The location of places whose names may be less than official can sometimes be difficult.
In “Newspaper May Give What the Marriage Record May Not,” a place name of Prairie Precinct was given as the location for the 1849 marriage of Asa Landon and Mary Sargent in Winnebago County, Illinois. Marriage licenses in Illinois were county-specific in 1849, so the reference to Prairie Precinct should be to a location in Winnebago County.
At this point, I’m not certain if the reference to Prairie Precinct is to an actual location with clearly defined boundaries or to a general area without boundaries that was referred to as “Prairie Precinct” by the locals. What I need is a directory of place names for Illinois on my reference shelf (either Place Names of Illinois [University of Illinois Press] or Illinois Place Names [Illinois State Historical Society]). The problem is that some “places” are informal ones that are not easily located in any printed reference. That may or may not be the case with Prairie Precinct. It could be that it is a governmental unit that existed in 1849 but does not exist any longer. It may or may not be easy to find on a printed map. It could also be a mailing address of sorts and records of post offices from the National Archives may help.
As an exercise, I searched for “Prairie Precinct” in newspapers at GenealogyBank to determine if I could find any other reference to the location in newspapers from Rockford, Illinois, around the time that Asa Landon and Mary Sargent were married. There were several.
One was for a stray cow that had been lost by a Jonathan Page whose is styled as a “subscriber in Prairie Precinct.” His ad appeared in the Rockford Forum on 7 November 1849.
Asa Landon, Hiram Lake (who married Landon) and Jonathan Page are all enumerated in Owen Township in the 1850 census for Winnebago County, Illinois. Lake and Landon are on the same census page and Page is listed a handful of households later. I still don’t have a precise location of where Prairie Precinct is, but it would be reasonable to conclude that it includes all or part of Owen Township.
I still have work to do and would like to locate a map, but the newspapers combined with the census has given me a good start.
The place name books referenced above may end up being helpful and I still need to look for a contemporary map. The problem is that often maps for this era can be difficult to find and, as mentioned earlier, it’s possible that the “Precinct” was really an area with fluid boundaries known only to locals.