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Illinois Supreme Court Historic Preservation receives grant to digitize case files

6/28/2022

A new project will make early Illinois Supreme Court case files more accessible to the public.

The National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC) has awarded the Illinois Supreme Court Historic Preservation Commission a $135,000 grant to support the digitization of nearly 3,700 case files from 1818 to 1865—the beginning of Illinois statehood through the Civil War. The Commission expects the work to take two years.

“Early Supreme Court cases covered many topics including transportation, immigration, women and children, Abraham Lincoln, slavery, the Civil War, the rise of Chicago, and urban/rural disputes,” Chief Justice Anne M. Burke said. “This project will increase access to these important but under-utilized documents, giving historical researchers, students, and genealogists the opportunity to learn valuable information about the development of Illinois.”

With easier access to court records, public historians and historical societies can use these records by incorporating them into exhibits and educational materials. Academic historians and graduate students can produce journal and magazine articles, books, and conference presentations.

Technicians with the Supreme Court Historic Preservation Commission will scan the documents in the case file then convert them to PDF format. Meanwhile, staff members will read the case files to create metadata that will become the basis of the search engine. Information captured will include the case name, parties, type of case, disposition, justices, attorneys, county of origin, terms of court, subject, and brief summary. All of the metadata will be searchable, allowing for easy access to any researcher. Currently, the case files are difficult to access because they are indexed on note cards and only by plaintiff, making subject searches impossible.

The Clerk of the Supreme Court of Illinois retains administrative control of the case files, which are housed at the Illinois State Archives under ideal temperature and humidity conditions. The scanning work will be completed at the Archives.

The Illinois Supreme Court Historic Preservation Commission was established in 2007 to assist and advise the Supreme Court of Illinois in acquiring, collecting, and preserving documents, artifacts, and information related to the Illinois judiciary. The National Historical Publications and Records Commission, the grant-making arm of the National Archives and Records Administration, provides opportunities for the American people to discover and use records to broaden public understanding of our democracy, history, and culture.

For more information, contact John Lupton at john.lupton@illinoiscourthistory.org or 217-670-0890.