The Cook County Coroner's Inquest Record Index was compiled by Michelle Adams and Milan Jovcic, interns for the Illinois Regional Archives Depository at Northeastern Illinois University in Chicago. The 74,160 records in the database were extracted from the Cook County Coroner's Inquest Records.
The inquests included in this index cover the period from December 1872 to November 1911. The volumes for the period from October 1879 to July 1880 (668 inquests) and from May 1888 to October 1888 (720 inquests) are missing.
The Cook County Office of the Medical Examiner does not have any inquest records prior to December 1872. Records after November 1911 are in the custody of the Office of the Medical Examiner.
The statutes that set forth the coroner's chief duty and describe the record of inquests that he was to keep changed little during the time span covered by these records.
Every coroner, whenever, and as soon as he knows, or is informed that the dead body of any person is found, or lying within his county, supposed to have come to his or her death by violence, casualty or any undue means, he shall repair to the place where the dead body is, and take charge of the same, and forthwith summon a jury of six good and lawful men of the neighborhood where the body is found or lying to assemble at the place where the body is, at such time as he shall direct, and upon a view of the body, to inquire into the cause and manner of the death. [1895 Revised Statutes]
Every coroner shall, at the expense of the county, be supplied with proper record books, wherein he shall enter the name, if known, of each person upon whose body an inquest shall be held, together with the names of the jurors comprising the jury, the names, residences and occupations of the witnesses who are sworn and examined, and the verdict of the jury; in case the name of the person deceased is not known, the coroner shall make out a description of said person, and enter the same upon the record book to be so kept by him, together with all such facts and circumstances attending the death which may be known, and which may lead to the identification of the person; and shall carefully take an inventory of said person's personal effects and property of every kind and nature whatever, and state on his records what has been done with the same, and where the proceeds of any such property and the money and papers, if any, are deposited. [1895 Revised Statutes]
The form and content of the Cook County Coroner's Records follow closely what is prescribed in the above statute. Categories of information printed on the page for the coroner to fill out are inquest number, name of deceased, address and location of inquest, date of inquest, jury's verdict, juror's names including foreman, witnesses names, residence, and occupation, description of deceased person and identifying, facts, description of property found on deceased, to whom such property was delivered.
All of these categories of information were filled out with the exception of the "Description of Person and Identifying Facts." This information, meant to provide a basis for later identification of unknown decedents, as prescribed in the statutes, is left blank in the Cook County records. Unidentified decedents are specified only by gender and age group, for example as "unknown man" or "unknown woman" or "unknown babyboy."
The jury's verdict includes the date of death when known; the place of death; the circumstances surrounding the death and the cause of death when known. Verdicts may identify parties responsible for homicides or assign blame to negligent parties in accidents. Juries sometimes recommend further investigation by the police to identify and apprehend parties responsible for homicides or accidental deaths caused by negligence or malfeasance. Occasionally the race of the decedent is given.
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 Northeastern Illinois University in Chicago. IRAD cannot accept requests by email at this time. Please contact:
Illinois Regional Archives Depository
Ronald Williams Library
Northeastern Illinois University
5500 N. St. Louis Ave.
Chicago, IL 60625-4699