Researching in

Coles County
This webpage contains a description of the author's research trips to Coles County. It does not reflect the opinions of any Coles County Government, Library, Genealogical or Historical Society employees/workers. Illinois Genealogy Trails is not affiliated with any of those organizations. Illinois Genealogy Trails is a completely independent entity and is therefore free to post the opinions of the author.
It may also just possibly contain an "editorial" comment or two....

Vital Records Information.....
Betty Coffrin, Coles County Clerk & Recorder of Deeds
651 Jackson Ave., Rm. 122
Charleston, IL 61920
(217) 348-0501
(217) 258-0501

Available Courthouse Records
Updated April 2003
(new courthouse rules are
in blue)

Birth Records: 
1878 to present

  • Access to indexes prior to 1916.

  • Access to indexes after 1916 (employees of the Clerk's office only)

  • Each request for a certified copy must be in writing and include the proper fee:

  • A certified copy may be issued to the following (If the record is after 1916):
    • The person named on the certificate of of legal age (18 or older)
    • An immediate family member (parent)
    • Legal representative (attorney) of the person named on the record
    • Department of State, Municipal or Federal Government
    • A Court Order

Certified copies shall be issued without charge when requested by the U.S. Veteran's Administration. Requests must be made by a representative of the Veteran's Administration or the veteran may obtain a copy free of charge if he/she brings a letter from the Veteran's Administration stating the request. FORM 97 from the Illinois Department of Public Aid or forms from the Military Recruiting office may be verified and sealed by the employees of the Clerk's Office. Certified copies to Public Aid recipients will NOT be issued free of charge.

Marriage Records:

  • Access to indexes
  • Access to actual certificates.
  • A non-certified copy of a marriage may be obtained for marriages prior to 1900 for a fee of $1.00
  • Anyone can request and receive a certified copy of the marriage license.

Fees for birth and marriage certificates are as follows: (DOUBLE THE OLD FEES!!!)

$14.00 for the first copy and $4.00 for each additional copy requested at that time, birth certificates must be certified. A $14.00 fee will be charged for a five (5) year search. Each additional year will be $1.00. If a record is found, a certificate will be issued.

Death Records:
1878 to present

  • Access to indexes prior to 1916.
  • Access to indexes after 1916. (employees of the Clerk's office only)
  • Anyone can request and receive a certified copy.

Anyone can request and receive a certified copy of a death certificate. The fee is $16.00 for the first copy and $6.00 for each additional copy. There will be a $16.00 fee for a five (5) year search. Each additional year will be $1.00. If a record is found, a certificate will be issued.

Land Records:
"Our land indexes start in 1830, we do not search these records."


The Reality Check:

Birth Records - The official line is that records are available from 1878 and on. The reality is that GOOD record keeping didn't start until the 1900's and if your ancestor didn't bother to make the trek to the courthouse to register the birth, you're out of luck. Often times if a birth was registered, the child wasn't actually given a name, and not just ones that died as infants.

Death Records - Same as Birth records, though almost everyone who died had a name noted on the record (other than very young infants)

Marriage Records - (Prior to 1889 or so (I didn't get the exact start date), the ONLY info on the marriage records is a date, bride/groom's names and the name of the person marrying them. In 1889 and on, excellent info is available from the record.

Land Records - Be aware that they do not have copies of the original land patents your ancestor may have bought through the government. The courthouse clerk insisted that every land transaction that ever occurred was in their books, but my ggg-gf's was not. Heck, there was only one record listed for the whole year of 1830! My ggg-gf's patent is in the IL State Archives database, so I know it exists - just not in the Coles County courthouse. (And yes, we looked down in the basement for it - notta.)

Coles Co. Research Trip #1

Here is an account of my first research trip experience in Coles County a few years back. I present this not to make the Coles County folks "look bad", but only as an accurate representation of the difficulties I encountered in my trip. I'm sure many folks have had a pleasant research experience in Coles and I hope you do too. But since this is my website, I'm free to express my experiences, thoughts and impressions.

