Illinois has long been one of the most important players in the history of the United States. This state has played a pivotal role in the opening of the west, the development of the railroad system, and in keeping the country together during the Civil War. Chicago, in particular, has long drawn migrants both from abroad and from other states within the country, particularly during the late 19th century and early 20th century. As a result, many American families can trace their ancestry to Illinois. If you're looking to unlock your own family's past then there is a decent chance that searching through the death records of Illinois will help you in your quest. Below is a look at how you can use Illinois death records to build your own family tree.
Searching for pre-1916 deaths
If you are looking for an ancestor who died prior to 1916 then a good place to search is the Illinois Statewide Death Index, which is run by the Illinois State Archives. Prior to 1916 all deaths in Illinois were recorded by individual counties, meaning that there was no central database you could go to to find out about a death in Illinois that occurred prior to 1916. The Illinois Statewide Death Index is trying to fill this gap by compiling all of these county records into a single database that you can search online. The search function is simple if somewhat limited. All you need to do is enter the name of the deceased into the search field. You can also search throughout the whole state or narrow your search to a single county. Keep in mind, however, that this database is an ongoing project, meaning that it is not complete and may not have the records that you are looking for.
Searching 1916 to 1950
If you're looking for a death that occurred between 1916 to 1950 then your search will be a bit easier. That's because starting in 1916 the state became responsible for registering deaths, meaning that there is one central database for deaths that occurred between 1916 and 1950. Again, this database is run by the Illinois State Archives and the search function is similar to that used for pre-1916 deaths. You simply enter the name of the decedent and specify the county where he or she died (if known). Be warned, however, that while these records are far more complete than the 1916 records, they can still suffer from clerical errors. Try a number of different spellings for the names of the person you're looking for to get the most complete search results.
If you're trying to discover who your ancestors are then the digital databases offered by the Illinois State Archives are an invaluable resource. Unlike many other jurisdictions, Illinois has done a relatively good job at trying to compile death records into one place and to make those records available to the public. That means that if your family past has Illinois roots then you have a significant advantage in being able to unlock your own ancestry.