Lake County Circuit Court Case Files Index (1840–1898) Illinois State Archives

Compiled by the Illinois Regional Archives Depository System, Northern Illinois University


This database was compiled from original Lake County Circuit Court Case Files (IRAD Accession 1/0259/01) located at the Illinois Regional Archives Depository (IRAD) at Northern Illinois University in DeKalb. The database consists of over 2,400 case files created by the Lake County circuit court from 23 April 1841 through 24 November 1898. There is also one case dated 6 March 1840 and another case dated 3 March 1902. IRAD Intern, Char Henn, meticulously transcribed the information contained in this database directly from the case file jackets with the assistance of Bruce Johnson, IRAD Intern. The data gathered by the IRAD interns was then entered into a computer database by Barbara Heflin, Supervisor of the Illinois Regional Archives Depository (IRAD) System.

Each entry found in the index contains the following categories of information: the names of the plaintiff and defendant; the date the case was heard by the court; and the case number. Names of plaintiffs and defendants were transcribed directly from the case files. Every attempt was made to obtain accurate spellings of names. If the spelling of a name could not be determined from the case jacket, a search of the various case documents was conducted. However, names were often spelled a variety of ways throughout the case documents. It was also sometimes difficult to decipher handwriting in some case files. Therefore, when searching this database, we suggest that researchers check alternative spellings of names if they do not find an entry for the name for which they are searching.

To create a more comprehensive index to the Lake County Circuit Court Case Files, the names of all parties listed on the case jacket were entered into the database as a separate record. When multiple parties are involved, the name of the plaintiff or defendant is followed by the abbreviation et al. indicating that other parties were involved in the case.

The names of parties to non-adversary proceedings (i.e., cases that do not involve opposing parties) were entered into the database in the plaintiff field. A term indicating the party's title (e.g., guardian) or the type of action (e.g., application for adoption) was entered into the defendant field. To allow the name of each party in a non-adversary proceeding to appear in the defendant index under a common subject term, a unique number was added to the defendant field after the title or type of action. For example, "Minor (0043/05)" denotes the fifth minor who was a party involved in case number 43.

Missing cases are denoted by the words "File Missing" enclosed in brackets (i.e., [File Missing]) in both the plaintiff and defendant name fields. Twenty-five (25) case files were missing from the numerical sequence of these case files. These cases were missing before the case files were accessioned into the Illinois Regional Archives Depository System. It is possible that the missing cases represent numbers which were inadvertently or, perhaps, intentionally skipped during the assignment process or that these case files are still in the circuit clerk's office. The missing cases may have also been lost or misplaced over the years.

History of the Lake County Circuit Court

Illinois circuit courts were established by the Constitution of 1818. [Constitution of 1818, Article IV, section 4] The circuit court had original jurisdiction in all criminal cases and all civil cases including common law and chancery cases. The circuit court was also a court of appeals in probate matters and causes cognizable by the county court and justice of the peace. [Constitution of 1870, Article VI, section 12; Laws of Illinois 1871-72, p. 109; Illinois Revised Statutes 1874, p. 344; Laws of Illinois 1895, p. 189; Laws of Illinois 1933, p. 688; Laws of Illinois 1935, p. 1]

Originally, circuit court was held by justices of the Supreme Court; however, in 1835, the judiciary was reorganized and circuit court judges were appointed by the General Assembly. [Constitution of 1818, Article IV, section 4, Revised Laws of Illinois 1827, p. 118; Laws of Illinois 1841, p. 173] In an Act passed in 1841, additional associate justices of the Supreme Court were appointed by joint ballot of the General Assembly and these justices together with the other justices of the Supreme Court, held the circuit court. [Laws of Illinois 1841, p. 173; Illinois Revised Statutes 1845, p. 143] In 1849, another change in the selection process for circuit court justices was made in accordance with the Constitution of 1848 which provided for the election of circuit court judges by the judicial district electorate. [Constitution of 1848, Article V, Sections 7, 15] The Constitution of 1870 altered the circuit court districts and established population requirements for counties that may comprise a circuit. [Constitution of 1870, Article VI, Section 13] However, from 1849 to the present, circuit judges have been elected officers of the judicial district electorate.

