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  • Writer's pictureLawrence Lore

Death Records in Lawrence County

From the Illinois Secretary of State on Recordation of Deaths in Illinois

The first legislation in Illinois regarding recordation of births and deaths was enacted in 1819 at the second session of the First General Assembly. [Laws of Illinois 1819, p. 233) This law established medical societies to which all physicians were required to belong and made it the duty of every physician to keep a record of births, deaths and diseases occurring within the vicinity of his practice. This record was to be transmitted to his medical society whereupon the record was to be published in the newspapers. This law required no public records of births or deaths to be kept.

In 1843, legislation was passed that provided that a parent could appear before the clerk of the county commissioners' court and make affidavit as to the birth of a child, and the eldest next of kin of a deceased person could similarly appear to make affidavit as to death. [Laws of Illinois 1842–43, pp. 210–212] Because this law made recordation voluntary rather than mandatory, virtually no birth and death records existed in Illinois prior to 1877 except in a few scattered counties where the records were very fragmentary.

An act was passed in 1877 creating the State Board of Health and giving it the responsibility for general supervision over the registration of all births and deaths occurring within the state. [Laws of Illinois 1877, pp. 208–210] This act required that all births and deaths in each county be reported to the county clerk by the attending physicians or accoucheurs and that all physicians and accoucheurs in the state register their names and addresses with their county clerk. Since penalties for non-compliance with this law were weak, births and deaths were often not reported.

However Lawrence County Clerk has the records that were reported and these early records are on line at

The microfilmed books have been indexed but are not searchable by name.  One must find the name in the index book and then look through many images to find the desired record.  But if one is patient the record can be found. 

From a review of the 23 deaths occurring in January 1878 there were ten children under the age of 12.  Eight of those were babies.  The saddest death was of a child born prematurely caused by the mother riding horseback two days prior to the birth. (The mother died as well.) The most horrible was that of a 4-year-old who fell into a kettle of hot lard and suffered for 30 hours before he died. 

Pneumonia was the biggest killer for all deaths during January, with congestion of the brain taking a close second.  This could have meant anything from stroke to coma to seizures depending on which doctor was writing the record.

The most unusual death record was that of an 81-year-old woman who was listed only as “Grandma” Cooper. No name was given for her.   

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