Researching Family History
The Research Center houses a wide range of resources to help you find information on your River Forest and Oak Park ancestors. Below is a partial list of our holdings of particular interest and value to family historians. Some records are incomplete or have gaps; please contact the Society if you are seeking a specific item.
Our biographical resources include thousands of names from the 1800s to the present. Records comprise obituaries, newspaper articles, letters, scrapbooks, and other personal items.
This information is found in several different record sets at the Society. See below for information on collective biographies in printed books.
Books and Printed Material
There are several overall histories of our villages, including:
Gertrude Fox Hoagland’s Historical Survey of Oak Park, Illinois (1937)
David Sokol’s Oak Park: Continuity and Change (2000)
Harriet Hausman’s Reflections: A History of River Forest (1975)
Two books by Jean Guarino: Oak Park: A Pictorial History (1988) and Yesterday: A Historical View of Oak Park, Illinois (2000)
A book by Stan West, Peggy Tuck Sinko, Frank Lipo, and Yves Hughes Jr.: Suburban Promised Land: The Emerging Black Community in Oak Park, Illinois, 1880–1980 (2009).
Anniversary and commemorative publications of churches and other religious institutions, schools, fraternal and social clubs; and biographies, testimonials, eulogies of past residents may provide important personal information.
(see more books about local history)
The Society also maintains a collection of printed local, county, and regional collective biographies that include biographical sketches of local residents. These range from 19th century "mug books" and "who’s who"-type publications, to recent works like Women Building Chicago, 1790–1990: A Biographical Dictionary (2001).
The Society has microfilm copies of burial records from Forest Home Cemetery (1877–1980) and German Waldheim Cemetery (1873–1967) in Forest Park, Illinois. German Waldheim is now part of Forest Home. Burials are in chronological order (not alphabetical by name of deceased).
There are no cemeteries in Oak Park or River Forest, and these two burying grounds are the final resting place for many west suburban and Chicago residents, including many of the founding families of River Forest, Oak Park, Forest Park, Maywood, and Riverside. More information on Forest Home Cemetery can be found in our guide: Nature’s Choicest Spot: A Guide to Forest Home and German Waldheim Cemeteries.
Microfilm copies of federal census population schedules for Oak Park and River Forest, 1850–1930 censuses, are available in the Research Center. A set of maps showing enumeration districts for each census year serves as a finding aid to help narrow down census searches when an address or neighborhood is known.
- Oak Park & River Forest city directories, 1886–1930 (directories were not published every year and there are gaps). Include names and addresses. Some directories include family members, occupations, and reverse directories (by address).
- Telephone books, 1912 to present (some gaps). Included are Oak Park & River Forest telephone directories and west suburban phone books.
- The Oak Park and River Forest sections of the Chicago Blue Book (social register), 1883–1916; and 1932 Oak Park Social Register.
- Miscellaneous directories include a 1918 directory of automobile owners and a 1907 directory of south Oak Park.
- Oak Leaves, 1902 to early 1990s. Bound volumes; some missing issues (articles are clipped from Oak Leaves and Wednesday Journal newspapers to the present).Forest Leaves, 1914 to 1922, 1935, and most years from October 1940 through 1991. Bound volumes.
- The Trapeze, student newspaper at Oak Park and River Forest High School, 1912–1998 on microfilm.
- Incomplete and scattered holdings of other local newspapers including the Oak Park Reporter, 1887–1890; Vindicator, 1899–1901; Oak Park Argus, 1900–1902; and the Oak Parker, 1920s and 1930s.
Oral Histories and Interviews
- Tapes and transcripts of several dozen interviews conducted by local author Lee Brooke for his numerous local history publications.
- Veterans’ Interviews. Videotaped interviews with 12 World War II veterans conducted in 2004–2005. DVD format.
- An Oak Park Story series, an "ethnographic exploration of a Chicago suburb" by Jay Ruby, Oak Park and River Forest High School graduate and emeritus Temple University anthropologist. Five volumes, 2005–2006, DVD and CD-Rom. The collection also includes supporting materials and research documents from this project.
- Historical Society Oral History Project. Interviews with 45 longtime residents, conducted between 1970 and 1989. Reel-to-reel and cassette tapes.
River Forest and Oak Park residents were, and are, joiners. Churches and religious bodies, veterans’ groups, fraternal and benevolent organizations, social clubs, sports teams, service clubs, literary and musical societies—are just a few examples of organizations that an ancestor may have been a member of.
The Historical Society has records and archives on local clubs and organizations, past and present, where researchers may find information on an ancestor and his/her interests. The type of material varies, but can include such things as membership lists, scrapbooks, photos, yearbooks, and program books. Large organizational collections include (but are not limited to): Nineteenth Century Club (cultural & philanthropic club), League of Women Voters, Oak Park Community Lectures, River Forest Service Club, Oak Park and River Forest Garden Club, and OPALGA (Oak Park Area Lesbian and Gay Association).
- Collection includes thousands of photographs and hundreds of postcards organized by street, subject, name of person, organization/group.
- Promotional photo books from the late 19th to the early 20th century contain historic photos of residences and buildings and often include the owner’s name at the time the photo was taken. Some examples are Picturesque Oak Park (c. 1888), Album of Oak Park Views (1893), Oak Park 1896, Halley’s Pictorial Oak Park (1898), Oak Park Beautiful (1907), Glimpses of Oak Park (1912), River Forest—A Village of Homes (c. 1915), and River Forest Land Association Beautiful, Substantial Houses (c. 1915). Other publications include architectural guidebooks to local historic districts in Oak Park and River Forest.
- Philander Barclay Photo Collection. Seven binders contain over one thousand photos taken or collected in the late 19th and early 20th centuries by local historian Philander Barclay (1878–1940).
- The Tabula yearbook, Oak Park and River Forest High School, 1910–present.
- The Blackfriars yearbook, Fenwick Catholic High School, scattered years.
- The Cadet Call yearbook, Bishop Quarter Junior Military Academy, 1952–1957, 1961.
House and Building Research
Family historians may also wish to research homes and buildings associated with their ancestors, and such resources may provide additional information on past residents.