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Illinois: Local History & Genealogy Resource Guide

Courthouse Records

County level research is essential in the pursuit of family and local history. The list below highlights the most common county courthouse records used by genealogists, but there are many more record sets available. Use the guides below and explore the specific resources for the counties of interest to assure that you locate all pertinent documents.

When requesting courthouse records, inquire about both docket books and paper files. Often both types of material exist for each record. While the two formats may merely repeat the data, one may be easier to read than the other. And, in many cases, there are further details, unique notations, over-sized pages such as maps, and so on, that are filed in only the docket book or in only the paper file. Seeing both will provide a more complete review of the record.

Timeline for County Courthouse Records

Birth Records
  • Courthouse Records: Some county clerks recorded "proofs" of birth as early as 1838, most only since 1877.
    Generally maintained by: County clerks, 1877 - present
    (Also see the Vital Records section of this guide.)
  • Also available from Illinois Dept. of Public Health, 1916 - present.
Civil Lawsuits
  • Generally maintained by: Clerks of the respective courts. Circuit Courts were established in 1818.

Note: Also check with IRAD, as well as clerks of the Circuit Courts and extinct lower courts.

Coroner's Inquests
  • Generally maintained by: Illinois State Archives
  • County Court Dockets, 1881-1884 IRAD-NIU

Note: If the cause of death is suspicious or unknown, the Coroner's office is responsible for conducting an inquest.

Criminal Court
  • Generally maintained by: Criminal Court Clerks
  • IRAD
Death Records
  • Courthouse Records: 1877- present
    Generally maintained by: County Clerks.
  • Also available from Illinois Dept. of Public Health, 1916 - present
  • Also available from Illinois State Genealogical Society, 1916-1947.
  • IRAD
  • Generally maintained by: County Clerk or Recorder of Deeds
Divorce Records
  • Territorial Era - 1837, Illinois General Assembly
  • 1837 - present: Clerk of the Circuit Court in each county
  • IRAD has some county proceedings in records of the chancery division of the Circuit Court.
  • Illinois Dept. of Public Health keeps an index of husbands' names and can verify divorces after 1961.
Marriage Records
  • Formation - present.
    Generally maintained by: County Clerks
  • Illinois Dept. of Public Health will verify marriages from 1962 - present.
  • IRAD
  • Before 1906: Naturalizations could be filed with any court at any level.
  • From 1906 - present: District Court at East St. Louis, National Archives Great Lakes Region, or respective District Courts.
  • IRAD and county treasurer's offices
Wills and Probate
  • County Probate Judge and Clerk, 1787-1799
  • Orphans Court composed of Justices of Quarter Sessions, 1795-1805
  • Court of Common Pleas, 1805-1816
  • Clerk of County Court, 1816-1819
  • Clerk of County's Commissioners' Court, 1819-1821
  • County Probate Court, 1821-1848
  • County Probate Court, 1870-1964
  • County Court 1848 - 1964
  • Circuit Court, 1964 - present
  • IRAD

Online Resources for Courthouse Records

The subscription resources marked with a padlock are available to researchers on-site at the Library of Congress. If you are unable to visit the Library, you may be able to access these resources through your local public or academic library.

Using Ancestry Library Edition for Illinois

Begin your search through Ancestry's vast collections, by viewing the list designated as Illinois records External.

Using FamilySearch for Illinois

FamilySearch provides useful state and county wikis that make excellent starting points for research. The Illinois Wiki External includes links to each of its 102 counties.

FamilySearch has digitized all of its microfilms containing county courthouse records. Not all records have been indexed yet, so search engine results may NOT show you the full range of FamilySearch data. You must browse the FamilySearch catalog External listings for each county to view the full set of records available. The vast amount of accessible original records is well worth your time to explore.

There is no fee to use FamilySearch, but you must create a free, personal account to access the databases and digital records.

Published Courthouse Records

Below are selected print publications for statewide courthouse records. The following titles link to fuller bibliographic information in the Library of Congress Online Catalog. Links to additional online content are included when available.

To locate additional published materials, go to the Print Resources section of this guide for search tips on locating published county courthouse records, abstracts, and indexes that may aide you in locating original records at the county level.