The DeWitt County Coroner's Inquest Files Index was compiled by Tom Dillie, intern for the Illinois Regional Archives Depository at Illinois State University in Normal. The 1,285 records in the database were extracted from the DeWitt County Coroner's Inquest Files (IRAD Accession 3/0062/01).
Each entry found in the index contains the following categories of information: the name of the deceased; the inquest number; the sex (S), race (R), marital status (M) and age of the deceased; the date of birth; the date of death; the verdict of the coroner's jury; and a description of the cause of death.
Information entered into this index was derived from the coroner's inquest files. When a case number was not given, the word NONE appears in that column. In cases where the age, sex, race or marital status were not given, a "_" was placed in the appropriate column. The words NOT GIVEN were recorded in the date of birth, date of death, verdict and description columns when this information was not available. The verdict of the jury falls into five categories: Natural, Accident, Suicide, Homicide and Unknown. Although the verdict of the jury was often not stated in the records, a description of the cause of death was usually always provided. The description of the cause of death has been entered into the index verbatim when possible, but was summarized in many cases.
The office of coroner became constitutional with statehood in 1818. Coroners were elected for two-year terms. [Constitution of 1818, Article III, section 11.] In 1880, the terms of coroners were extended to four years. [Constitution of 1870, 1880 Amendment, Article X, section 8] The duties of the coroner were to aid in keeping the peace; to carry out the duties of the sheriff in his absence; to hold inquests and hear testimony over the bodies of all persons suspected of dying through unnatural causes; and to arrest all persons found guilty of homicide by coroner's juries. [Laws of Illinois 1821, pp. 22–23] In 1869, coroners were required to keep inquest records on file. [Laws of Illinois 1869, p. 104.]
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 an 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]
Inquest papers include the verdicts of the coroner's jury on the cause of death, transcripts of testimony given at the inquest, correspondence relating to the case, and copies of subpoenas, accident reports, death certificates and photographs.
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.
From 1924 to 1956, an inquest report form was filed for each death investigated through an inquiry or inquest by the Coroner. This form is often the sole document in an inquest file for this period and, as is clear from the index entries for these years, it often provides only limited information. If an inquest was conducted, a transcript is usually included in the inquest file; other documents are very rarely included.
Beginning in 1957, the inquest files include a Coroner's Certificate of Death for all decedents. The Coroner's Certificates of Death provide more detailed, consistent information than the inquest report forms. Coroner's death certificates show the decedent's name, sex, race, marital status, occupation, military service, date and place of birth and date of death; the cause of death; the names of parents or spouse; the address of residence; and the place of burial.
The Coroner's Certificates of Death replace the inquest report form for those deaths investigated by the Coroner only through an inquiry. Such deaths usually have no other documentation although a note from an attending physician is filed with the certificate. After 1957, deaths investigated through an inquest have Coroner's Death Certificates as well as a transcript of testimony of witnesses and an inquest report form. Later inquest files may contain toxicology reports, traffic accident reports, maps or diagrams, photographs, and other such documentation. Beginning December 14, 1956, inquest files that include more than just the Coroner's Certificate of Death are indicated in the index by an asterisk (*) after the name of the decedent.
From 1974 to 1977, the inquest files held by the Illinois Regional Archives Depository (IRAD) System are only for those deaths for which an inquest was held. Those deaths investigated by inquiry only are not included in these files.
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 Illinois State University in Normal. IRAD cannot accept requests by email at this time. Please contact:
Illinois Regional Archives Depository
Illinois State University
2016 Warehouse Road
Campus Box 1520
Normal, IL 61790-1520