Help in Accessing Closed Records of Illinois State Mental Hospitals

I thank all of you who have commented on my March 2012 article about mental hospital records at the Illinois State Archives. Clearly there is a clamoring for access to the closed patient records. My research to date shows there are two ways to obtain them, depending if immediate family members survive.

1. If you are an immediate family member of a deceased patient, or can get an immediate family member to make the request.

Three additional requirements apply:
• No probate case was opened for the deceased
• The deceased did not appoint an agent under a power of attorney for health care
• The deceased did not object to disclosure of his/her records in writing

Public Act 097-0623 became effective November 23, 2011. It allows a surviving spouse, or if there is no surviving spouse, an adult son or daughter, adult brother or sister, or parent to request the deceased patient’s records “including but not limited to those relating to the diagnosis, treatment, prognosis, history, charts, pictures and plates, kept in connection with the treatment of such patient.” See full text of the law at

The written request goes to the medical records department of the state hospital. The hospital charges a $20 handling fee plus copying charges of $0.75/pg for pages 1-25, $0.50/pg for pages 26-50, and $0.25/pg for pages 51+. Copies made from digital format cost 50% of the paper copy charges. Copies from microfilm or microfiche shall not exceed $1.25/pg. There are other charges for non-standard items such as x-ray films. The hospital has to provide the information within 60 days of receiving the request.

This is the format of the written request:

I, [insert name of authorized relative in capital letters], certify that I am
an authorized relative of the deceased [insert name of deceased in capital letters].
A certified copy of the death certificate is attached.
I certify that to the best of my knowledge and belief that
no executor or administrator has been appointed for the
deceased’s estate, that no agent was authorized to act for the
deceased under a power of attorney for health care, and the
deceased has not specifically objected to disclosure in
I certify that I am the surviving spouse of the deceased;
I certify that there is no surviving spouse and my relationship to the deceased is
[select one from list below and insert]:
(1) An adult son or daughter of the deceased.
(2) Either parent of the deceased.
(3) An adult brother or sister of the deceased.
This certification is made under penalty of perjury.*
Dated: [insert date]

[Authorized Relative’s signature]
[type Authorized Relative’s Name in capital letters below signature]
[Authorized Relative’s address]
*(Note: Perjury is defined in Section 32-2 of the Criminal Code
of 1961, and is a Class 3 felony.)”

Regarding probate cases: Most likely the patient would not have had a large enough estate for a probate to be opened. Immediate family members should know if a probate was filed. If you are unsure, check the indexes to probate cases in the year of the patient’s death. The probate division of a county’s circuit court handles probate cases. Probates are typically filed in the deceased person’s county of residence. Some counties have online indexes. For other counties, you may have to go to the court house or request a search for a fee.

Regarding power of attorney for health care: The Illinois Power of Attorney Act (P.A. 85-701) became effective September 22, 1987. It would not apply to patients hospitalized prior to that date. For those to whom it did apply, look through family papers first, then investigate what governmental body it might have been filed with. For example, I have seen powers of attorney for property filed at the recorder of deeds.

Regarding certified copies of death certificates: Certified copies of Cook County death certificates ($17 as of July 1, 2012) cannot be obtained through Instead they can be ordered in one of five ways, see

For deaths in other counties, contact the county clerk’s office. Contact information for all Illinois counties is listed at this link:

The Illinois Department of Public Health is another source of certified death certificates, see

Note: SB3171, a bill that clarifies Public Act 097-0623, was sent to Gov. Quinn on June 28, 2012. It eliminates the $20 handling charge for the records, references the pertinent section of the Code of Civil Procedure, and adds language about the relative acting as a personal representative of a deceased patient. You may want to wait until the governor signs this into law because it becomes effective immediately and would save some money. View the text of the bill and updates at

2. If there are no surviving immediate family members (for instance, the ancestor was institutionalized in the 1800s).

A court order from an Illinois circuit court will be necessary. The best argument is family health history, such as seeing an inherited disposition to mental illness. The order is directed to the Illinois Department of Human Services for processing.

You will need an attorney versed in mental health law. Several bar associations offer low-cost referrals:

Illinois State Bar Association
(877) 851-7882
$25 for a half-hour consultation; you are not obligated to hire the lawyer

West Suburban Bar Association
(708) 366-1122
$25 for first consultation

Northwest Suburban Bar Association
(847) 221-2681
$25 for half-hour consultation + attorney’s fees for any work done

Chicago Bar Association
(312) 554-2001 • TDD (312) 554-2055
$30 for first consultation plus attorney’s fees

Please post comments to let me and others know about your experiences using the two methods in this article. I am in the process of using the first method, verifying that no probate was opened, so I cannot report on its effectiveness yet.

