I’ve collected digitized Illinois statute books for my personal reference library for several years. They are helpful in my work as a genealogist. When I need to check old laws, there is no need to leave my computer. And they work wonders for my inner nerd. Reading historic laws, especially private acts, is similar to browsing old newspapers.
My digitized books complement hard copies of session law volumes bought at used book sales. Perhaps the hard copies, so few in number, really complement my digital library, which has grown to wonderful proportions.
It’s amazing how many questions the law answers.
In 1831, how much control did an Illinois guardian have over a ward’s money? Check the 1831 Illinois session laws, page 100.
Did Illinois have common law marriage in 1907? Check the 1905 Illinois session laws, page 318 for the answer.
Is an adopted person allowed access to his or her original birth certificate in Illinois today? See the Illinois Adoption Act.
The idea of a shared digital Illinois law library is one I have wanted to put into action. My digital law library links page is now on this website on the Historic Illinois Statutes page under the Resources tab.
I created a grid with links to session law books and other sources where statutory law is found. Grid contents vary, depending on whether the laws are from the Illinois Territory or from the state.
My online law library also includes links to present law. I often refer to statutes in my forensic genealogical work and in adoption cases. People who know the law have more power when requesting records, and more understanding of how and why some documents were created. Or not created.
This resource is for anyone interested in historic Illinois statutes or Illinois history.
Territorial Law 1809–1818
The top part of the statutory law table has territorial law links. I chose not to include the territories that preceded the Illinois Territory. Some early territorial statutes were not published and survived in manuscript form only. In those cases, I linked to later compilations that included the formerly unpublished laws. Included are when each session began, description/title, comments, publication year or coverage, and the link to statutory law.
State Law 1818—1921, 1971 to present
The state law section follows territorial law. Columns include general assembly number, the date session was begun, description, citation, publication year, comments, and the statutory law online links. Note that I did not check all of the volumes to see if they contained private acts, so some volumes marked as containing public acts might also contain private acts.
Several compiled statutes, revised statutes, constitutions, and analytical digests are included.
The majority of the books linked to in the grid are session laws, which were published in chronological order at the end of a legislative session. Each session law volume has its own index. Session laws are not organized by topic, so using them to locate old laws requires a bit more work than when researching laws that are organized by topic, such as those found in codes or compiled statutes. To see the difference between session law books and codified law books, compare one of the public or private acts books with a revised statutes volume.
Codified law allows searching by topic, and a search of several consecutive codes on either side of a year in question readily shows if and when a law was changed.
To use the grid, find the year that relates to your question. Follow the row across and click the link.
To research a law using session law volumes, check the session law volume index closest to the year that relates to your question to see if your topic is addressed. If not, work your way backward in the session laws until you locate a statute addressing your question.
To see if and when the law later changed check the session laws following the law you found until you find a change in that law. That helps to confirm if the law remained the same for the original period in question.
Remember that indexes are imperfect. I’ll explain how to check for laws in independent indexes in another post.
There will be more posts, including lessons on using the books. There is more up my law library sleeve.
For now, consider that the hours spent on this quest have resulted in a resource for your use. Enjoy this shared law library, free to use from your home, the airport, or the beach. You get the picture.
Welcome to 155 years of Illinois statutory law. I’ll pretend that the 50-year gap between 1921 and 1971 doesn’t make me crazy.
Once again, the link to the links.
P.S. My thanks to Cyndi Ingle of Cyndi’s List for her amazing late-night coding skills and support. Because if you think WordPress made that pretty grid for all of those statutes, you’re dreaming.