ILLINOIS STATE ARCHIVES
Madison County Probate Case Files Index (1813–1903)
Compiled by the Illinois Regional Archives Depository System, Southern Illinois University
The Madison County Probate Case Files Index was compiled by Barbara Heflin, Assistant Supervisor of the Illinois Regional Archives Depository (IRAD) System. The 7,174 records in the database were extracted from the Madison County Probate Case Files (IRAD Accession 6/0284/01).
The index provides the name of the estate and the box and tray number. Names of estates were transcribed directly from the case files by staff of the Madison County Circuit Clerk's Office. The transcribed data was used to compile the probate case files database. Every attempt was made to obtain accurate spellings of names. If the spelling of a name could not be determined from the case jacket, a search of the various case documents was conducted. However, names were often spelled a variety of ways throughout the case documents. It was also sometimes difficult to decipher handwriting in some case files. Therefore, when searching this index, we suggest that researchers check alternative spellings of names if they do not find an entry for the name for which they are searching.
The Illinois General Assembly granted probate jurisdiction to the clerk of the county commissioners' court in 1819. This jurisdiction was subject to review and reversal by the commissioners' court. Probate duties included issuing letters of administration for estates, distributing the estates of individuals who died intestate, recording all wills and letters, ruling on contested wills, receiving bonds from administrators, paying witnesses, ordering a final distribution of an estate, ordering the sale of property from an estate for payment of debts, making a pro rata distribution of assets to creditors, appointing guardians for children under the age of fourteen, approving guardians selected by children age fourteen and over, and receiving bonds from those guardians. The circuit court, which was held annually by a judge from the Supreme Court, had appellate jurisdiction in probate matters. [Laws of Illinois 1819, pp. 223–233]
Only two years later, in 1821, the functions of the probate court were transferred from the clerk of the county commissioners' court to county probate courts. Probate judges were elected by the General Assembly, and served during good behavior. Their duties included those specified in 1819, with the addition of jurisdiction over bankruptcy and imprisonment for debt cases, until imprisonment for debt was abolished in 1823. [Laws of Illinois 1821, pp. 119–126, Laws of Illinois 1823, pp. 158–159] That year, the judges were limited to a two year term. In 1825, their term was restored to good behavior. [Laws of Illinois 1823, p. 132; Laws of Illinois 1825, pp. 87–88] Jurisdiction over apprentices was added to the list of probate duties in 1833. [Revised Laws of Illinois 1833, pp. 68–73]
In 1837, probate justices of the peace were established in each county. These justices were elected to four year terms. The county commissioners' court was empowered to reverse the actions and decisions of these justices until 1845, when it lost this authority. [Laws of Illinois 1837, pp. 176–178]
The Constitution of 1848 moved original jurisdiction in probate cases to the newly created County Court. [Constitution of 1848, Article V, Sections 16-18] Therefore, probate records recorded after 1848 were maintained by the County Court acting in probate. The Constitution of 1870 gave the General Assembly the authority to create probate courts in counties with populations of 50,000 or more. [Constitution of 1870, Article VI, section 20] However, probate jurisdiction remained with the County Court in Madison County until January 1, 1964 when the functions of both the probate court and county court were transferred to the circuit court. [Constitution of 1870, 1962 Amendment, Article VI, section 4]
Probate case files show the court term; the names of the estate, judge and court clerk; the petitions, bonds, oaths, and letters of estate administrators, executors, guardians and conservators; the court's approval of estate inventories, appraisement bills, petitions to sell property, reports of sales, accounts, reports of receipts and expenditures, and final reports; and the orders and decrees of the court. The record may also show the names of heirs, claims against the estate, and recordation of wills.
The County Court also heard cases involving adoption, tax delinquency, commitment of the insane and feeble-minded, naturalization, guardianship of minor children, and conservatorship of the insane, blind and deaf & dumb. The County Court recorded oaths and bonds of court officials and petitions of good moral character. These types of cases were often recorded in the Madison County Probate Case Files when the County Court was acting in its probate capacity.
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 Southern Illinois University in Carbondale. IRAD cannot accept requests by e-mail at this time. Please contact:
Illinois Regional Archives Depository
c/o Special Collections
Southern Illinois University
Carbondale, IL 62901