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ILLINOIS STATE ARCHIVES


Description of the Chicago City Council Proceedings Files Inventory

This database is an inventory of the Chicago City Council's proceedings files from the city's first incorporation as a town in 1833 through the year of the Great Fire of 1871. These files were maintained by the city clerk and served as the council's working papers, the primary documents written by or presented to the council. Its formal minutes were written from them and abstracts from the proceedings were published in politically-designated newspapers. These files thus form the most complete surviving record of the considerations and actions of Chicago's government for the period; no other source offers comparable details of the day-to-day public business of a town which grew into a city and then a metropolis of over 300,000 inhabitants in a little more than thirty-eight years.

There are 35,650 of these files, comprising 157 cubic feet of material. A file can consist of a single scrap of paper or several hundred pages. Each entry in the database represents one file. The following is a sample file title.

ASSESSMENT ROLL FOR MACADAMIZING ARCHER ROAD FROM STATE TO SOUTH STS.

The file title can consist of up to 220 characters. The files' titles describe the principal documents in them, but additional papers relating to those documents are often found with them. In the above example, a remonstrance of H. Stevens, et al., against the assessment and a report of the Committee on Local Assessments on that remonstrance were also included in the file.

Care was taken in editing the file titles to preserve their original wording. Exceptions were made for the purposes of clarity and accuracy. Personal names found in the titles were often difficult to decipher; in those cases contemporary city directories were consulted for the assistance they could offer. Abbreviations were used extensively. Uncommon ones used include:

Each file has its own unique control number which is composed of three elements assigned by the nineteenth century clerks who first arranged this record series:

  1. Filing calendar or fiscal year,
  2. Sequential file number, and
  3. Filing month and day.

Level two is subordinate to level one and level three is subordinate to level two. This sample control number explains each of its parts.

The first level is chronological by calendar year for the period August 1833–March 1851; thereafter it is chronological by filing year. To conform to constraints of the database design, calendar filing years repeat the last two digits of the calendar year (ex. 1838/38). Filing fiscal years indicate the beginning and ending calendar years which they comprise (ex. 1861/62). Fiscal years are twelve months periods in which financial accounts are settled. For the period March 1851–December 1871 months comprising fiscal years vary as dictated by the clerks who first arranged this series.

The control number's second level is the sequential file number assigned it. For the period August 1833–March 1851 one sequential file numbering system was used. When Archives staff arranged and described these records it was discovered that clerks improperly assigned numbers to files 6759–6988. Rough chronological order was restored by returning folders to the years for which they were filed. Original file numbers were maintained in these instances and consequently the file number sequence was disrupted for the years 1846–1851. Bold entries in the File Arrangement table indicate disrupted file number sequence. Beginning in March 1851 each fiscal year has its own file number sequence.

Archivists added an alphabetical character to each file number to allow for irregularities in the filing system. This variable character was used for three types of errors. Occasionally at the end of a fiscal year clerks bundled piles of documents which had not been filed or acted upon, labeled them as miscellaneous papers, and assigned those packets file numbers. In these instances artificial files were created by Archives staff using the alphabetical character of the file number. The alphabetical character was also used by archivists when more than one file was assigned the same number within a file number sequence.

Originally files 1–144 were found at the beginning of this series. These files had been numbered arbitrarily because those with dates had no corresponding chronological arrangement and there was no relationship among files. Sixty-eight of these files could be dated and they were interpolated into the chronological listing, again using the alphabetical character of the file number. The remaining seventy-five files could not be dated and they were left at the beginning of the file structure.

The third level of the control number, filing month and day, is chronologically ordered. For control numbers with fiscal year filing dates as the first level, the calendar year of the filing month and day is not always apparent. In these cases the File Arrangement table should be consulted. For example, for the control number 1863/64 0539 A 12/07, December 7 can be linked to the calendar year 1863 by locating the fiscal year in the left-hand column under Filing Calendar or Fiscal Year and then following the entry across to the right-hand column under Filing Period to determine the calendar months comprising the fiscal year.

When filing dates are significantly different from the actual dates of documents in files, file titles add actual document dates as in the following example.

1854/55 2088 A 03/12 OFFICIAL OATH OF THOMAS LEWIS, WELLS ST. BRIDGE TENDER, MARCH 25, 1854

Although the filing structure of these records appears complex, it is clarified by the File Arrangement table.