Can you find St. Charles in 1865?

The Illinois state census of 1865 can help place your family at the end of the Civil War, complete with the name of the household head, the family members’ ages and sexes, the value of their livestock (even in the city — “horsepower” was no metaphor in those days), and sometimes more. The portion for Kane County is available in the state archives in Springfield, {1} at the St. Charles Public Library, {2} at the Newberry Library, {3} and at the Family History Library in Salt Lake City. {4} You can purchase a printed index from the Kane County Genealogical Society. {5} But the easiest version to use is online, where has indexed it and linked to images of the original as part of its Illinois State Census Collection, 1825-1865.

Ancestry is where I searched late last year, when a project took me in search of the life and times of Isbon Barnum. With his wife Minerva and extended family, he was enumerated in St. Charles, Kane County, in 1860 {6} — and was nowhere to be seen in 1870. I thought the state census might help. Even if he had died rather than going west, it might at least suggest which half of the decade he died in. Sure enough, I found a female household head, M. Barnum. She was the right age and headed a  family with the right configuration for her to be his widow. {7} There was just one oddity. According to Ancestry’s label on the census page, the bereaved Minerva had moved out to Sugar Grove Township, more than ten miles away from St. Charles, where the family had lived for years.

First question: Why would she have done that? Second question: Did she?

I scanned the neighbors’ names in Sugar Grove in 1865 and compared them to the neighbors in St. Charles in 1860. It didn’t take long to see a pattern. In 1860, household heads A. Hubbell, Michael Keating, A. Harrison, Fred Peterson, I. Johnson, and Charles Magnusson were enumerated within ten households of the Barnums. With only slight variations in spelling and age, they were all still near M. Barnum in 1865.

Had they moved in a body from St. Charles to Sugar Grove between 1860 and 1865? Had I just discovered a little-known mass migration in Kane County history?

No. This is strictly a 21st-century problem. If I had been a bit more professional in my usage of Ancestry – for instance, if I had chosen a particular year (1865) and county (Kane) for browsing, and looked at the township list there, instead of just typing in the name “Barnum” — then I would have been spared that moment of vertigo. That list makes the problem obvious to anyone who knows the county.

If you don’t know it, Kane County is a tall narrow almost-rectangle, three civil townships wide east to west, and five townships deep north to south. It contains 16 townships (Geneva and Batavia split what would otherwise have been a single township). Reading left to right and top to bottom on the map, they are: Hampshire, Rutland, Dundee; Burlington, Plato, Elgin; Virgil, Campton, St. Charles; Kaneville, Blackberry, Geneva/Batavia; Big Rock, Sugar Grove, Aurora.

But not in Ancestry’s world. The company did us a great service by indexing the census, and then undid much of the service by disorganizing and mislabeling it. According to Ancestry, the state census of Kane County in 1865 covers only six townships: Burlington, Elgin, Kaneville, Rutland, Sugar Grove — and Unknown. What’s up with that?

Fortunately I soon had a chance to see Family History Library microfilm #972,756, “State Census, 1865: Kane, Kendall, Logan Counties,” filmed from the copy in the state archives.

The names on the film aren’t indexed, but it is logically arranged. All sixteen Kane County townships are there, in reverse alphabetical order, starting with Virgil and ending with Aurora. (The larger townships are enumerated in two or more parts.) Each page is numbered twice: once in the upper left corner, numbering within each township or part of township and starting over with each new part, and again in the upper right corner, keeping the page count for the whole county. Residents of Virgil are enumerated for nine pages, beginning with page 1/4 and ending with page 9/12. Then a one-page statistical summary on page 10/13 totals all its numbers. The enumeration of Sugar Grove, the next township, begins on the following page, which is 1/14, that is, page 1 of Sugar Grove and page 14 of Kane County as a whole.

The 1865 enumerators may have been methodical, but they weren’t terribly industrious. They didn’t write the township name in the blank space provided on every page. The only way to tell which township you’re looking at is to flip ahead to the final statistical summary page, which is always labeled. I soon learned that M. Barnum was in fact living in St. Charles in 1865 – enumerated on page 6 of the second part of St. Charles, which is page 40 in the county as a whole. That was the page I had seen on labeled “Sugar Grove.” At least now I knew Minerva Barnum hadn’t moved away after her husband died, but what was going on with this census to make it look like she did?

