Illinois Probate RecordsEdit This Page
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Probate records are court records created after an individual’s death that relate to a court’s decisions regarding the distribution of the estate to the heirs or creditors and the care of any dependents. These documents are important to family history researchers because they usually exist for time periods before civil birth and death records were kept. While probate records are one of the most accurate sources of genealogical evidence, they have limitations.
Variations existed within counties as probate jurisdictions and county boundaries changed over the years.
Territorial (1787 - 1818)
County Probate Judge and Clerk (1787 - 1795)
Orphans Court composed of Justices of Quarter Sessions (1795 - 1805)
Court of Common Pleas (1805 - 1816)
Clerk of County Court (1816 - 1819)
State (1818 - present)
Clerk of County Court (1816 - 1819)
Clerk of County's Commissioners' Court (1819 - 1821)
County Probate Court (1821 - 1848)
County Probate Court (for counties with 50,000+ population) (1870 - 1964)
County Court (1848 - 1964)
Circuit Court (1964 - present)
Contact the Circuit Court of the county of interest to view or obtain copies of original records. Off-site access to some Illinois probate records might be found in the following:
- The Illinois Regional Archives Depositories includes some online Illinois probate indexes.
- FamilySearch Historical Records collection includes free online images of will books, administrations, journals, inventories, guardian's records, and order books from probate courts in Illinois. The collection includes the following counties: Alexander, Coles, Effingham, Gallatin, Hamilton, Hancock, La Salle, Logan, Madison, Massac, Piatt, Pope, Rock Island, Shelby, White, Whiteside, and Williamson. The content and time period will vary by county.
- The Family History Library has microfilmed many Illinois probate records, generally from the date of the county’s creation until the early 1900s. Probate records can be found in the Family History Library Catalog by using a Place Search.
- DeathIndexes.com provides links to several Illinois probate records.
- USGenWeb, Illinois is a cooperative volunteer effort with links to resources in the state and counties.
Understanding the Illinois probate laws and how they changed over time can help us learn how the estate was administered, taxed, and distributed and might help to solve difficult genealogical problems.
Additional information about Illinois state statutes relating to probate matters can be found at law libraries. For example:
- Pease, Theodore Calvin. The Laws of the Northwest Territory, 1788-1800. Springfield, Illinois: Trustees of the Illinois State Historical Library, . [FHL US/CAN Fiche 6007539 (7 fiche)]
Online digital versions of state statutes can often be found by conducting a search engine search for the term, "Illinois statutes." The following are examples of free, digital books related to Illinois probate laws:
- Brayman, Mason. Revised Statutes of the State of Illinois....Springfield: Walters & Weber, 1845. View at Google Books using the search term "probate" for references specific to probate.
- Hurd, Harvey Bostwick, editor. Revised Statutes of the State of Illinois. 1877....Chicago: Chicago Legal News Co., 1877. View at Google Books using the search term "probate" for references specific to probate.
- Jones, William C. A Practical Treatise upon the Jurisdiction of...Probate Courts of Illinois....Chicago: T.H. Flood & Co., 1892. View at Internet Archive.
- North, Levi. A Treatise on the Practice in Probate Courts...in the State of Illinois....Chicago: Callaghan & Co., 1875. View at Internet Archive.
- Simons, Franklin Pierce. A Treatise on the Probate Practice and Law of Estates in the State of Illinois....Chicago: Callaghan & Co., 1907. View at Internet Archive.
- Starr, Merritt and Russell H. Curtis, editors. Annotated Statutes of the State of Illinois in Force January 1, 1885 ....Volume I. Chicago: Callaghan & Co., 1885. View at Google Books using the search term "probate" for references specific to probate.
- Anne Roach, Courthouse Records Overview (35 minute online video) FamilySearch Research Classes Online, 2010.
- Rose, Christine.Courthouse Research for Family Historians: Your Guide to Genealogical Treasures. San Jose, California: CR Publications, 2004. Of particular interest are the chapters, "Estates Galore," "Estate Documents," "Milking Every Clue from Estates," and "Strategies that Work."
- Szucs, Loretto Dennis and Sandra Hargreaves Luebking, editors. The Source: A Guidebook to American Genealogy. Third edition. Salt Lake City, Utah: Ancestry, Inc., 2006. Of particular interest is the section, "Probate," pages 268 - 277.
- Eichholz, Alice, Editor. Redbook: American State, County, and Town Sources. Third Edition. Provo, Utah: Ancestry, 2004, 185.
- Greenwood, Val D. Third edition. The Researcher's Guide to American Genealogy. Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., Inc. 2000, 346.
- Pease, Theodore Calvin. "The County Archives of the State of Illinois." Clarence Walworth Alvord, editor. Collections of the Illinois State Historical Library. Volume XII. Springfield, Ill.: Trustees of the Illinois State Historical Library, 1915. Chap. IV, pp. lxxviii-lxxxi. View a free digital version online at Google Books.