles and construction is McAlester and McAlester, Field Guide to Houses, available in the library.

Residents

Your list of grantors and grantees does not necessarily tell you who lived in your house. Some owners were only investors. For information on residents, a check of City Directories is advisable. These list the names, addresses, and, until recently, occupations of residents. The library has the largest collection of these. They have been published periodically since 1860. Since the early 20th century, they have provided a list of residents by address. With the names that come from the city directories, sources in the previous paragraph, and the deeds you will acquire a list of people who can be tracked in the newspapers. The WPA Index of Newspapers, 1840-1940 in the library provides ready access to the library’s microfilm newspapers.

Repositories

The Belleville Public Library has the largest collection of material on Belleville history. Belleville’s Labor and Industry Museum has photos and documents of buildings and Bellevillians. The St. Clair County Historical Society also has much information. The St. Clair County Genealogical Society does not have an independent repository but its website, and publications available in the library offer extensive information on Bellevillians.