In honor of the Illinois bicentennial, Illinois Archives staff has compiled a list of the 100 most valuable documents in our collection. Any list like this is, almost by definition, subjective. How does one define most valuable? The Illinois State Archives is the repository of all official Illinois government documents of permanent value. More than 75,000 cubic feet of paper, microfilm, photographs and audio and film recordings are housed in the Margaret Cross Norton Building on the capitol complex in Springfield. Paper records date back before 1818 statehood and include governors' correspondence, public acts, departmental histories, census records, military records, election results and more.
As far as our office is concerned, every record housed in the building is important because at any given time a different record will be vital to a researcher, a surveyor, a lawyer, archeologist or family historian.
Understanding that most valuable is in the eye of the beholder, our office has highlighted some of the many unique records housed at the Illinois State Archives. We have also decided to use these documents to talk a little bit about the history of this great state. There are many Lincoln documents, as those are assuredly valuable documents. Subject matters range from a serious document regarding the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1885, to the more lighthearted, such as Governor Adlai Stevenson's veto of legislation requiring cats to be on leashes. Proud moments are highlighted, including the passage of the Illinois Suffrage Act, as well as the not so proud moments, such as the 1853 Black Laws. In making our decisions, we may not have listed documents that others would deem top 100 material. We also may have included material in our top 100 list that others think don't deserve such recognition. That's alright though. Because just as the first 200 years of Illinois are the foundation for what we are sure will be an amazing next 200 years, the 100 documents found in this list represent the foundation of an amazing collection of material that we proudly retain at the Illinois State Archives.