Located in the Sycamore Public Library
103 E. State Street
Sycamore, IL 60178

Tuesday and Thursday

 We've Moved!!

The Joiner History Room has moved to our new location, in the DeKalb County History Center, as of April 23rd. We are STILL AVAILABLE by phone (815-895-7271) or by email (joinerhistoryroom@dekalbcounty.org).   Our hours are Tuesday through Saturday, 10 am to 5 pm. 

Our Mission:

In May of 1989 the DeKalb County Board of Supervisors and the DeKalb County Finance office established the Joiner History Room to safeguard the historical raw materials of DeKalb County.  Today the Joiner History Room systematically collects, preserves, maintains, promotes, and makes available archived records of enduring historical value to the public.

1905 Map of Somonauk and Sandwich Townships after division

Sandwich and Somonauk Split 

DeKalb and Sycamore have always been known for their rivalry, but they aren’t the only neighboring townships in the county that can claim that title.  The township of Somonauk, located in the southeast part of the county, was once twice as big as it is today.  Believed to be one of the first settled areas, it flourished in the early 1850s when the railroad found its way through the area.   Sandwich, in Somonauk Township, also flourished and soon was bigger than the village of Somonauk.  


This eventually led to a division over politics and the division of tax dollars, with the dividing line being roughly based on Somonauk Creek: Somonauk to the west and Sandwich to the east.  A petition was signed in 1868 to divide the township of Somonauk into two election districts.  Voters thought they were poorly accommodated, with only one place to hold the elections but there were two important villages. 


In July of 1896 another petition was circulated to divide the township into two, creating the new township of Sandwich.  As in other petitions of this importance, after some voters had a better understanding of the division, they changed their minds and withdrew their names. 


Still fighting over the division in 1897, the petition went to the circuit court, where Judge Brown ordered the County Board of Supervisors to divide the township in accordance with the petition filed.   


In May of 1898 the division battle went back to the DeKalb County Board of Supervisors and was approved with a resolution.  The Board of Supervisors finally divided the township into two townships: Sandwich and Somonauk.  This decision was appealed to the Illinois Supreme Court in October of 1898 and was scheduled to be considered at the February 1899 court.


In March of 1899 the Illinois Supreme Court announced its verdict, that the two townships were forever divided.  

Historical Photos Available on Flickr

Over 700 photos from the Floyd Ritzman Collection which are part of the Northern Illinois University Digital Library are now available on Flickr at https://flic.kr/s/aHskqwXroS.  This collection of photos, taken in and around DeKalb County, was formerly part of the Taming the Wild Prairie website. Thanks to Matthew Short at NIU for making these historical photos available.

Illinois Adoption Law Passed By Illinois Legislature

Under this law, original birth certificates cannot be issued in person by state or county vital statistics offices.    This law allows adult adopted persons born in Illinois to request non-certified copies of their original birth certificates through the Illinois Department of Public Health.  In most cases, the original birth certificate will list the first and last names of one or both birth parents.    Birth parents of adopted persons born after January 1, 1946, may request that their names be deleted from this non-certified copy. All birth parents may indicate their preferences regarding contact with their adult birth child. The options available under this new law are different for adopted persons, birth parents and their family members. The options available also change depending on the date of birth of the adult adopted person.  For more information see www.newillinoisadoptionlaw.com.

Birth, Marriage, Death and Naturalization Records

The DeKalb County Clerk's office has birth, marriage, death and naturalization indexes online.These records meet genealogical guidelines.  Their website is www.dekalbgenealogy.com.

Copying/Scanning/Mailing Pricing

$ .25/page......Photocopy by patron at JHR
   .50/page......Photocopies by JHR staff
 2.00/scan......By JHR researcher
 2.00/each......Photo quality prints
Scans will be emailed. To keep your costs down, we will try to get as much on one scan as possible. Photocopies by JHR staff and photo quality prints are sent U.S. mail only. Postage is also charged.
Sycamore True Republican, 1893

Burial Permit and Removal Permit List Available

A Burial Permit was initiated by the funeral home to report to the Department of Public Health where a deceased person was buried.  The information includes name, identifying information, date and place of death, cause of death and where buried.  A Removal Permit had to be completed if a buried body was to be moved to a different cemetery.  The Joiner History Room has a limited list of names, dates of death, and cemetery where buried.  This is not a complete listAccess list here.

