Illinois Vital Records

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Birth and Death Records[edit | edit source]

Birth records usually give the name and sex of the child; the names, birthplaces, and ages of the parents (with the mother’s maiden name); the occupation of the father; and the number of children born to the mother. Birth records of adopted children may give the birth parents but have frequently been amended to show only the adoptive parents. A year-by-year search of birth records may reveal other children born to a couple.

Death records usually give information about the deceased, such as name, age, birth date, state or country of birth (sometimes the city or town), names of the parents (frequently including the maiden name of the mother), and the informant (who may be a close relative). The date and place of death are given. Sometimes burial information, the cause of death, and the names of the physician and mortician are provided. The length of residence in the state or county may also be given.

County Records of Births and Deaths[edit | edit source]

A few county clerks kept vital records as early as 1838. Illinois law required the filing of vital records in 1877, but not all counties complied. The Family History Library has film copies of these documents for many counties. Existing originals may be found in the county clerk’s office or in the Illinois Regional Archives Depository (IRAD) serving that county. See the "Archives and Libraries" section for locations of those depositories.

Delayed registrations of births are available from the county where the birth occurred. The Family History Library has records dating from 1941 for some counties.

State Records of Births and Deaths[edit | edit source]

In Illinois the statewide registration of vital statistics began in 1916 and was generally complied with by 1922. The Family History Library has copies of some statewide birth and death records of Illinois in:

Illinois. Department of Public Health. State Registrar. Illinois Births, Prior to Act, Excluding Chicago: 1842, 1849–1872. Salt Lake City, Utah: Genealogical Society of Utah, 1995. (FHL films 1992052, 1992136–140).

Illinois. Public Board of Health. Archives. Death Certificates for the State of Illinois, 1916–1945, Excluding Chicago, with the Exception of Stillbirths. Salt Lake City, Utah: Genealogical Society of Utah, 1988–1992. (On 666 FHL films beginning with 1530531.) The Illinois State Archives also has microfilm copies of the index and certificates.

Illinois. Department of Public Health. State Registrar. Illinois Death Certificates and Stillbirths, Including Chicago, 1946–1947. Salt Lake City, Utah: Genealogical Society of Utah, 1995. (On 84 FHL films beginning with 1984845.)

The Department of Public Health, Division of Vital Records, can issue certified copies of birth and death records or uncertified photocopies for genealogical research. To obtain application forms, copies of certificates, and more information on fees and restrictions, call or write to:

Illinois Department of Public Health
Division of Vital Records
535 West Jefferson Street
Springfield, Illinois 62761
Phone 217-782-4977
Fax 217-782-3987
TTY 800-547-0466

Marriages[edit | edit source]

Several types of marriage records were kept, such as marriage registers, marriage returns, and marriage applications. Sometimes only one type of marriage record was preserved or filmed.

The marriage registers before 1877 provide little more than the date of marriage, names of the bride and groom, and the person who performed the marriage. Starting in 1877, pre-printed marriage register books in Illinois provided columns for ages, residences, birth places, and sometimes the names of the parents or guardians of the bride and groom.

Marriage returns were reported by the minister or Justice of the Peace who performed the marriage. County histories can be checked to learn which religion and congregation a minister served. Ministers’ returns may reveal that the marriage took place in a private residence, often the home of a parent or relative.

The county clerk usually kept marriage records from the time the county was organized. A few records date from the 1790s, but couples were not required to obtain a marriage license until 1877. The Family History Library has microfilm copies of the records to approximately 1920 for many counties. IRAD depositories have originals and film copies of marriage records and licenses for many counties.

The counties continue to record marriages to the present day and only county clerks can issue certified copies of the marriage certificate. A statewide register of marriages was started on 1 January 1962 as county clerks forwarded marriage information to the Illinois Department of Health. If you do not know the county where a couple married after 1962, the Division of Vital Records (see address above) can search their statewide register and provide the marriage date and county.

The Illinois State Archives has a statewide marriage index 1763 to 1900 available on their website. Go to:

This is an ongoing project. For details on what county records have been added to the index, visit the Illinois State Archives website.

The Illinois State Archives and the Illinois State Genealogical Society are creating a microfiche index to marriages in many counties of Illinois from the earliest settlement to 1900. This index is not yet completed, though it contains nearly one million marriages. It is an excellent source for locating a county of residence when only the state is known. A list of counties and dates covered is found on the first microfiche of this set:

Illinois. State Archives Division. Illinois Marriage Record Index, 1763–1916. Springfield, Illinois: Illinois State Archives and Illinois State Genealogical Society, 1994. (FHL microfiche 6334564 [set of 94]) (Not available at Family History Centers.) This index includes the names of the bride and groom, date, county of marriage, and license number or volume and page. The years indexed vary from county to county with most being indexed through 1900. A few counties have been indexed up to 1916. Eighty-four counties are included as of 1998 in this ongoing project. Cook County (Chicago area) records are indexed for the years 1833 to 1891.

More than 6,600 names from 3,300 marriages are listed in:

Dodd, Jordan R., ed. Illinois Marriages: Early to 1825: A Research Tool. Bountiful, Utah: Precision Indexing, 1990. (FHL book 977.3 V22im.) The names of spouses, the date, and the county are listed. This index was compiled by Liahona Research Inc. from some of the county marriage records on microfilm or in books at the Family History Library. A list of the counties indexed can be found at the beginning of the book.

