Following the tenets of the Illinois Freedom of Information Act, Illinois State Records has a mission to facilitate people’s right to seek out, examine, and copy public records. The act specifies that all records, documents, and information produced by a government or law enforcement agency are presumed public and available to all U.S. citizens.
The primary goal of this website is to simplify the process of collecting public records from the convenience of home and without providing personal information, filling out request forms, or providing a reason for wanting public records. This exempts records deemed private through legal action of the original record subject or by the state in a court of law.
Illinois State's backgrounds include information on criminal records, court records, vital records, and over 110 million additional public records.
Yes, most of the records generated by the state are available to the public. The Illinois Freedom of Information Act (IL FOIA) asserts the public's right to access non-confidential state records. Interested persons who wish to obtain these records may contact the appropriate office regardless of the format. The IL FOIA describes public records as all reports and information material generated, owned, stored, or used by any government body as regards public business. Records exist in different forms, including writings, letters, records, photographs, books, maps, papers, memoranda, microfilms, cards, tapes, recordings, electronic data processing records, and electronic communications.
Examples of public records in Illinois may include:
Note: Although public records include all activities carried out by any government body and its officials, it does not include the officials’ personal lives. Therefore, details of an official’s personal email or phone calls are not regarded as a public record. Persons who are interested in accessing public records may request a public data search or conduct a free public data search by querying the office of the relevant court custodian in the judicial district where the record is held. In Illinois, a public records request may be made at state level using the Form FOIA-1 (Freedom of Information Act Request)
Anyone can find public records in Illinois by contacting the agency in charge. As established by IL FOIA, custodians of such records are to provide prompt access to records upon requests. Interested persons who wish to obtain copies of a record must take some steps that may include:
The first step to obtaining a public record in Illinois is to have details of the record. Requestors must be able to provide vital information such as names of the parties involved, type of record, date, case number, etc. The information provided will, in turn, assist the record custodian to narrow down the search. Most times, lack of adequate information to aid record search is one of many reasons requests are denied. Therefore, interested persons must provide the necessary information to facilitate a record search.
Different agencies maintain and provide access to public records. Therefore, a requestor must ensure they contact the right agency. For instance, a County’s Sheriff’s Department may be responsible for providing access to the sex offender registry and inmate records within its jurisdiction. The Supreme Court, on the other hand, may process requests for court records, arrest records as well as civil and criminal records.
The next step in the process of obtaining an Illinois public record is to prepare a written request. Although some government bodies or departments make provisions for public request forms. However, a written request is often advised because it allows easy tracking. This is due to the paper trails from one desk to another. To prepare a written request, interested persons are to provide some of the following information:
A clear description of the record (narrow it down as possible)
The type of record
The requestor’s full name
The requestor’s contact details
The date range of the request
The delivery option for the request
Any other information that may facilitate the record search
In selected cases (like vital record requests) the requestor may be request to provide supporting documentation to the Illinois department concerned.
Reviewing and Submitting the Request
Requesters can confirm the information provided before submitting it to the record custodian. There are various options available for requesters to submit their requests. Examples of such options include mail, fax, and in-person submission. For the mail option, requestors are to send their requests to the agency’s official email, while the fax option allows requesters to submit to an official number. Interested persons can also walk in to submit their requests during business hours. Depending on the agency, requestors may be able to submit their request online.
Public city records may also be accessible from third-party websites. These non-government platforms come with intuitive tools that allow for expansive searches. Record seekers may either opt to use these tools to search for a specific record or multiple records. However, users will need to provide enough information to assist with the search such as:
Third-party sites are not sponsored by government agencies. Because of this, record availability and results may vary.
Public records can also be accessed from third-party websites. These third-party public records aggregate websites offer search services that are non-geographically limited, making the search result expansive and typically straightforward. However, users will need to provide enough information to assist with the search, such as:
Third-party public records search websites are not government-sponsored services. Therefore, the availability and accuracy of results can vary.
Interested persons can look up public records for free in Illinois by requesting a physical inspection. Often than not, government agencies do not charge a fee to inspect their records. For instance, a requestor may inspect records available at Illinois courthouses and police departments. Such agencies maintain lobby areas and are open to requests during regular office hours.
Another way requesters can look up public records in Illinois is by searching through electronic copies. Interested persons can search for available records via the online platform or database provided by government agencies. Some counties maintain and provide public access to the sex offender registry. Residents can access information about registered sex offenders in a particular area. Interested persons may search for sex offenders using an address, city, state, zip, last name, first name, compliant status, or any other combination. In selected judicial districts, requestors may conduct a free public records search by visiting the county clerk's office or county recorder’s office and utilizing the public access computers available to the public. These are especially suitable for accessing public records like criminal records or court records.
Illinois started creating public records in 1800 and these records typically include information from all 102 Illinois counties. Over the past 30 years, digitization of public records has become the standard, meaning both third party and government websites are offering these records with increased reliability. This availability ensures Illinois abides by the commitment of the United States of America to remain a fair and just society for all.