Looking Back Index Available

The Midweek, a current DeKalb County area publication, has a column called "Looking Back" that has small snipits of local news dating back to the late 1800's.  Most items are one or two lines long, just enough to give you a flavor of what was happening at the time.  This index covers publication dates from the start of the column, mid-2010, through December 2014.  If you find an item of interest, e-mail the Joiner History Room with date of publication and page number.
Access Index

Burkhart Funeral Home Records

Funeral home records are often overlooked as a source of genealogical information.  Joiner History Room volunteer Fran Besserman diligently compared a hand-written list of Burkhart burials with obits available from other sources in our collection.  This may be the only record of a death.
View list here.


How to Donate to the Joiner History Room

Joiner History Room is honored to be part of The DeKalb County Community Foundation.  The Joiner History Room Endowment Fund was established in 2008 to honor Ralph Joiner and the first appointed DeKalb County historian, Phyllis Kelley.  If you wish to donate to our Endowment Fund, please click here Your donations provide operating funds to maintain the Joiner History Room. 

Land Research

In the early 1800’s, the U. S. government regarded all unsettled land as “public land” under their control.  They created the General Land Office (GLO).  In turn, the GLO created district offices to facilitate the sale of these lands.  In Illinois ten district offices were established.  The office in Dixon handled DeKalb County.  Each office had a commission consisting of two men to (1) sell the land, (2) receive the money from the sale, (3) record all transactions and (4) settle any disputes.  On September 28, 1850 congress passed a law, An Act Granting Bounty Land to Certain Officers and Soldiers Who Have Engaged in the Military Service of the United States. Summarizing the act, it allowed “certain classes of persons in the military service during the war of 1812, the war with Mexico, or Indian wars, or their widows or minor children entitled to lands, in proportion to certain periods of service.”  To receive the land, the soldier had to go through a several step process.  First, he had to apply for a bounty land warrant essentially proving that he was entitled to this land.  If the warrant was granted (usually a lengthy process), he then had to apply for a land patent.  Warrants could not legally be sold, but land patents could be sold.  He could choose from land made available in Arkansas, Illinois and Missouri.  By the time this Act became law, a great deal of the former soldiers in these wars had aged or had no interest in settling on the land.  The patents would be sold to other individuals or businesses that made money by reselling the patent.



Section 18 shows the names of four individuals.  By researching these people, a narrative of the early land ownership can be written.  Each person’s history touches the land in different ways.

John Dement

Northwest Quarter and Southwest Quarter


John Dement’s name appears on the two largest parcels of land. He purchased the two parcels in Malta township in 1853.  Dement was a Black Hawk War veteran who rose to the rank of Colonel and later was elected twice as Illinois state treasurer and then served in the State Assembly.  In 1837 he was appointed by President Jackson to work in the Dixon federal land office as the Receiver of Public Money.  He held this position under every Democratic president through the Pierce administration.  As the Receiver of Public Money, he was required to sell at public auction unwanted land owned by soldiers under the 1850 Act.  This put him in a position to personally make money on buying land patents because part of is job was to know the land’s value, i.e. good soil, water access, railroad expansion plans, etc.  In total, he and his brother, Charles, purchased over 150,00 acres.


Lyman Truman

South Half and Northeast Quarter of the Northeast Quarter


Although the federal government had made provisions within other land acts to discourage speculation, it nonetheless occurred.  One of these speculators, Lyman Truman, was able to purchase multiple properties within DeKalb County.  According to a biography of Mr. Truman, he was wealthy and respected by the citizens of Tioga County, New York.  A self-made man, he was a politician and banker.  The biography, in part, reads, “he having never engaged in any speculation, except an extensive purchase, at government prices, of Illinois lands in 1856, in company with Gurdon Hewitt, Jr., Esq., which proved very remunerative.  These lands were skillfully located before any settlement of the region, in the vicinity of streams and along the lines which their sagacity predicted prospective railroads must take”.


