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  Michael John Neill – 5/17/2001

A Brief Stop at Rock Island County Historical Society

I was going to have a couple of hours free while in Rock Island, Illinois recently and decided to spend that time working on one of my wife's lines. Time would be short, but I had fairly specific goals.

1) Perform a few quick searches at the Rock Island Historical Society for various members of the Mortier family, especially using their card indexes to obituaries and other materials. There were some family members for whom I had no death dates and I was hoping to use their card indexes to quickly locate some materials. (Note: The Rock Island Public Library has an excellent collection of materials as well, but I only had time for one stop).

2) Perform a few quick searches of Rock Island city directories to assist me in locating family members in 1900 and other censuses.

I went to the Historical Society Library, and in their card index, I located obituary references for several members of the Mortier family. Quickly referring to my notes (which I had with me), I realized there was only one obituary I did not have: Matilda Mortier Verschoore who died in 1935. The obituary gave her birthplace as Rock Island (likely incorrect, however) and several other details, the most significant of which was the date of her husband's death. I used the society's newspaper collection to quickly locate this obituary as well. Time was limited and research stopped here on the Verschoore family.

Matilda's parents, August and Louisa Van Hoorebeke Mortier, were the focus of this short research trip. They were Belgian immigrants who came to Rock Island, Illinois, ca. 1880. I had only done scattered work on this family and census work was high on my priority list. August died in the early 1900s and I decided my starting point would be the 1900 census (later I should locate Louise in the 1910 and 1920 census). It seemed logical that August settled in the Belgian part of the city of Rock Island; however, I did not want to scan each and every page of the census for this family.

So I turned to city directories (I did not have ready access to the 1900 Illinois Soundex) to determine August's residence.

The Rock Island County Historical Society has a wonderful collection of city directories for Rock Island and Moline, Illinois. My trip to the society's library unfortunately was short, so I viewed selected directories for August Mortier. Ideally for searching the 1900 census, I would use directories from 1899 through 1901, but the directory for 1905 appeared to be in excellent condition and I decided upon it instead of one of the more tattered ones from other years (I was short on time). Had I looked further I would have realized that the library had many of the directories on microfilm as well.

At any rate, I viewed Stone's 1905-06 Directory for the city of Rock Island and found four Mortier entries:

Mortier, August, lab R I Lumber Co r 2609 5/12 ave (Louisa)
Mortier Frederick, lab R I Sash Wks r 2600 13th ave (Mary)
Mortier Henry, woodwkr r 2609 5 ave
Mortier Peter, lab QW and D Co r 1305 26th ave (Leona)

Henry was August's son, still living at home in 1905. The other men were potential relatives of August. They were all living in close proximity to each other.

I was hoping that the men had not moved much since 1900. To locate the entries for these men in the 1900 census, I needed to determine the enumeration districts for their residences. I knew that the enumeration districts for Rock Island (like many cities) followed ward and precinct lines. The Historical Society library had a city map showing the ward boundaries around 1900. Had I not been able to locate the residences on the map, there were several volunteers in the library who could have helped me. (I did ask for the quickest way to the courthouse and was also told which building contained the office that housed the marriage records).

The map indicated that all of the families lived in the sixth ward. This ward was covered by only two enumeration districts (one for each precinct). This number of pages could easily be viewed. I could also have read the enumeration district descriptions on Ancestry's census image site for Rock Island County as well. It is possible to view the enumeration district descriptions without viewing the images themselves or having a membership for the census images. I find this particularly helpful when using census records for areas where I cannot readily obtain city maps showing wards and other political subdivisions. The National Archives also has microfilm publications on enumeration districts. Public libraries with significant genealogical collections in metropolitan areas frequently have information on census enumeration districts in their local area. These libraries, in addition to genealogical society and historical society libraries, are the place to begin your search for enumeration district information. In my case, the map of the city of Rock Island was particularly helpful.

Quick Summary
1) For city ancestors, use city directories to determine where your ancestor lived at the time of the census.

2) Use appropriate maps to determine your ancestor's enumeration district.

3) View the census pages for the appropriate enumeration district for your ancestor.

4) If city directories are not available or you don't find your ancestor listed in one, try the Soundex to the census (for 1880 and after) or one of the many published census indexes that are available at many genealogical and public libraries.

I Found a Bit More
I had been told that the family had farmed for a while south of the city of Rock Island. The Historical Society had a 1905 Rock Island County Atlas (or platbook). This book showed what individuals owned what pieces of property. Fortunately the atlas had been reprinted with an index. A quick check of the index located an entry for August Mortier in sections five and six of Bowling Township. The farm contained approximately 122 acres. The minute I saw Bowling Township I remembered that my late grandmother-in-law (August's granddaughter) had been born in Bowling Township in the 1910s. Land records for August's farm are another resource that I can check.

They Were in the Census
I did find the Mortier families in the 1900 census for Rock Island. Viewing the census information provided the approximate ages of the men (one never believes census ages completely) and their approximate years of immigration to the United States (one never believes that completely either). The images are viewable at: A later article will analyze the information located on these and later censuses. Further research on these families should include the 1910 and 1920 census and earlier censuses where appropriate.

Further Research?
When time allows, I plan on visiting the Rock Island Public Library, the Belgian Cultural Center (Moline, Illinois), and the Rock Island County Courthouse. Hopefully these sources will provide me with more information on the family. One never wants to stop with just one source. Unfortunately this trip to the area had to be a short one.

About the Rock Island Historical Society
The Rock Island Historical Society's library contains card indexes, a large vertical file with historical information and a significant collection of local newspapers.

Michael John Neill, is the Course I Coordinator at the Genealogical Institute of Mid America (GIMA) held annually in Springfield, Illinois, and is also on the faculty of Carl Sandburg College in Galesburg, Illinois. Michael is the Web columnist for the FGS FORUM and is on the editorial board of the Illinois State Genealogical Society Quarterly. He conducts seminars and lectures on a wide variety of genealogical and computer topics and contributes to several genealogical publications, including Ancestry and Genealogical Computing. You can e-mail him at: or visit his Web site at:

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