PEKIN, Ill. (WMBD) — The Tazewell County Genealogical and Historical Society was recognized for its work raising awareness about Illinois’ contributions to the Underground Railroad.

TCGHS received a community service award from the Illinois Genealogical Society, which recognizes individuals and organizations for work furthering genealogy in Illinois.

Using original source documents like county commissioner records and land documents, TCGHS found multiple families in Tazewell County who played a part in the Underground Railroad.

“It’s right here in our backyard and we don’t have to go very far to see important national history…We have found that this was an illegal activity in the state of Illinois at the time, assisting enslaved individuals on their path to freedom, so this was a secret kept among families,” said Tazewell County Clerk John Ackerman.

Since 2021, TCGHS has hosted multiple recognition events in Tremont, Delavan, Washington and rural Cincinnati Township to honor families for their ancestors who served as conductors on the Underground Railroad.

“Every single event, we were able to find family members to come in and attend, and they were very appreciative,” said TCGHS’s immediate past president Susan Rynerson.

Rynerson said more than 200 people attended each event.

“People are really interested, they’re really hungry for it. Local history is really interesting…They think of the Underground Railroad as something that happened out east, and we had an extremely robust Underground Railroad system here in Illinois and especially in Tazewell County,” she said.

The project has since expanded beyond Tazewell County, with historical societies from Peoria and Woodford counties also honoring families with ties to the Underground Railroad.

These efforts also led to the formation of the Underground Railroad Task Force in Illinois.