Freedom of information is one of the pillars of modern US society. It means any member of the public has the right of access to any information produced by a government body and deemed not subject to confidentiality legislation. There is a host of reasons why one would need public records, from professional purposes, to academic research or journalistic investigations, or for something as mundane as getting a driver’s license.
While the main provisions of the Freedom of Information Act are universally applicable across states, each state has in addition its own law governing the access to public records. In Illinois, a lot of this information is freely available online, since the state has no restrictions on what one can do with public records once they get access to them. The agencies that act as custodians of public records commonly provide easy to use online search resources, which considerably shorten the time you need to spend on such an inquiry. However, not all public records are available online, in which case you would need to contact the custodian agency directly.
Commonly Requested Non-Public Records
While documents such as Illinois birth certificates and marriage certificates are among the most commonly requested, they are not, in fact, public records and only a limited number of people are allowed access to them, in light of the private information they contain. However, with proof of eligibility you can easily receive a certified copy of the record you need.
The central hub for vital records, including birth and death certificates, but not marriage, civil union, and divorce and civil union dissolution records, is the Illinois Department of Health. The people eligible for access to a birth certificate are the person named on the certificate if they are 18 years of age or older, the person's parents, and the legal guardian/representative of the person whose name is on the certificate. Copies can be ordered by mail or in person at the Department, at the Illinois Department of Public Health, Division of Vital Records, 925 East Ridgely Avenue, Springfield, Illinois 62702-2737, with a check or money order for the fees such a request is subject to. Alternately, you can request a birth certificate copy by fax or online, using the services of the third party VitalChek and paying with a credit card.
Copies of death certificates can be requested by family members of the deceased person or by people with a property right interest, where property right refers to co-ownership of a tangible property, such as a vehicle or real estate, as proven by a car title or a deed. The Department of Health issues two types of death certificate copies, certified and uncertified. The former can be used for legal purposes, while the latter is issued for research and genealogical purposes.
Marriage and civil union records, as well as divorce and civil union dissolution records, are available from the respective county authorities. These include the county clerk for marriages and civil unions, and the circuit court clerk for divorces and dissolutions. However, the Department of Public Health can issue verification for each of these events. Verifications for marriages and divorces can be issued for the period back to 1962, while verifications for civil unions and civil union dissolutions concern the period from 2012 to date.
Commonly Requested Public Records
One set of public records that are freely available online are records of business entities. The database at the Secretary of State is maintained by the Department of Business Services and includes information about any type of business entity registered in the state of Illinois, including limited liability companies and partnerships, corporations and non-profit organizations. Although the information in this database cannot be copied or downloaded, the Department offers such services in exchange for a fee for certain records depending on statute.
If you need a tax registration reference, you have to go to the Illinois Department of Revenue, which offers online search capabilities based on account number or business tax number, federal employment identification number, or Illinois tax license number.
In the spirit of open government, the Illinois General Assembly website offers ample search resources for records about the legislative process, including bills and resolutions, as well as public acts, and legislative and special reports. Also among the available public records here are transcripts of Senate and House of Representatives proceedings, schedules and journals.
If you need to check your or someone else's voter registration status, you should go to the State Board of Elections, where you can search the records by first and last name and ZIP code. To check the registration status of a vehicle, use the search resources at the Secretary of State.
A lot of public information is available at the county level, including court case records and property-related documents such as deeds, mortgage records, easements, power of attorney, and liens. To access this information you will need to find the local county authorities in charge of producing and keeping property records. It should be noted, though, that not all of them provide online access to the records and when they do, references are sometimes paid. In any case, the agency to start a public record search in a county is the County Clerk or the County Clerk of Court, as well as the County Recorder, which is the office that commonly keeps property and even some local vital records. For yet another shot at retrieving the vital records you need you can also approach the local county unit of the Department of Public Health.