Walk into the Genealogy room downstairs in the basement of the Charleston Public Library and the first thing you will be asked to do is sign in.  The room is small, and is filled with shelves of books with a table in the middle of the room for workspace.  There is a family file into which all correspondence on that family name goes into, plus an obituary file, and cemetery file.  Only one microfilm machine there (which was in use the full 5 hours I was there by a Charleston resident who skipped lunch just to avoid giving up the machine. She told me I would be better off doing that kind of research from my hometown library - (thanks for the advice hon, but I'm HERE now!).  I'm told that there was also a file with the microfilms of the Charleston newspaper, but I never made it over there.  The copy machine is upstairs - somewhat inconvenient.  And truth be told, I got a little claustrophobic in the small room, though I have since been told by the folks at the library that there is also a larger conference room available to work in.  Good news is that there is a rest room right around the corner from the research room. :-)

Charleston is a college town, so fast food abounds, though there are more restaurants in Mattoon - about 6 miles up the main road.

There is usually someone from the society around who is more than willing to help researchers.  The Courthouse folks are another matter - but then, maybe I just got someone who was having a bad day!  I had the misfortune of being in Charleston, IL (the county seat) on a Saturday and since the courthouse was closed, could not conduct my own research.  I had sent my letter before my trip to the courthouse explaining I was looking for 2 death certificates, but could only give a 20 year range of dates (this is what's known in the genealogy world as a "fishing trip"!)  I was less than thrilled when they returned my letter to me, telling me it would cost $80 to search for those 2 death certificates.  Luckily for me, when I went to Charleston and the library, I met a very nice researcher who offered to look up in the courthouse death index to see if my folks had in fact died in Charleston.  The very same death index that the county clerk could have looked in, but wouldn't - without charging me $80! The researcher did in fact find one of the death certificates and did not even charge me for her time.



Land records are kept downstairs in the basement of the courthouse and you will not be allowed to photocopy any of those since the county officials feel that the books are too old to withstand the pressures of xeroxing. If you have a laptop and a hand-held scanner, I am told you may use that to get an original scan of the land records......but please verify that with the county clerk to make sure that policy is still in effect when you visit. The County clerk will prepare a certification of your desired land record for a [huge] fee.

Coles Co. Research Trip #2
April 2003

Here is an account of my second research trip experience in Coles County. Again, I present this not to make the Coles County folks "look bad", but only as an accurate representation of the difficulties I encountered in my trip. I'm sure many folks have had a pleasant research experience in Coles and I hope you do too. But since this is my website, I'm free to express my experiences, thoughts and impressions.

We started this research trip at the courthouse, where right off the bat, my cell phone is taken away from me (sob) by the security guards along with a golf tee (!!!) which is in my coat pocket. The guards also xray my purse and hubby's belongings - for safety reasons we're told. I sure feel safer now that I can't contact the outside world :-(

Into the county clerk's office we go, where we are informed about the price increases for all records -
DOUBLE what they used to be. The courthouse clerk said she would make the certified copies if I absolutely needed them, otherwise it was probably best for me to transcribe them for myself. okey dokey.....

Into the file room we went to look at birth, marriage, death and land records. The clerk quickly explained where everything was, indicating locations with a wave here or there, then out she went. In her place came another clerk who said she was available for any questions we might have, then out SHE went, only to return a few minutes later to yell at my hubby. He was asked to move his coat to another resting place, to not stand in the place he was standing, and don't even think about touching those files he was looking at, they are closed to the public. I swear they had closed circuit tv in there, because every time he moved from his appointed spot, this lady came scurrying into the file room to tell him what he was doing wrong. I finally sent him off to the circuit court, much to everyone's relief, and where he was treated a little more genially, though he had no success in finding the divorce file I'm looking for.

Disappointment also at not finding ggg-gf's original patent record, though the clerk insists to hubby that every land transaction that ever occurred in Coles Co history is recorded in this index. hmmmm.... only 1 recorded land transaction in 1830? I don't think so..... ah well. I meet a nice fellow in the file room and had a nice chat (till he started bemoaning the incompleteness of the available online records). Off he went elsewhere, leaving me to continue hunting for familiar names. Finished up in the file room with a few birth and death record successes, adding to info I already had rather than any new breakthroughs.