If Ancestry had simply indexed the microfilm and reproduced it intact and in order, researchers could easily figure out what was going on. Instead the company went to what looks like a lot of work to get it wrong. Not only did it mislabel most of Kane County, it also removed all the statistical summary pages. Doing so removed no genealogical data in the narrow sense – those summaries don’t contain names – but it did remove almost all the labels that tell where the named people on the other pages were living!

It’s a pretty pathetic genealogist who wants only the names and doesn’t care where the people were living – but, hey, I’m the one who just typed a name into the search box without first getting acquainted with the source I was using. As a public penance, I’m here to tell you which pages in Ancestry’s rendition of the 1865 Kane County state census belong to which townships. If Ancestry fixes the problem and renders this article obsolete, great.

But in the meantime, here’s how to translate its mostly wrong labels into accurate place locations.

The 58 images Ancestry calls “Unknown” are actually, in order of appearance:
Virgil, pages 1/4 through 9/12
Sugar Grove, 1/14 only
Aurora, 4/205 [partly covered by a paper label saying “Kane County”] through 20/221
Aurora, 1/223 through 22/244
Aurora, 1/246 through 9/254

The 54 images Ancestry calls “Burlington” are actually:
Burlington, 2/145 through 7/150
“Black Berry,” 1/152 through 8/159
Batavia, 1/168 through 17/184
Aurora, 1/186 through 15/206
Aurora, 2/203 and 4/205 [fully readable this time around]

The 32 images Ancestry calls “Elgin” are actually:
Elgin, 1/110 through 10/119
Dundee, 1/121 through 14/134
Campton, 1/136 through 7/142
Burlington, 1/144

The 50 images called “Kaneville” are actually:
Kaneville, 1/57 through 7/63
Hampshire, 1/65 through 8/72
Geneva, 1/74 through 11/[84]
Elgin, 1/85 through 24/108

The 13 images called “Rutland” are actually:
Rutland, 1/42 through 6/47
Plato, 1/49 through 7/55

And the culprit that started the whole thing – the 24 images Ancestry calls “Sugar Grove” are actually:
Sugar Grove, 2/15 through 6/19
St. Charles, 1/21 through 13/33
St. Charles, 1/35 through 6/40

Not every township is wrongly identified, but most of them are. Sugar Grove, Elgin, Burlington, and Aurora are split up as well. Even the few that are correctly identified have others lumped in with them. And one page – Aurora 3/204 – is omitted altogether. That page contains the following names of household heads: C. K. Robinson, Wm Cate [Cale?], O. Holcomb, W. C. Kinch, O. Hotchkiss, Amelia King, Henry Cask, W. Selva, John Gardner, Wm Lindsay, D. G. Carpenter, Hiram Higby, T. H. Van Liew [?], A. G. Burr, John R. Riley, John Redington, Jas Dorn, Thos Fitzpatrick, Thos M. Chany, S. S. Merrill, T. P. Briggs, D. C. Gale, John Healy, Wm. Jones, John Hall, John L. Blair, Emerson Rogers, and J. S. Thompson.

As Linda Farroh Eder wrote in her introduction to the KCGS index book, “Preservation without an orderly retrieval mechanism renders records useless.”

My point is not to pick on, but to remind us all that we can’t take any source at face value, online or off. Remember this story the next time someone asks why we keep those musty old papers and microfilms around, now that “all” the information they contain is online. If we didn’t still have the physical records maintained by the state archives and various libraries, much of the history in the 1865 state census of Kane County would have been lost forever.


1. Record Series 103.010 ( All web sites accessed 3 February 2009 unless otherwise noted. Seventy counties are said to be indexed, not including Kane.

2. The online catalog shows two microfilms under the title “Illinois State Census, 1865” (

3. Call no. microfilm 305, reel 9 (

4. “[Illinois] State Census, 1865: Kane, Kendall, Logan Counties,” Family History Library microfilm no. 972,756.

5. Kane County Genealogical Society, Index to Kane County, Illinois, 1865 State Census (Geneva: KCGS, 2000). Publications list at

6. Kane County, Illinois, 1860 US Census, population schedule, St. Charles Township, p. 293 (stamped), p. 57 (penned), John [Isbon] Barnum; digital images, HeritageQuest online (accessed via local library 11 October 2008), citing NARA microfilm publication M653, roll 191.

7. 1865 Illinois state census, Kane County, Sugar Grove, p. 6 or p. 40, line 12, M. Barnum; digital image, ( : accessed 24 December 2008), citing microfilm, record series 103.010, Illinois State Archives, Springfield.

[As published in the Illinois State Genealogical Society Quarterly 41(2):100-102, Summer 2009, except that the footnotes are now endnotes.]