ILLINOIS STATE ARCHIVES
Vermilion County Coroner's Inquest Files Index (1908–1956)
Compiled by the Illinois Regional Archives Depository System, Illinois State University
The Vermilion County Coroner's Inquest Files Index was compiled by Merle L. Willner, intern for the Illinois Regional Archives Depository at Illinois State University in Normal. The more than 3,800 records in the database were extracted from the Vermilion County Coroner's Inquest Files (IRAD Accession 3/0011/01).
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 coroner's jury; and a description of the cause of death. When information in a particular category was not given in the files, an "_" will appear in that category. The verdict of the coroner's jury will fall into one of the following five categories: accident, natural, suicide, homicide and justifiable homicide. When the coroner's jury could not determine a cause of death, an "_" will appear in the verdict category.
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. Most of the inquest files between 1930 and 1956 contain death certificates. Coroner's death certificates show the name, place of birth, race, residence, occupation and marital status of the deceased; the place and date of burial; the names of spouses and parents, and the cause of death.
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 Illinois State University in Normal. IRAD cannot accept requests by e-mail at this time. Please contact:
Illinois Regional Archives Depository
Illinois State University
2016 Warehouse Road
Campus Box 1520
Normal, IL 61790-1520