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Monday, September 26, 2011

Chicago and Cook County Resources Part 1

Chicago plays a big role in my family history research. Both of my parents, all four grandparents, and four of my great-grandparents were born in Chicago. 
Navy Pier and the Chicago skyline
Photo by Chicago Convention & Tourism Bureau 

The Windy City also drew my non-native ancestors. Two of my great-grandparents immigrated directly to Chicago and six of my immigrant great-great grandparents moved there after settling somewhere else first.

Chicago was officially incorporated as a town in 1832 and four years later, when the population reached 4170, it was incorporated as a city.

By the 1870 census more than 300,000 people called Chicago home. The population boom is attributed primarily to the arrival of railroads and the meatpacking industry.

The Great Chicago Fire of 1871 left much of the city in ashes and many genealogically-related records were lost forever. There are still many records available however and workarounds exist for the records that were burned.

Most Illinois counties did not begin recording births until 1877. Cook County held records earlier than many other counties, but most of those were lost in the Fire. Images of Cook County Birth Registers from 1871 (post-Fire) to 1915 are online at Family Search. Newspapers reported a few births as early as 1833. A list was compiled by the Newspaper Research Committee and microfilmed by the Family History Library (FHL) on film # 844952.

More than a million images make up the FamilySearch collection of Cook County Birth Certificates 1878-1922. I have found ancestors that have a birth certificate and are listed in the registers, so you may want to check both. If you aren't able to locate a birth record, check this microfiche index for surname misspellings and unnamed infants.

Corrected birth certificates (names added or changed, misspellings on the originals etc) appear on 17 rolls of microfilm available at the FHL. If your ancestor's birth wasn't recorded, he or she may have obtained a Delayed Birth Certificate when job hunting, enlisting in the military, or applying for Social Security. The Chicago Fire or World War I may have been catalysts for the records on this film.

Baptismal records often list birth dates. Catholic ancestors may appear in FamilySearch's newly released Catholic Church Records 1833-1925 which is a goldmine if you know the name of the Chicago church your family attended. If your ancestors were Lutheran (ELCA), start here to look for archived records. Start here when searching for Missouri Synod Lutherans.

Hidden in a long list of Catholic churches, there are record indexes for other denominations on these FHL microfilms.

The Illinois State Archives and the Illinois State Genealogical Society (ISGS) are  indexing marriage records from 1763 to 1920. This database contains over two million names and is searchable by bride's or groom's names. FamilySearch has a Cook County Marriages Index and images from 1871 to 1920.

Generally speaking, the government thinks of marriage as a contractual agreement between the parties involved, so records were/are pretty consistently created. If you are unable to locate a Chicago or Cook County marriage record, look for church records on the sites listed above. Remember that indexers struggle with poor handwriting, faded copies, misspelled names and other hurdles. Think creatively when searching any archived record.

Death records often yield the most information about our ancestors' lives. The Illinois Statewide Death Index is far from complete, but most 1871-1950 Cook County death records have been indexed. They are online in two databases; pre-1916 and 1916-1950. Images of death certificates from 1878 to 1922 and Deaths and Stillbirths 1916-1947 are available free on FamilySearch.

Other sources for information regarding the death of Cook County ancestors are funeral home records, burial permit listings, the Sam Fink index, probate records, and obituaries:

The Chicago Daily News and the Chicago Tribune were two of the major papers in Chicago and the surrounding suburbs for decades. Both are go-to sources for obituaries, beginning in the mid-to-late 19th century. Extant issues and microfilm copies of the now defunct Daily News exist in surprising places. Wilson Library at the University of Minnesota has an impressive collection on microfilm. The Trib is online at several newspaper database sites and as well as on microfilm. Ethnic and suburban newspapers (like the Daily Herald) are also good sources for obituaries.

Our ancestors lives were more than birth, marriage, and death records. In an upcoming post I'll focus on school, employment, naturalization, divorce, probate and voting records, as well as current must-visit repositories.

I'll also share information about some interesting events that occurred in Chicago and Cook County that impact genealogical research there. For example, streets were renamed, houses and business were renumbered, cemeteries were closed and former "residents" relocated, and more than one riot took place.

Do you have a favorite source for genealogical records in "that tottlin' town"? Share your suggestions in the comments section below or email me at livinginthepastlane [at] yahoo [dot] com


Barbara Poole said...

Nice resources for Chicago area resources, and You would have been my BFF if I had found a clue for my ancestor's death. But, no luck. He d. 1894, and was librarian of the Newberry Library, but I still can't find a death record in Cook Co. Thanks anyway.

Laura Aanenson said...

Barbara, you must tell me more!

Jen said...

Barbara, who was your relative who was a librarian? I'm going to start some research on the Chicago Public Library/Newberry/Crerar libraries for an article. Maybe I'll come across his name. Feel free to email me

Barbara Poole said...

Laura and Jen, I have written about William Frederick Poole quite a bit on my blog, "Life From the Roots"
The link with articles about him is: - You will see his obit as #3.
I'm delighted you are both interested!

Laura Aanenson said...

Barbara, you'll definately want to talk with Cynthia! She's been with the Winnetka Family History Center for years. They have the largest permanent collection of microfilm for Chicago and Cook County in the state of Illinois. Cynthia is one of the most knowledgable Chicagoland researchers I know. Her email address is I'll give her a heads-ups that you may want her help. Maybe she can offer some suggestions here - I'd love to hear the outcome!

Cynthia said...

Laura sent me to this thread. I have a couple of ideas. I'll check a few resources at the Family History Center the next time I'm there (tomorrow) and then I'll report back.

Cynthia said...

Quick note on the birth certificates and birth registers while I'm reading. Hope you don't mind. I believe, at least from 1878 forward, that the birth registers were created from information on the certificates. I think the certificates were entered in the proper section in the order that they were returned to the clerk's office and I'm pretty sure that's how the certificates got their numbers. (The numbers in the register match those on the certificates.) Because the registers are arranged by month/year/first letter of surname they're a GREAT tool for finding names that are misspelled in the indexes. Even if "Mary Jones" was indexed as "Many Jouis" or even written like that on the record, it's very likely that it would pop out at someone who was carefully checking the register for "J" names for the right month/year. :)

Laura Aanenson said...

Excellent points Cynthia, thanks for the explanation! I may have to revisit the index to make sure I have both "parts" of each ancestor's birth record. I may come across more misspelled versions of my more challenging surnames. Helps with searches in other records. :o)

Cynthia said...

I have one idea why you're not finding a death certificate. If Mr. Poole died in Evanston as the FamilySearch Pedigree Resource File suggests, then he would have a county death certificate (a different series than the Chicago city death certificates). And, in the late 1800s, many of those records seem to be missing. If you check the FamilyHistory Library Catalog here you'll see that there are no county records listed for 1894. I'm not sure what happened to those records but I think maybe they were lost or destroyed.

I think the county clerk's office has death registers for the city deaths for that time period and it would be worth checking to see if they might have county registers as well. If so, they might be able to locate an entry for Mr. Poole and give you a transcription on a blank certificate form. (They can do that for deaths before 1878, for example.)

The strange thing is usually there's an entry in the Illinois Statewide Death Index even if the county record falls into one of the gaps that you'll see in the catalog entry but I can't seem to turn up a match for Mr. Poole there no matter how fuzzy my search is. Because of that, I think a death register entry might be a long shot, but if it was my project, I'd send in a search request and give it a try.

Looks like I can't be of help . . . but it was fun trying. : )

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