Local History and Genealogy Blog

G.C. Willis Storefront Displays

The G.C. Willis Department store opened its doors in Champaign in 1872. Forty years later, the enterprise moved to an imposing edifice on Main Street.

John W. Vance: The “Father of Champaign County”

Born in 1782, John W. Vance spent his youth in Pennsylvania, Kentucky, and Ohio. As youngster he and his brother, Joseph Colville Vance, chopped and delivered wood to stoke the fires of the salt works near their home. Later, they bought a team of oxen to haul salt to pioneer families in the Kentucky wilderness. This enterprise grew into a salt distribution company based in Urbana, Ohio.


Welles Cemetery, Compromise Township, Champaign County


The Champaign County Historical Archives, as repository for the county, maintains a microfilm collection of local newspapers going back the late-1800’s. My focus today will be on newspaper obituaries, and how they have been accessed over the years by historians and genealogists, and how you can access them today.

Lincoln Firsts in Urbana

Abraham Lincoln’s birthday was this Sunday and next Monday is President’s Day, the national observance of Lincoln and George Washington’s births. Lincoln spent his early law career on the eighth judicial circuit, travelling with other lawyers and judges to try cases put before the court.

Happy Valentine's Day!

In honor of Valentine’s Day and all things romantic, here is Champaign County’s first issued marriage license, filed July 25, 1833.

A Sad Case

I had to chuckle at this piece from the Champaign County Gazette, which describes an addled husband disoriented from his wife's specific and verbose instructions for her dressmaker. No wonder he suffered "great mental distress."

Art Club of Champaign's 1884 Exhibit

Art Club Picnic, date unknown
During the Civil War, American women coordinated efforts to deliver supplies and uniforms to the front lines and to hospitals, acted as nurses on the battlefield, and worked in industrial and farming jobs vacated by men who had gone to fight. In the years following these same women found themselves without an outlet for the administrative skills the war years had cultivated. Perhaps more importantly they yearned for the camaraderie these activities had provided. Industrial and technological advances alleviated the time-consuming labor of homemaking, creating idle leisure time many women had never before experienced. 

Year of the Rooster

Bob Gilbert with a Rooster, printed in the News-Gazette April 10, 1985

January 28th is Chinese New Year, and it's the Year of the Rooster! 

Urbana Elementary Schools Desegregated in 1966

This weekend the cities of Urbana and Champaign along with Parkland College and the University of Illinois celebrated the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Countywide Celebration. This year, the event honored six community members for their efforts to desegregate the Urbana elementary schools in 1966. The Champaign County Historical Archives has records pertinent to these events, available for use within the Archives Reading Room.

Headline from the Urbana Courier, 27 July 1966