ILLINOIS STATE ARCHIVES
Illinois Death Certificates, 1916–1950
This database provides listings of death certificates filed with the Illinois Department of Public Health between 1916 and 1950. As a result of 1989 legislation, that agency makes available for public inspection at the Illinois State Archives only copies of death certificates produced 50 years ago or longer (410 Illinois Compiled Statutes 535/24). The Illinois State Archives has determined that this Web site is an extension of its Reference Room services. In accordance with a policy agreement with the Illinois Department of Public Health, the Illinois State Archives will make the index to death certificates produced fifty years or longer available on its Web site.
The Illinois General Assembly in 1843 passed its first legislation providing for the registration of births and deaths with county clerks. Because the law made the act of registration a voluntary process, few counties began recording births and deaths. Legislation approved in 1877 again mandated this duty for county clerks. But the law again provided for no enforcement and this resulted in many counties keeping records only irregularly.
A 1915 statute provided for the first effective system of registration of births, deaths, and stillbirths in Illinois. It required the State Board of Health and county clerks to record these events and provided a system of financial incentives for local registrars. In 1919 the Illinois Department of Public Health was established as the successor agency to the State Board of Health.
Contents of Death Certificates
Certificates show county and city in which death took place; certificate number; address where death took place; sometimes the voting ward of that address; the deceased's full name, sex, marital status, birth date, age at death, occupation, employer, and city and state of birthplace; father's name and birthplace; mother's maiden name and birthplace; name of the informant providing the above information; the filing date; and the name of the registrar. Also included are the date of death; indication if an inquest was held; sometimes the duration of the causal condition and the type of secondary contributory cause; the coroner's signature, address, and telephone number; the date of the coroner's signature; sometimes the length of residence if at an institution and the place where the contributory disease was contracted if not at the place of death; the burial place and date; and the undertaker's name and address.
Photocopies of Death Certificates dated on or after January 1, 1916
Prior to November 15, 2002, the Illinois State Archives offered free uncertified copies of death certificates dating from 1916 to 1947 to all patrons who requested them by email, telephone, or postal mail. Because the demand for those records overwhelmed our staff resources that service was discontinued. Researchers may obtain copies of death certificates dated on or after January 1, 1916 by:
- Visiting the Illinois State Archives Reference Room — To locate a death certificate in our Reference Room, the following information from the database will be needed: decedent's name; date of death; name of county and, if provided, township where the death took place; and death certificate number.
- Contacting the Illinois Department of Public Health — The original death certificates remain in the custody of the Illinois Department of Public Health. Requests for death records on or after January 1, 1916 may be made to the Illinois Department of Public Health, Division of Vital Records, by mail, by fax, in-person and online. Researchers who are unable to visit the Illinois State Archives Reference Room may direct requests for death certificates after 1915 to the Illinois Department of Public Health.
- Contacting the appropriate County Clerk — Copies of death certificates may also be obtained from the county clerk's office in the county where the death occurred.
In compliance with current legislation, the Illinois Department of Public Health and county clerks shall furnish for genealogical purposes certified or uncertified photocopies of death records not less than 20 years old at a specified fee (410 Illinois Compiled Statutes 535/24).
The Illinois Regional Archives Depository (IRAD) system, a program of the Illinois State Archives, does not have copies of death records (1916–1950) maintained by the Illinois Department of Public Health, Office of Vital Records. Please do not send requests for copies of death records found in the Illinois Statewide Death Index (1916–1950) to our regional depositories.
Photocopies of Death Records before 1916
Death records before 1916 were maintained exclusively by the county clerks. Most county clerks did not record deaths until 1877. Copies of death records filed before 1916 may be obtained from the Illinois Regional Archives Depository (IRAD) system if IRAD holds death records for that particular county or from the county clerk in the county where the death occurred. Search the IRAD Local Governmental Records Database for death records held by the IRAD system.
Tips on Using the Database of Illinois Death Certificates, 1916–1950
Researchers should remember that the death index may contain spelling errors, incorrect data about the death and erroneous entries. Every attempt was made by the Illinois Department of Public Health to obtain accurate spellings of names. However, because the index was created from the original (usually handwritten) documents, the spellings of names were sometimes misinterpreted. Misspellings and incorrect data were also introduced simply through human error.
When searching this index, we suggest that researchers check alternative spellings of names if they do not find an entry for the name for which they are searching. For example, the Illinois Department of Public Health may have data entered that contains incorrect vowels in spelling a name (e.g., the surname Hascall may be incorrectly spelled Hoscoll). Entering only the first few letters of a surname may be a more effective method of searching the database.
Names beginning with prefixes such as Mc, Mac, O, Du, De, La, and Le may be spelled with or without a space between the prefix and the remainder of the surname. For example, you will find both Mc Donald and McDonald in the index as well as several entries that were entered as Mc@Donald. The index also shows O'Hara, O Hara, OHara and O@Hara. You must search all possible spellings to effectively locate persons with these prefixed surnames.
The index also may contain incorrect information concerning the death. For example, the county of death may be shown as Lake County in the index, but the death actually occurred in LaSalle County. If you are unable to locate an ancestor in the death index, you should try a statewide search rather than limiting the search to a single county.
Other errors in the index include showing the wrong sex or race for the decedent. For example, a female decedent may be shown as being a male (M) or a white decedent (W) might be shown as being a Negro(N). The abbreviation N/S in the sex/race field means NOT STATED. The date of death may also be incorrect. For example, some deaths occurring in 1936 were entered as 1935 deaths.
Corrections to the Illinois Statewide Death Index, 1916–1950
Since the Illinois Department of Public Health maintains this death index and it is an official record of that agency, the Illinois State Archives CANNOT make corrections. Requests for corrections to the death index should be made to the Illinois Department of Public Health, Division of Vital Records.