ILLINOIS STATE ARCHIVES
Wayne County Coroner's Inquest Record Index (1888–1960)
Compiled by the Illinois Regional Archives Depository System, Eastern Illinois University
The Wayne County Coroner's Inquest Record Index was compiled by Jenny K. Crider and Erin Russell, interns for the Illinois Regional Archives Depository at Eastern Illinois University in Charleston. The 1,122 records in the database were extracted from the Wayne County Coroner's Inquest Records (IRAD Accession 5/0040/04).
Each entry found in the index contains the following categories of information: the name of the deceased; the date of inquest; the volume number; and the page numbers.
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]
The form and content of the Wayne 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 include the 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, testimony of witnesses, description of deceased person and identifying facts.
Records beginning in 1954 also include: the ages of witnesses and occasionally medical testimony with the names of the examining physician or attending physician.
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 Eastern Illinois University in Charleston. IRAD cannot accept requests by e-mail at this time. Please contact:
Illinois Regional Archives Depository
Eastern Illinois University
600 Lincoln Ave.
Charleston, IL 61920