Illinois Court Records
Names of many Illinois residents may be found in civil court records of actions such as disputes over property or settlement of estates. Criminal court records have information of people involved in confrontations, thefts, or destruction of property. These records may give a person’s age, residence, occupation, and family relationships. Friends and neighbors may have given depositions as witnesses.
Since 1818, courts in Illinois have consisted of a Supreme Court and inferior courts. Major courts that kept records of genealogical value were established as follows:
- County courts were county-wide courts with jurisdiction over minor civil and criminal cases and, in some counties, probate matters. Separate probate courts were established in larger counties.
- Municipal (or City) courts had jurisdiction with circuit courts over civil and criminal actions.
- Justices of the peace had jurisdiction over misdemeanors and minor civil cases.
- County commissioners’ courts originally had county-wide jurisdiction over public roads, turnpikes, canals, taxes, and licenses, but have evolved into administrative rather than judicial bodies.
- Circuit courts were created as early as 1819. They became the major trial courts in 1964 when all other trial courts were abolished. The circuit courts have handled civil and criminal cases, probate and estate files, and guardianship, adoption, divorce, and naturalization records. Currently, there are 21 judicial circuits and a Cook County circuit in Illinois. Most of these serve several counties, and court sessions are held in each county. The circuit clerks in each county hold the records of cases heard in their court. Many court records have been transferred to IRAD depositories by the counties.
Other court records in Illinois were created by the Illinois Supreme Court (established in 1818) and intermediate appellate and police courts. The Chicago court system has included mayoral, superior, criminal, and family courts.
Researching Illinois Court Records
Since 1964, the records of all earlier courts have been in the custody of the circuit court in each county. Links to Illinois county wiki pages appear below.
Additional resources for Illinois court records may be found in the Illinois-Court Records topic page of the Family History Library catalog (FHLC). Copies of records on FHL microfilm and microfiche can be ordered for viewing at Family History Centers. Also find Illinois Court Record resources available at other libraries (WorldCat). Explore how to search WorldCat and the FHLC.
Records of the former Cook County Superior Court and some other Chicago area courts are now with:
- Circuit Court of Cook County, Archives Department
Room 1113, Richard J. Daley Center
Chicago, IL 60602
Telephone: 312- 443-5500
- "History of the Illinois Courts," available at the website of the Nineteenth Judicial Circuit Court of Lake County, covers from the early history of courts prior to Illinois becoming a state to the present.
- "A History of the Illinois Judicial Systems" is available on the Illinois Courts website.
- Schweitzer, George K. Illinois Genealogical Research. Knoxville, Tennessee: Geo. K. Schweitzer, 1997, pages 90–95. This section on court records provides references, difficulties, an historical breakdown of courts by time period, and how to locate the records. FHL book 977.3 D27s
- Rolewick, D.F. A Short History of the Illinois Judicial Systems. Springfield, Illinois: Adminstrative Office of the IL Courts, 1971.
- Fiedler, G. The Illinois Law Courts in Three Centuries, 1673–1973. Berwyn, Illinois: Physicians Record Co., 1973.
- Crossley, Frederic Bears. Courts and Lawyers. Three Volumes. Chicago, Illinois: American Historical Society, 1916. This work gives a brief history of the court system in Illinois and biographical sketches of those who affected the history of the courts and those who were part of the bar about 1916. FHL film934965; book 977.3 D3c
- Clayton, John. The Illinois Fact Book and Historical Almanac, 1673–1968. Carbondale, Illinois: Southern Illinois University Press, 1970. Provides information about court procedures and records. 977.3 A7c
- Klein, Fannie J. Federal and State Court Systems: A Guide. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Ballinger Publishing, 1977, 103–8. Describes the court structure.973 P2kL