It is unknown whether he purchased land at the auctions or directly from the soldier.  What is known is that the land patent was given to John Price Jr. a sergeant in Captain Waterman’s Company, Florida Militia, and for service in Piles’ Mounted Co., Florida Volunteers during the Florida Wars (also known as the Seminole Wars and Indian Wars).  The patent indicates it was assigned to Truman on November 1, 1854.

Gurdon Hewitt, Jr., Esq

Southeast Quarter


Gurdon Hewitt, Jr. was born to wealthy parents in Owego, NY.  According to an online biography, “he was educated as a lawyer and admitted to the bar of Tioga county in 1847, but never practiced law.”  Instead he chose to handle his father’s business interests.  From 1852-1857 he partnered with Lyman Truman (see above) in an equal partnership purchasing land in DeKalb county.  The biography describes the successful venture as “realizing a great profit on their investment.”


The land patent shows the government gave the land to Eben Nelson, Private in Company G, Second Regiment, United States Dragoon’s for service in the Florida Wars.  On November 1, 1854 the patent was assigned to Gurdon Hewitt Jr.


Jonathan Shafer

Northwest Quarter of the Northeast Quarter


Jonathan Shafer was 20 years old when in 1814 he joined Captain William’s Company, Maryland Calvary, during The War of 1812. This Company was part of a state militia that served about 15 days.  He fought in the famous battle of Bladensburg, where a defeat by British soldiers resulted in the capture and burning of Washington, D.C.  His bounty land patent was for 40 acres and shows it was issued November 1, 1854.  By then he was 60 years old and according to his obituary, he lived in Maryland his whole life.


Land ownership that occurred between the information above and 1871 was not part of the research of this article, as DeKalb County plat maps for this time period were unavailable.  The best place to find the names of subsequent owners is to visit the DeKalb County Recorders office.  The 1871 Plat Map of DeKalb County, with owners’ names, is available in the Joiner History Room.  Bounty land records are in the National Archives Microfilm Series M848 (14 rolls), War of 1812 Military Bounty Land Warrants, 1815-1858.  Another helpful resource is Oberly, James Warren, (Sixty Million Acres:  American Veterans and the Public Lands Before the Civil War) Kent, Ohio, The Kent State University Press, 1990.  The U.S. Department of the Interior, Bureau of Land Management, has a online, searchable, patent database at https://glorecords.blm.gov/default.aspx .



Shabbona-Lee-Rollo Historical Museum Digitizes Newspapers

The SLR Museum recently announced the following newspapers from the southern part of DeKalb County and Lee County have been digitized and are available online through their website at http://slrhistoricalmuseum.advantage-preservation.com/
The Paw Paw News, 1874-1876
The Lee County Times, 7 Apr 1882-6 Apr 1883 and 1 Jan 1886-13 Aug 1959
The Shabbona Express, 13 Dec 1917-26 Mar 1925
The DeKalb County Express, 31 Jan 1929-27 Oct 1960
There are a few issues of The Compton Record, scattered issues from  1887-1895 and the Evening Times, September 1887. 

COMING SOON - Digitized newspapers from the Hinckley Historical Society.

DeKalb Daily Chronicle Available Online

Due to the generosity of the Douglas C. and Lynn M. Roberts Foundation, a large selection of the DeKalb Daily Chronicle is available free online.  The issues are searchable.  Issues available cover the period January 2, 1918 through December 31, 1930.  Issues dated between June 1, 1930 and November 30, 1930 are missing. You can access this database at http://idnc.library.illinois.edu/cgi-bin/illinois?a=q&l=en.

Newspapers.com has made available past issues of the DeKalb Chronicle (1879-1895) and the Daily Chronicle (1895-1963).  These issues are searchable. Newspapers.com requires a paid subscription.

Obituary Database Reaches Milestone

We now have over 39,800 obituaries in our online, searchable database.  The link to the database is above.  Joiner History Room volunteers have worked for five years inputing obituaries. Because this is an ongoing project, we have many more obituaries to input and you may not find what you are looking for. Please contact us via email if this is the case.