Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Practical Guide: Cook County Circuit Court Archives

The Circuit Court Archives has a wealth of sources for genealogists. If your ancestor divorced, died, or became a citizen in Cook County, Illinois, you will want to look for them in the records of the Circuit Court Archives. Among the treasures that can be found are testimony regarding heirs in probate cases, details of divorce proceedings and legal name changes. (Hint: Search indexes under “In re.”) Clues can often be found that lead to death records, cemetery records and ship passenger lists.
Read More About the Cook County Circuit Court Archives

The Archives’ holdings date back to the Chicago Fire of 1871. Visitors to the Archives may search indexes to a variety of cases, including probate, divorce, naturalization, and other civil and criminal cases. One such index is the National Archives Soundex Naturalization Index 1840-1950, which covers Northern Illinois and parts of Iowa, Wisconsin and Indiana. The naturalization records from several Cook County courts are maintained at the Archives office. Most other county court records are kept in off-site storage due to the volume of files in such a heavily populated jurisdiction. These records can be requested from storage and are delivered to the Archives for viewing within 2-10 working days. Once court files are delivered, they can be held for viewing for up to one month. It is recommended that you call ahead to be sure the requested files have arrived before traveling to the Archives.

For a fee, requests can be made by mail or phone for a search of the indexes and copies of case files. However, if possible, it is best (and more fun) to search the indexes in person, and view the case files yourself. This saves you the cost of the search fee and allows you to search alternate spellings for your surnames of interest. Also, looking at a case file yourself means that you can hold the 100 year old documents in your hands and decide which ones you’d like to copy. Photocopying is on a self-service basis. Copies can be paid for by cash or check.

The Archives is located in downtown Chicago at the Richard J. Daley Center, Room 1113. Look for the Picasso sculpture in front of the building. Public transportation and parking are both located nearby. The office is open Monday through Friday, excluding court holidays, from 8:30 am to 4:30 pm. The staff is helpful and very knowledgeable about their holdings. For questions, contact them at 312-603-6601.

The Archives website includes a brief description of the files they possess, printable forms, contact information and current fees. There are also examples of typical court documents taken from some of Chicago’s famous cases. The website is found at:


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