The Family History Library has a number of compact discs with vital records information from many states which can be used in the Automated Resource Center (ARC) of the library. For Illinois the following may be helpful:

Marriage Records. Automated Archives. Orem, Utah: Automated Archives, 1994. (FHL compact disc no.9, pt. 2) (Not available at Family History Centers.) This file was acquired from the "Hunting for Bears" collection which was compiled from published books, microfilm copies, or original county records of several states. The introduction to this file gives information regarding which counties and years are included and the extraction methods used. Marriages which took place in an unknown county are listed at the beginning of the index. It is not a complete index to Illinois marriage records.

Marriage Records, Early to 1850. Automated Archives. Orem, Utah: Automated Archives, 1996. (FHL compact disc no.9, pt. 228) (Not available at Family History Centers.) This is an index to Illinois and Indiana marriage records compiled from county records and published by Liahona, Inc. The index uses the Soundex code for quick access to surnames. It lists marriages by county and gives the marriage date. The introduction lists the counties, the time periods covered, and the FHL film numbers. Again, this is not a complete index to Illinois marriage records.

Chicago and Cook County[edit | edit source]

The records for Chicago and Cook County are available for as early as 1871. Earlier records were destroyed by Chicago fire of October 8, 1871.

The library has copies of many of the vital records for Chicago including birth registers, 1871-1915, birth certificates, 1878-1922, and Northwestern Memorial Hospital Records, 1896-1933.; marriage licenses, 1871-1920; and death certificates, 1878-1947. For birth and marriage records after these years, check with the Cook County Clerk's Office. For death records after these years, check with the Cook County Clerk's Office or the Illinois Department of Public Health.

How to Find Chicago and Cook County Birth Records, 1871-1915[edit | edit source]

Step 1

Check the Cook County Birth Index, 1871-1916. It's available at research facilities such as the Illinois State Archives, IRAD at NEIU, the Family History Library in Salt Lake, and the Wilmette Family History Center.

When you search the index there are a few important things to remember:

  • A child who wasn't named when the report was made will appear in the index under the father's initial and the mother's given name with "&" in the initial column. A child born to James and Helen Bielby might appear as "J Helen &."

  • Juniors appear at the end of the surnames. Look for Adam Smith, Jr. after Zachariah Smith.

  • Children sometimes appear under unexpected given names. A child known as "Mae Townsend," might actually have been registered as "Louisa Mae Townsend." If you have a birth date, check the index for matching dates of any given name.

  • Surnames may not be spelled in the way that you expect. Lena Hanson might be in the index under "Hansen" or even "Hauson."

  • Many Chicago births weren't reported; there may be no civil birth record to find.

  • Just because one sibling's birth was reported doesn't mean they all were.

If you find a matching entry, proceed to Step 2a.
If you don't find a matching entry, proceed to Step 3a.

Step 2a

Note the birth date, the certificate number, and whether the birth was in "Chicago" or "Cook County" (meaning outside the city).

If it was a Chicago birth, proceed to Step 2b.
If it was a Cook County birth (outside the city), proceed to Step 2c.

Step 2b

Check the certificate number.

If it is preceded by "DS" or "ODS" it means that the record is a delayed series birth certificate. In other words, the birth was reported much later than it took place, probably in the 1940s. Check with the Cook County Clerk's Office  to see if they can provide a copy of the certificate.

If the birth is before 1879 and the certificate number is preceded by "A," "B," "C," "D," or "E," those letters refer to early birth register books. You can access the Chicago birth registers, 1871-1915 through your local Family History Center or request the record from the Cook County Clerk's Office.

If the certificate number is not preceded by letters, then you can access the Chicago birth certificates, 1878-1922 through your local Family History Center or request the record from the Cook County Clerk's Office.

Step 2c

If the certificate is a "Cook County" record before 1894, you can request a copy of the record from IRAD at NEIU or access the Cook County birth certificates (outside Chicago), 1878-1894 through your local Family History Center.

If it's a Cook County birth after 1894, the certificate may appear on the films for the Chicago birth certificates.

Step 3a

There are a number of reasons why a name might not appear in the birth index:

The birth might not have been reported when the child was born. A January 1912 article in the Chicago Tribune, for example, suggests that as few as 50% of infants born might have actually been registered at that time. If the individual lived into the 1940s, consider checking the Chicago Delayed Birth Index available on film through your local Family History Center.

The surname might be spelled in an unexpected way in the index. If you have a birth month and year (from the 1900 census, for example) and you think the surname might be spelled incorrectly in the index, try searching entries in the Chicago birth registers, 1871-1915. These pages can serve as an alternate index.

Guide to Vital Records[edit | edit source]

You can learn more about state and county vital records as well as the laws of Illinois affecting them in:

Guide to Public Vital Statistics Records in Illinois. Chicago: Illinois Historical Records Survey, 1941. Reprint, Thomson, Illinois: Heritage House, 1976. (FHL book 977.3 V23h; film 982030, item5; fiche 6051164.)

See the "Vital Records" section of the United States Research Outline for more detailed information on the value and content of vital records. For divorce records, see the "Divorce Records" section.

Vital records can be found in the Family History Library Catalog by using a Place Search under:




For related record types, see the "Newspapers," "Obituaries," "Cemeteries," "Church Records," "Genealogy," "Biography," and "Funeral Homes" sections of this outline.

Coroner’s inquests, hospital, and midwife records may also contain birth and death information. These records may only be available through existing hospitals and coroner’s offices. IRAD depositories have coroners inquest records for many counties and a few county hospital records. A few of these records may be found in the Family History Library Catalog using a Place Search under:


Web Sites[edit | edit source]