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Searching for your ancestry? Add a trip to the Circuit Clerk's office

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[June 14, 2014]  LINCOLN - Mary Kelley, clerk of the Circuit Court for Logan County, was guest speaker at the Logan County Genealogical & Historical Society in May. You might wonder what interests her office might offer to this group. As it would be, the circuit clerk’s office has a wealth of information for genealogical research.

Kelley explained that her office is the repository of a great deal of information that can be useful to those searching for their family history.

The circuit clerk’s office is the administrative arm of the circuit court. The office contains data that has gone through the circuit court, some of which goes back to the 19th century. For example the circuit clerk’s records on naturalization go back to 1857.
Not only do the records contain the name of the person and dates of immigration, but also the name of the ship they arrived on and the port of arrival.

Also included in the old records is the name of the monarch that they are renouncing. Before World War One, most immigrants from Europe lived in countries that still had a king or queen as the ruler.

The most detailed records are from 1907 to 1929. This time period would cover most of the great wave of European immigration to the U.S. that occurred in the early 20th century, when Ellis Island in New York harbor received most of them.

The records before 1907 in the clerk’s office are less detailed.

Most of the original records from the 19th century are stored in an Illinois Regional Archives Depository (IRAD) site in Illinois. The clerk’s office has copies of these records.

There are several IRAD sites within Illinois dedicated to the preservation of these old and delicate records. The closest IRAD site to Lincoln is Bloomington. Trained archivists make sure that the pages of the old hand written record books are treated with a preservative and then stored in a climate controlled environment.

Other records that are available are chancery, which includes divorce and estate settlement disputes and foreclosures.

Criminal case records go back to 1946.

IRAD has taken the older records for safekeeping. The items that were signed by traveling lawyer and land surveyor Abraham Lincoln are now in the safe keeping of the the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency and the Lincoln Legal Papers Project.

The common law records in the circuit clerk’s office go back to 1873. These include civil court cases such as small claims.

Many of the more recent records are not available to the public until a significant amount of time has passed. Adoptions are sealed by the court. Those requesting access to them have to petition a judge of the circuit court.

Brenda Jones, a specialist in genealogical research in the Circuit Clerk’s office, also attended the meeting. She is the go to person in the office for those tracing their family history in Logan County.

Brenda said, “Summer is the busiest time for genealogical research in our office.” She emphasized that there are several routes that a person can take in researching family history.

Obviously, a name is most important; yet, there are other ways to search the records. Jones is dedicated to going the extra mile to help those who call or visit the office in person. She will often follow-up on a records search even when the family detectives seem satisfied with the results.

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There are so many files; a person’s name can appear in several places allowing many avenues to approach research. One example Jones gave could be the case where a person dies without a will. Checking settlement records as well as probate records might help discover more information.

Jones stressed that many researchers just don’t know about the multitude of records that are available. She does, and can direct persons in directions that had not been considered.

When asked if anything surprising has come up in searching through local records, Jones said, “One family came in to do research and it turned out that the person they were looking for was a relative of mine I was not aware of. That was a fun moment.”

One recent request for Logan County information came from a family in California. Jones said, “Our office has had requests for research from every state.”

You can begin to imagine it now, residents of Logan County have traveled on and have descendants all over the country and the circuit clerk’s office is a place to search for those documents and even fragments that might build a family history.

Mary Kelley stressed that her office welcomes the chance to help those doing genealogical research. She also said that her office is fortunate to have a researcher of the quality of Brenda Jones.

To have the depth of personnel who can follow the records trail that will uncover that piece of family history that can tie all of the previous research together is not usual for a circuit clerk’s office, Kelley said.

While many people call her office asking for information, Kelley said, “Many prefer to come in person to see the actual documents with their relative’s name on it.”

Kelley was also asked if any unusual records had been found over the years. She laughed and said, “My office contains the record of a speeding ticket issued many years ago in Logan County by a state police officer to a little known Illinois legislator from Chicago. The legislator’s name was Barack Obama.”

Mary Kelley’s office provides a trove of material for the family researcher.

The Logan County Genealogical & Historical Society also has a large library of Logan County records and newspapers that can provide a source for researching family history, and they are adding more all the time. Its resources are available to the public. Several members volunteer their time to do research work, and a nominal fee is requested.

The LCG&HS meets the third Monday of every month at 6:30 p.m. The meetings are open to the public. Guest speakers are featured at every meeting and come from throughout the area. They always have an interesting story to tell.


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