Had lunch at a local diner (decent food) and then a quick trip to the Charleston Library. Too much stuff crammed into too small of a place is my first thought. It seems more disorganized than I recall from my first trip - stuff everywhere, even on the floors. Maybe they were "spring-cleaning"

There's a new box by the guest register asking for $$ donations - sorry, I left my cash with the courthouse. My goal here is to find the location for Brandenburg cemetery, but I can't find anything on the book shelf (after stepping around the big box that's blocking the already narrow passageway). A look to the right where I remember the cemetery catalog being, now reveals the newspaper microfilm cabinet for their new newspaper project. I spy another card catalog next to the library office and make my way over there to try and look it up. Unfortunately, had to move 3 times to let someone pass back and forth into that office. Decided to forgo the card catalog and just ask the helper. My bad luck, it's her first week and doesn't have any more idea where to look than I do. She offered to get someone else to help us, but I politely declined, grabbing hubby (who is waiting in the hallway so as to not take up valuable standing room space) and bolting out the doors - only to have someone pop out the library door as we walked down the street, yelling did we need help. Thanks for asking, but no, we'll muddle through.

Traveling the unpaved back roads, we find Brandenburg cemetery. Note: go on cemetery tromps BEFORE the corn starts growing - otherwise you'll pass right by many of these cemeteries and never see them because they are literally in the middle of the fields. Forget about paved entrance roads - you gotta park and WALK! It's a nice day, though a bit windy, and it's the proverbial good exercise. I find the headstone quickly and take my pictures. On the way out is when I notice the little brown sign by the road announcing the cemetery name (my bad for not seeing it to start with), but in my defense, at this time of year, it just melted into the brown landscape.

Buoyed by our success at Brandenburg, we headed for Parker Cemetery. Yikes!!!! Located smack dab in the middle of the cornfield, but surrounded by a stand of trees, it's unseeable AND unreachable from the road. Lucky we had a good map or we never would have found it (Thanks Bill!), we backtracked and finally got out to hike to it, only to find it completely untended and overgrown. OUCH! Wild blackberry bushes with thorns? ...sigh... And yet, there was my headstone, plain as day and READABLE! Life is good.....

Anyone for a quick trip to Cumberland county? Off we go to the Greenup library and the Greenup cemetery. 3 for 3 in headstone finding, though this one takes over a hour and a half of serious hunting. The rest of the evening is spent in the Greenup cemetery with the very helpful librarian, but again, not finding anything new. I leave postage $ with her as she has volunteered to try and get my g-gf's obituary for me since their collection starts in 1949 and g-gf Charlie Hicks died the year before they started collecting them (which pretty much is par for the course with my research....)

Next day - time for a quick 9 holes of golf (the first round of the season). We play the first 2 holes in a rain storm, complete with lightning - ruining my birdie attempt on the par 5 first hole. I find lightning crashes very distracting while putting and I end up with a bogey :-(

We wait out the storm in the clubhouse, the golf finishes unremarkably and now to Mattoon to the Public Library there. Very nice room, lots of space to move around in, complete with a weird looking microfilm machine, but I'm thinking not near the "stuff" the Charleston library has (*that was a nice comment for Charleston*) - until I spy the obituary files in binders on the shelf. Paradise!! I find many new obits for my later lines, but my happiness quickly becomes annoyance when they tell me all copies HAVE to be made by the employees - who sit in their glass-enclosed office with the door shut. Every time I find a new obit I want a copy of, I have to go knock on the door and hand them the page to copy. (10 cents a copy). After about 20 of these, I'm deciding I've had just about enough (hubby is upstairs reading car magazines by this point). One last copy needed, but no employee in the office to make it. grrrrr..... I wait semi-patiently for one of them to return and call it a day once my copy is made. Again, no new break-throughs, just filling in the blanks. We leave Mattoon for home, unknowingly timing it perfectly so that we miss, by 20 minutes, the huge hail storm and the various tornadoes ripping through the counties north of Coles. I guess that extra wait for the copies was worth it after all! :-)

July 2009 Update --- Budget cuts at the library! There will no longer be a full-time staff genealogist on hand to help researchers. Volunteers will be occasionally available, so it is advised to call the library first to see if someone will be available when you plan to be there. The Library's phone number is 217-345-4913. Also, the hours of operation for the library have been cut back. They now close at 7:00PM on week days.
[Thanks to Bill Harrison for this info]

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©K. Torp