State Courthouse Records
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Illinois Government records cover a broad range of genealogy subject areas that can help you as part of your research, such as land ownership, courts, taxes, and naturalization’s. Given that Illinois court records cover such a wide selection of topics, they could aid you in many different ways. As an example, they could aid you in finding ancestors’ residences, identify occupations, locate financial information, determine citizenship status, or shed light on relationships between individuals. The whole thing relies upon on the type of court records that the ancestors” names show up in. For Definitions of all court terms see the Genealogy Encyclopedia.

Illinois Courthouse records change extensively from county to county in both level of quality and volume. You will find different kinds of court records that are most likely to possess information related for your genealogical research below.

State Court Records
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Illinois Court Records

France was the first nation to send settlers to the area that is now Illinois. It was also the first nation to organize a judiciary system in the region. The governor of Louisiana controlled the Commandant of Illinois, who presided over civil cases and major criminal cases. Lesser cases were handled by town judges, who were appointed by the Commandant of Illinois. The Provincial Council, which was established in 1722 to try criminal and civil cases, is the earliest court in Illinois for which records still exist.

Virginia established the county court system in “Illinois County” in 1779. It followed a revised version of the laws of France, but English common law also had a large influence on it. For example, anyone who owed money to creditors would have been tried by jury and then placed in jail. In 1784 “Illinois County” was given to the United States by Virginia. However, the system of government in the area that Virginia had set up remained until 1787, when the Northwest Ordinance was created. From 1788 to 1805 there were courts of quarter sessions in Illinois. They were reinstated in 1809 and remained until 1811. The courts of common pleas existed from 1788 to 1809, as well as from 1811 to 1818. From 1795 to 1805 the Orphans’ Courts were open. In 1818 justice’s courts were opened, but they were abolished that same year. Circuit courts lasted between 1795 and 1812. They were brought back in 1814 and stayed open until 1818.

In 1818 the state constitution of Illinois created circuit courts. Illinois Supreme Court justices served those courts by riding in circuits that covered certain counties. Some circuits covered multiple counties. Those courts tried civil cases involving amounts over $20, as well as some criminal cases, naturalization cases, and appeals from cases heard originally by the justices of the peace. Over the years, state judicial elections have been add, as well as county and local elections.

Each county’s circuit court clerk is now in charge of certain actions, including report filing, jury selection, probate action recording, and maintaining the various records of the courts. There are currently 21 Illinois circuit courts. Some records have been stored in various archives, but most are still in the possession of the various court clerks for each county.

In 1845, county courts were formed in Jo Davies County and Cook County. However, county courts were not used statewide until 1848. Early county courts presided over only misdemeanors and probate court cases. County judges also ran county commissioner’s courts in the areas where the counties were unorganized. They handled the daily operations for the county and administrative functions.

In 1870, the constitution was changed to make a uniform system of county courts in Illinois. The only exception was Cook County, which still has its own circuit court system. County courts handled tax delinquency cases, as well as probate cases and cases of apprenticeship. In 1872 they were given jurisdiction over cases of justice of the peace appeals and cases of misdemeanors. Eventually, they were also given other responsibilities, including hearing adoption and divorce cases. The county circuit courts essentially absorbed the county courts in 1964. The county judges served as circuit court associate justices.

The Illinois Regional Archives Depository (IRAD) has a collection of county court records on file. Many of them date back to the 1700s, including some for St. Clair County. The records include documents covering the following types of cases:

  • Criminal and Common Law Proceedings
  • “Feeble-Minded” Petitions and Warrants of Commitment
  • Insanity Proceedings and Case Files
  • Bankruptcy Inventories
  • Condemnation of Property for Railroad Use

However, researchers should keep in mind that the repository’s collection is limited.

The state supreme court is the top judicial level in Illinois. It has jurisdiction over appellate cases from lower court systems. From 1818 onward the state seat was where the supreme court was held. However, in 1848 it was held at one of the 3 grand divisions in the state, and that trend continued until 1897. Springfield has been the site of the supreme court ever since 1897. Many of the state supreme court records can be found on file at the Illinois State Archives. See Also Research In Court Records.

State Land Records
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Illinois Land Records

Deeds, mortgages, and leases are the responsibility of the recorder of deeds. In some counties there are county recorders to register all property transactions. Smaller counties give the responsibility to the county clerk. Land records usually have grantor and grantee indexes, with property records beginning with the creation of the county.

A Congressional act was passed in 1791 that granted 400 acres of land to any families who lived in Illinois country or Vincennes in 1783. Those who lived across the Wabash River in Vincennes, Indiana at the time were also included. Preemption rights for land that was occupied was granted by an 1813 act.

Illinois was a public-domain state. So, land was distributed by the federal government. In 1804, the first Illinois General Land Office (GLO) was opened at Kaskaskia. That office began selling land in 1814. There were 10 land districts in Illinois. Township plats, patents, and tract books from those districts are available through the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). The National Archives, Washington, D.C. holds case files for land entries.

Original public land sales in Illinois utilized a credit system. However, that system was quickly found to be difficult to manage. Several land buyers wound up unable to pay for the land that they purchased. That led to the credit system being abolished in 1820. All land was required to be paid for when purchased from that point forward. The same law that implemented that change also reduced the minimum land purchase to 80 acres, which was lowered from 160. In addition, the per-acre price was raised to $2, which was up from the original $1.25. Accounts that were previously unpaid were able to be extended, thanks to several congressional acts.

The files from those transactions are called “U.S. General Land Office Records for Illinois.” Those files may include ancient British and French grants, militia grants, and “Circulars Received from General Land Office.”

The Illinois State Archives has created a 3-part index to land sale records from public domain sales in Illinois. The first part lists all purchasers in the state alphabetically. The second part divides the listings according to county and lists each purchaser alphabetically within the county. The third part is arranged according to the section and township of the land, as well as the range.

Those records include more than 500,000 names. Lands sold by all 10 of the federal land offices in Illinois are also included. Other lands listed include canal, school, internal improvement, and Illinois Central Railroad lands. The Illinois State Archives can supply the alphabetical listing of land purchasers on microfiche for a fee. Copies can also be viewed in various research centers, including the National Archives – Great Lakes Region and the Newberry Library. The index can also be viewed on the website for the Illinois State Archives.

Property transactions in some counties are recorded by county recorders. However, county clerks have the responsibility of recording those transactions in the smaller counties. Property records date back to when each county was formed. Most of them are accompanied by grantee and grantor indexes.

Parcel or tract indexes may also be available in some counties. Those indexes are organized by quarter section, geographically. County courthouses hold land records from the Illinois Central Railroad. See Also Guide to U.S. Land Records Research

State Probate Records