The Encyclopedia of Chicago is a joint production of the Chicago Historical Society, the Newberry Library, and Northwestern University. The online web site includes thousands of historical resources, including articles, photographs, maps, broadsides, and newspapers, all related to Chicago's colorful and complex history.
When I used the site this week, I found it very easy to navigate. The front page contains five entry points: the Main Navigation bar, Search box, Breadcrumb Trail, Purchase Area, and Content Area. Each entry point takes you inside the Encyclopedia to its indexes or directly to its contents. The Purchase Area brings you to the Chicago Historical Society's online store, where you can purchase prints of some of the images in the Encyclopedia as well as copies of the print version of the Encyclopedia. The Search box allows you to search for words or phrases anywhere within the Encyclopedia without using the other menus.
Perhaps the most interesting part of the experience is the Breadcrumb Trail. Underneath the Main Navigation at the top of the page, you will notice a series of thumbnail images from pages you have visited. For every page you visit, another icon will appear in the Breadcrumb Trail box. If you place your cursor over any of these images, you will see a text title for the page. If you click on the thumbnail, you can move back to that particular page. On the right end of the trail, click on "Full List" to see a full-page list of your 25 previously viewed pages. The Breadcrumb function helps you retrace your steps and keep track of the path you have made through the Encyclopedia.
Of course, the test of any online web site of historical information is its contents. Indeed, the Encyclopedia of Chicago has thousands of pages of information for all to see. I found items about the Labor Unrest in Chicago from April 25 - May 4, 1886, maps of Prairie Avenue where many of Chicago's wealthiest citizens lived in the 1880s, including George M. Pullman (of the Pullman railroad cars), Marshall Field (Chicago's richest man), John G. Shortall among others. The map is fully interactive; you can zoom in and out as well as move north, south, east, or west with the mouse. Other items I noted included many historical photographs, essays on ice fishing, essays on Chicago's gangsters of the 1930s, descriptions and maps of cemeteries, and much more.
The Encyclopedia of Chicago is a great resource for Chicago residents as well as anyone with Chicago ancestry. While it doesn't provide lists of births, marriages, and deaths, it does give great insights into the world in which your ancestors lived.
The Encyclopedia of Chicago is available free of charge to everyone. To access it, go to http://www.encyclopedia.chicagohistory.org