By Grace Dumelle, Genealogy and Local History Assistant


I once requested, in writing, a court order directly from the court in Illinois where I live and was able to use it to secure mental health records from the late 1880s from a closed state hospital in Minnesota. It was much easier than I thought it was going to be.
I meant a state hospital in Illinois. Turns out there wasn't a record. The person I was looking for was an employee, not a patient.
I found a person I was looking for. Thanks. Cathy,
Thank you very much for this info.
I read your 'Help in Accessing Closed on' article. Then why did Kankakee State Hospital tell my grandmother in a letter back in the 1960s (when she wrote to request for copies of records of her own mother who was a patient there in the 1920s) and tell me in a letter back in the 1980s when I wrote a letter requesting for such records that the Illinois state law required all state hospital records that were dated before the 1960s to be DESTROYED? Why would they say about that when now you said people could apply to obtain such records?
@ Roxie - The Descriptive Inventory of the Archives of the State of Illinois (online at lists the records still in the possession of the Archives. It is possible that the hospital did not know about these records and that many other records were destroyed based on laws that have since changed.
How likely would I be able to obtain records about my great-grandmother from the Archives of State of Illinois? From what people say here and elsewhere, it sounds like they have found it difficult to get the records. One person (and I agree with her) found it silly that the state would not let her obtain records unless she goes through the court and get its permission to see the records of a relative of hers who has been deceased for over 80 years and the immediate family members (children, for example) of that deceased person are also long dead as well. My great-grandmother has been dead for 83 years now and all of her children are now deceased.
@Roxie - Although the Illinois State Archives holds these records, they are unable to release them without the proper legal authorization as described in this and the previous post.
Thank you. I will try to do that proper legal authorization you described in the other post.
I am trying to find the records of my ancestor Della / Delia Mulligan who died in Nov 1941 and had been a patient in Kankakee State Mentak Hospital for some years before that but am unable to do so from Ireland . Any help or information would be appreciated , In Anticipation Thank You .
Are there any other decedents that still live in the United States? If so, perhaps they would be able to assist you. Otherwise, I suggest that you contact one of the bar associations listed above and see if they can make a recommendation.
Dear Ms Richards: How great it is that you were able to obtain these records. Can you tell me what county in Illinois, and if I may, request a copy of your letter to the court. I am at my end of the rope to obtain my grandmother records, and an attorney wanted $350 a hour to proceed. (How many Hours?) If I can do myself, would be worth the try. Thank you for any help Jan
My great uncle was killed in Northern Illinois back in the late 1920's and his death has been a great mystery to the family for 85 years now. A person of interest, who is not related to our family, was later a patient at the East Moline State Hospital and died there in 1942. I am looking for information strictly for genealogical reasons and to shed some light on what happened to my family member. Is it possible to be able to obtain records concerning this person of interest, and if so, how do I go about doing that? Thank You.
@JD - To gain access to the closed patient records, you'll need a court order as described above. If your great uncle was killed under suspicious circumstances, there may have been an inquest or other legal proceedings. You may want to check with the county where your uncle died to see what records are available. These records may provide some additional clues as to what actually happened to your great uncle.
Hi. We would like to move forward with a court order to obtain access to some records regarding our grandmother. We are just unsure how to find a good, moderately priced attorney who can help us accomplish our goal. I see mental health-specific attorneys, but never see anyone listed/mentioned as working on this type of situation. Can you help on how to find someone appropriate? Thanks!
@Nancy - I'd start with the Illinois State Bar Association online database. (link in post above) Look for a lawyer in the area where your grandmother lived. When you first contact the lawyers ask if they have experience in obtaining these records and what their fee structure is. You may have to contact several in order to compare fees and experience.
I am researching my GG-grandmother, who was a patient in, I believe, a Peoria County almshouse from about 1870 until 1902, when she was transferred to Peoria State Hospital. She died there on 14 August 1909 during the pellagra outbreak there. She is buried in Cemetery #2 on the hospital grounds in grave #619. From the comments above, I assume I, too, will need a court order to get all her hospital records and, if possible, any records from the almshouse. Please let me know and I'll proceed from there.
@Betty - You are correct about needing a court order for hospital records, but it appears that the IRAD facility at Western Illinois University has some of the Almshouse Registers for Peoria County. See page 252 of the Local Governmental Listings document located at: Their contact information can be found at:
