About Indexes to Illinois Statutory Law

What’s as cool and handy as having links to digitized books containing every Illinois statutory law published between territorial times and 1921, senate and house transcripts from 1971 to 1996, and statutes from 1997 to the present?

An index to all statutory laws passed in Illinois from 1812 to 1968.

When Illinois’ territorial government began passing laws, they didn’t give those laws public act numbers. The laws only had enrollment numbers. Illinois continued that practice until 1969, when public act numbers made their debut.1

Enrollment numbers were not included in published session law books. This created a headache for anyone needing to retrieve an archived statute, because numbers are needed to locate archived statutes. Researchers hunted for enrollment numbers in handwritten ledgers.2

Public act numbers were published in session law volumes beginning in 1969, giving those doing legislative research the information needed to request a post-1968 statute. In 1989, the Illinois Secretary of State’s Index Department compiled and published a six-volume series, Index to the Laws of Illinois, 1812 – 1968. The set indexes pre-1969 statutes. Enrollment numbers were included.3 The index was made to assist anyone searching for old laws, which are housed in the state archives.4

Genealogists want to know what a law was at a certain point in time. Why bother with an index to archived laws made for people who wanted to see the original documents? Why not just look at the published session laws?

Because the index makes searching for laws in session law volumes much easier.

Session laws are printed in the order in which the laws were passed, so volume indexes are a necessity. Illinois session law books have volume indexes. But session books are plentiful. In some sessions multiple volumes were printed. To search every volume’s index, hoping to find mention of a person, or a topic like marriage, adoption, or inheritance, is not only time-consuming. It requires having access to every session law volume in the desired time span.

The six-volume set serves as a cheat sheet to the session law volumes. The indexes are arranged chronologically by session. Six volumes are faster to consult than one hundred and fifty-six years of individual session law book indexes. One caveat is the six-volume set did not adhere completely to the language in the session law volume indexes.5

Another statutory law index is An Index to All of the Laws of the State of Illinois, Both Public and Private, Which are Not Printed at Large in Gross’ Statutes of 1869, Except Private Acts of 1869: 1818 to 1869. The index covers all of the session laws in its coverage period, including repealed laws. The compiler decided to include repealed laws in the index, explaining that:

“But a large number of those very acts thus excluded, are of the highest importance to those who are interested in them, and it often becomes extremely desirable to know exactly where to find them.”6

Well said.

The 1818 to 1869 index is divided into two parts. The first covers public acts. The subject, date passed, and session book and page where the law is found are included. The second part of the index focuses on private acts. The private act index is divided by county, and then towns within each county. Items not connected to an obvious location are indexed together. Some public acts did not fit the categories chosen for the public acts section, and are found in the private acts section instead. Check the end of each section for errata.

Be sure to check the session law volume index when the desired book is identified in a compiled index. Three indexes are better than one. And they beat checking indexes in 156 years of session books.

To browse the indexes, see my Indexes to Illinois Statutory Law page. To check the session laws when something of interest is located in an index, see my Historic Illinois Statutes page on the Advancing Genealogist.

1. Index to the Laws of Illinois, 1812—1968. Springfield, Illinois: Secretary of State, 1989.
2. Ibid.
3. Ibid.
4. Telephone interview with Index Department, Illinois Secretary of State, 29 October 2014.
5. Index to the Laws of Illinois, 1812—1968.
6. Gross, Eugene L., and William L. Gross. An Index to All the Laws of the State of Illinois, both Public and Private, Which are Not Printed at Large in Gross’ Statutes of 1869, Except Private Acts of 1869. 1818 to 1869. Springfield: E.L. & W. L. Gross, 1869.
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