Thanks to a grant from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC), thousands of court records dating back to the beginning of Illinois’ statehood will soon be digitized and easily searched by researchers, students and the public.

The Illinois Supreme Court Historic Preservation Commission received the $135,000 grant to support the digitization of nearly 3,700 case files from 1818 to 1865, covering from the beginning of Illinois statehood through the Civil War. The Commission expects the work to take two years. Technicians with the Commission will scan the documents in the case file then convert them to PDF. Staff members will read the case files to create metadata that will become the basis of the search engine. Information summarized will include the case name, parties, type of case, disposition, justices, attorneys, county of origin, terms of court, subject, and a brief summary. All of the metadata will be searchable, allowing for easy access by researchers. Currently, the case files are difficult to access because they are indexed on note cards and only by plaintiff, making searches by subject or any other topic impossible.

“Early Supreme Court cases covered many topics including transportation, immigration, women and children, Abraham Lincoln, slavery, the Civil War, the rise of Chicago and urban/rural disputes,” Chief Justice Anne M. Burke said. “This project will increase access to these important but under-utilized documents, giving historical researchers, students, and genealogists the opportunity to learn valuable information about the development of Illinois.”

With easier access to court records, public historians and historical societies can use these records by incorporating them into exhibits and educational materials. Academic historians and graduate students can produce journal and magazine articles, books, and conference presentations.

The Clerk of the Supreme Court of Illinois retains administrative control of the actual case files, which are housed at the Illinois State Archives under ideal temperature and humidity conditions. The scanning work will be completed at the Archives.