Hi, I saw a posting on ansestry that my greatgrandmother was at AnnaState Hospital 1910-1920. I have no idea if this is even correct. I had always been told she died in child birth. How could I find out if this person is my person? Ida's husband is dead. Her daughters are all dead as far as i know. I have never found a death certificate so I guess anything is possible. I appreciate any help you are able to give me. Sincerely, Laura Hazlett
@Laura - As stated above, you'd need a court order to get the hospital records. If you want to send us additional details, maybe we can suggest some alternatives. You can contact us at:
I know that my great great grandmother was a patient at the Manteno State Hospital, and I know that she died there in 1943. I'd love to find out why she was a patient there (as well as any other additional information). I've read this site pretty extensively, and I understand that I need a court order for these records to be opened; if they even exist at all. I'm curious how I would go about finding out if a record exists? Can I figure this out before trying to get a court order? Also, if I need to get a court order, would you have any information about how I could obtain one? I've tried contacting the Cook County Circuit Court, but I've been passed around to about 10 different departments on about four seperate attempts to figure this out. On my last call, I was told that the Circuit Court only opens it own records, and that basically, all this process would do is tell me whether my relative was instutionalized by court order. The court representative I spoke with said that a court order would not get me health/medical records; I think she was wrong, but sadly, she was the most informed/helpful person I've spoke with over the past 12 months that I've been trying to figure this out. Thanks!
@ Mike - 1) How to find out if Manteno records exist. Check the Descriptive Inventory of the Archives of the State of Illinois (online at The inventory lists closed as well as open records. Manteno is one of the hospitals in the Admission and Discharge Reports 1920-1951, RG 206.008. These reports are pretty bare-bones. Admission reports show name, age, residence, admission date, ID number, and indication of previous admission. Discharge reports show date, name, and type of release (death, transfer, discharge). According to The Mateno Project (, most patient records are presumed to have been transferred to Tinley Park Mental Health Center. One would need a court order to access. I was told by the lawyer I consulted for my uncle's records at Elgin State Hospital that the institution should have some of the legal records: the order to commit the patient, whether voluntary or involuntary; the order of commitment; and the petition for commitment. 2) How to obtain a court order. I too got the runaround from Cook County. There are two kinds of records: legal and medical. I believe the medical records from a state hospital would not show up in a commitment proceeding unless copies were used to argue that a subsequent stay was necessary. The medical records are in the custody of the state hospital, not the courts. Hiring a lawyer knowledgeable in mental health law is expensive but has advantages. The lawyer knows judges familiar with the law, knows the arguments that resonate, and takes care of procedural matters like setting a court date. In theory you can represent yourself, but the judge and court personnel cannot help you with your questions. I have heard that it is easier to file outside of Cook County, in the county where the state hospital is located, because there is less bureaucracy. Grace Dumelle
In August 2014, I requested the mental health records held at Elgin and the State of Illinois Archives on my great great uncle who died at Bartonville/Peoria in 1905. I received them in October 2014. Here are my findings: 1. I first tried to request them myself. This did not work and was told later that it will never work. 2. I hired Michale Kalland (lawyer in Elgin, IL) to petition the court. 3. I found out or already knew that Elgin records were still held in Elgin, and the other two asylums where my ancestor had resided (Jacksonville & Bartonville) were held at the state archives. Mr. Kalland asked for all Elgin and state records held. (Both county and state records can be requested through the county circuit court.) 4. We had two reasons for asking for the records and I do not know which was the most acceptable to the judge (or perhaps neither was effective): continuing mental health history of the family or my scholarly pursuits in writing a paper. I had written the paper with the information I had found publicly (an amazing amount) but with gaps of information that i was hoping would be provided by the information requested. 5. Mr. Kalland and I had conversations concerning the records we hoped to receive, what I could do with them and discussed that if the judge was unwilling to release the 110 year old records with no restrictions, what restrictions I could live with. Mr. Kalland was successful in the request for the judge to sign the petition. requesting the records. Upon receipt of the documents, the judge reviewed them and released them to Mr Kalland who conveyed them to me. I have some restrictions--I must confine my use of the records to my formal presentations and scholarly writing. (I am a family historian who lectures and writes.) This is quite acceptable to me. I hope this helps others in the future. If you wish to discuss this with me you can contact me at jkmorelliatgmaildotcom...and I figure you know how to translate that into an address. Jill


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