In September 1839, the Lake County commissioner's court appointed the first session of the circuit court to be held at a school house constructed of hewed logs located in Burlington (now Libertyville). [John J. Halsey, LL.D, A History of Lake County Illinois, Lake Forest College, 1912, p. 70] The first session of the circuit court of the Seventh Circuit held in Lake County was convened in April 1840 with Judge John Pearson presiding. [John J. Halsey, LL.D., A History of Lake County Illinois, Lake Forest College, 1912, p. 74] The Seventh Circuit, by the Act of 1841, was made to consist of the following counties: Lake, McHenry, DuPage, Cook, Grundy, Will and Iroquois.

On April 13, 1841, the county seat of Lake County was relocated and permanently established at Little Fort (now Waukegan) on the southeast quarter of Section 21 and county offices were accordingly moved from Burlington (Libertyville). [John J. Halsey, LL.D., A History of Lake County Illinois, Lake Forest College, 1912, p. 76] The first term of the circuit court held at Little Fort opened on October 20, 1841. The sessions were held in the upper room of an old storehouse under the bluff known as the Kingston Building. In 1853, a small brick building, intended to be as nearly fireproof as possible, was erected for the offices of the county clerk and circuit clerk. This building, located south of the courthouse and north of the jail, was used for nearly twenty-five (25) years. [Bateman, et al., Historical Encyclopedia of Illinois and History of Lake County, A Reproduction of Unigraphics, Inc., 1905, p. 639] In 1877, a new Lake County courthouse was erected at a cost of about $40,000 and the circuit court met there until the construction of the present courthouse.

The following individuals served as circuit court judges in Lake County from 1838 through 1915:

The office of the clerk of the circuit court was created by the Constitution of 1818. [Constitution of 1818, Article IV, Section 6] Until 1848, clerks were appointed by the circuit judges; however, the Constitution of 1848 made the office elective. [Constitution of 1818, Article IV, Section 6; Revised Laws of Illinois 1833, p. 152; Illinois Revised Statutes 1845, p. 146] Unlike the judges of the circuit court who are elected by the judicial district electorate, the clerk of the circuit court is elected by the county electorate. The statutory duties of the circuit clerk were originally limited to selection of juries until 1827 when these duties were expanded to include issuing process, entering judgments of the court, and keeping docket and fee books. [Laws of Illinois 1819, p. 256; Revised Laws of Illinois 1827, pp. 311-17] In 1829, the clerk began to keep a complete court record of circuit court proceedings. [Revised Laws of Illinois 1829, p. 44]

The circuit clerk performs the ministerial duties of the circuit court of Lake County. The clerk is charged with the duty of filing and preserving the records of the circuit court and those of the branch circuit courts. He is required to preserve a complete record of all proceedings, judgments, orders and decrees of the court. Individuals who served as clerks of the circuit court in Lake County from 1838 through 1902 include:

The circuit court played a significant role in the organization and development of Lake County. The court heard cases involving many of the county's earliest citizens as well as events which shaped its future. The Lake County Circuit Court Case Files are a rich source of both genealogical and local history research. This record series is a valuable addition to the IRAD holdings and researchers are encouraged to utilize this resource.


The Lake County Circuit Court Case Files show the names of the plaintiff, defendant, judge and clerk of the court; the court dates; and usually the charge or cause of action. Documents contained in these case files include: summonses; injunctions; affidavits of witnesses; bonds; receipts; depositions; petitions; decrees and court orders. Criminal cases also include: jury and witness lists, indictments, warrants, writs of habeas corpus, verdicts, dismissals and transcripts of coroner's inquests.

Although the Lake County Circuit Court Case Files do include some criminal and common law cases, most of the cases involve chancery matters. A chancery court is a court of equitable jurisdiction; that is, a chancery court hears cases involving disputes between two or more parties whose rights or claims are in dispute. Chancery court cases generally involve contested estates, divorces, personal injury, real and personal property foreclosures, partitions of real estate, bonded indebtedness, breach of contract, insanity, indenture, dower, trust deed stipulations, guardianship, and other family matters.


Copies of the files found in this index may be obtained by mail or telephone. Inquiries should be made directly to the Illinois Regional Archives Depository (IRAD) at Northern Illinois University in DeKalb. IRAD cannot accept requests by email at this time. Please contact:
Illinois Regional Archives Depository
Founders Memorial Library
Rm. 245B
Northern Illinois University
DeKalb, IL 60115

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