By Jared Olar
For the past two weeks, we’ve spotlighted some items from the trove of William H. Bates papers recently donated to the Tazewell County Genealogical & Historical Society. This week’s column will feature one more fascinating item from the Society’s Bates collection – an old bound daybook in which are enrolled the names of early Tazewell County settlers.
Several daybooks or diaries were included in the donated trove of Bates papers and photographs. Some of Bates’ daybooks recorded the activities and minutes of Civil War veterans groups to which Bates belonged. However, Pekin’s pioneer historian used one particular daybook to maintain an extensive alphabetized list of names that seems to have served as something of a personal directory of Tazewell County’s pioneers. David Perkins of the TCGHS has generously supplied photocopied pages from this daybook to the Pekin Public Library’s Local History Room, and the Society also plans to present the contents of the daybook in the TCGHS Monthly.
The daybook is 12 inches long and 6 inches wide. The names are handwritten on 146 pages of the daybook, the pages numbered from 10 to 155. Most pages are completely filled up with 33 names each, but other pages have only 10 to 20 names, and a few pages have only about five names. Each line entry consists of the settler’s name, the state where he or she was born, the town where the settler’s post office was located, the year the settler arrived in Tazewell County, and the year of death if the settler had passed away.
The most recent deaths recorded in the daybook happened in 1907, which therefore apparently would be the last year that Bates updated this list of settlers. Most of the settlers in the daybook presumably were still alive in 1907, for they have no date of death. In almost all cases, if a death is written in the daybook, it is only the year of death, but a handful of times Bates included the exact date of death. Because Bates’ daybook is from a period prior to Oct. 1914, when the Pekin Daily Times microfilms begin, the death dates written in the daybook can provide genealogists with information that may otherwise be unavailable due to a missing obituary or a missing or illegible gravestone.
We can’t be sure of the reason Bates maintained this list of Tazewell County settlers. It’s quite possible that he did it as part of his own endeavors in recording the history of Pekin and Tazewell County. He may also have relied on this and similar rolls of settlers in researching or updating the annual Bates City Directories that he printed and published. One might also wonder if this tally of settlers’ names was related to the Tazewell County Old Settlers social organization.
The 1873 “Atlas Map of Tazewell County” and Allensworth’s 1905 “History of Tazewell County” include the names of the Old Settlers who belonged to that club. If Bates’ daybook has something to do with the Old Settlers, it could be a membership list that was regularly updated. On the other hand, it does not give the appearance of being a membership register, for it doesn’t include information such as length of membership or payment of dues.
Whatever the reason Bates kept this book of settlers’ names, it is now a precious historical relic and an important early source available to historians and genealogists who make use of the services of the Tazewell County Genealogical & Historical Society – or who make use of the library’s Local History Room collection.