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Friday, October 21, 2011

Chicago and Cook County Resources Part 2

As I mentioned previously, our ancestors lives were more than birth, marriage, and death records. In this post I'll focus on school, employment, naturalization, divorce, probate and voting records, as well as current must-visit repositories in Chicago and Cook County.

One of the most exciting aspects of viewing ancestors' school records is the possibility of photographs. A number of volunteers on the Cook County GenWeb project offer yearbook lookups. Ancestry has a number of browse-able yearbooks too. Even grade school class photos offer wonderful clues about the ethnic makeup of a particular neighborhood.

Photo of Pullman workers courtesy
of  the Historic Pullman Foundation
Employment records may not contain individual photos, but they offer interesting insights into the lives of our ancestors. The Pullman Palace Car Company, located on Chicago's south side in the mid to late 1800s, employed hundreds of men. The Pullman Strike was reported in newspapers across the country, and photos exist of many of the strikers. Extant employee records are kept at Newberry Library. The South Suburban Genealogical and Historical Society offers free lookups in its impressive Pullman Collection.

Of course Pullman was not the only company in Chicago, there were many large employers. The Union Stockyards and huge packing plants owned by Swift and Armour made Chicago the meat processing capital for many years. Employee records from these companies may no longer exist, but books like City of the Century by Donald L. Miller realistically portray our ancestors' working lives.

Chicago and Cook County courts were each responsible for naturalizations at different points in time. Options include the superior, circuit, criminal, and county courts among others. Keep in mind records created before the Chicago Fire in 1871 may no longer exist. The Family History Library has a good collection of microfilms related to Cook County (including Chicago) naturalizations. More information on naturalizations can be found on the Cook County Clerk of the Circuit Court web site. The Clerk also has divorce records from 1871 to 1986, law and chancery files 1871-1963, probate files from 1871 to 1975, and more.

Were your ancestors interested in politics? Look for them in the "Record and index of persons registered and of poll lists of voters, northern district of Illinois, city of Chicago, 1888, 1888-1890, 1892; town of Lake View, 1888; town of Hyde Park, 1888; town of Lake, 1888" available at the Family History Library and on Ancestry. These records may not take the place of the lost 1890 census, but they can provide helpful information about places of residence.

Planning a visit to the Windy City? Be sure to visit:

The Newberry Library is a prestigious looking building at 60 W Walton Street in Chicago (312.943.9090). With 1.5 million volumes and 75,000 maps, this five-story non-circulating research library set up in 1887 requires a day just to get your bearings.

The Illinois Regional Archives Depository for Chicago and Cook County is in the Ronald Williams Library at Northeastern Illinois University, 5500 N St Louis Avenue in Chicago (773.442.4506) This location is one of seven IRAD locations in the state. IRAD at NEIU holds local government records such as birth, death, marriage records; naturalization records; coroner's inquest reports; and Chicago police homicide records.

The Wilmette Family History Center at 2727 Lake Avenue in Wilmette has one of the largest (if not THE largest) collections of extended loan microfilms of interest to the Chicago and Cook County researcher.

The Harold Washington Library Center and the Chicago Public Library at 400 S State Street in Chicago
(312.747.4875) is huge; roughly , 756,000 square feet and 10 levels. Among its more than 13 million pieces are innumerable rare manuscripts, books, art and sound archives. The Archival collections document the lives and activities of people and organizations in Chicago. Click here to appreciate the staggering size of the Library's Special Collections inventory.

In a city the size of Chicago, there are dozens of additional must-see sites. The four places listed above are great places to start and could provide enough resources to keep you busy for all of the (soon to be here) winter months. Need to connect with other Chicago researchers? Consider the Chicago Genealogy Society, the South Suburban Genealogical and Historical Society, or even the Illinois State Genealogical Society.

Remember millions of our ancestors once called Chicago home. Those ancestors are being researched by many millions more of us. If you can't readily find a resource that will guide you to the answer you seek, all you have to do is ask!

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