Wednesday, October 08, 2014

The Chicago Fire: The Smith Family's Experience

902 Prairie Ave with Cupola that Offered View of the Fire
Earlier today, a member of the Chicago Genealogy Facebook group asked if anyone had ancestors who were in Chicago at the time of the Great Fire. I immediately raised my hand. "I do! I do!"

Well, actually, I don't. But my husband does and so it feels like I do. His great-great grandfather, James Ayer Smith, a manufacturing hatter and furrier, was in the city from 1835 until his death in 1875. In 1871, he was living at 902 Prairie Avenue.

We have a copy of a short unpublished family history (three typed legal-size pages) "The James A. Smith Family in Chicago," obtained from the Chicago History Museum some years ago that mentions the Fire in a couple of places and I promised the Facebook group that I would share. A blog post seems like a good way to do that.

There's no author listed but a note says that it was "Compiled from memoranda of [large blank space]  Smith and W. W. Smith" and I suspect it was James' granddaughter, Edna Valentine Smith, daughter of William Wirt Smith, who wrote it. She had a deep interest in Chicago's history and cherished her  family's ties to it.

Here's one paragraph from the history that talks about the family's loss from the fire.

The Great Fire of Oct., 1871, wrought complete destruction to their full fall
stock of the choicest and richest furs, together with a warehouse full. The total
fire losses to the Smith family aggregated several hundred thousand dollars and a
notable fact in connection with that is, that J. A. Smith & Sons were one of the very
few firms who paid dollar for dollar of their debts.

And here are three paragraphs that talk about what the family did while the fire was raging.

It was while residing in this house that the Great Fire of '71 wrought its de-
struction, which ended at 12th St., and consequently the home was spared by a wide
margin. On that night of terror, Mr. Smith's coachman called his attention to the
glow of what seemed a big fire down town. The household went up into the cupola from
which an extensive view was attainable and saw that quite a fire was raging.

Mr. Smith being apprehensive, ordered the light wagon made ready and he and the
coachman drove down town and they bagan [sic] at once moving valuables and furs. They work-
ed all night making three moves and lastly took their stock from the lake front, where
they were left temporarily, to the family residence where $40,000.00 worth were saved.

The firm, after the fire, opened a store at 513-515 Wabash Ave. and later at 161 State St.

If you have family stories about The Great Chicago Fire, I'd love to hear them!



Monday, September 08, 2014

RunKeeper to the Rescue: How I Found Mr. Janes' Grave

I spent the weekend playing old-time music with friends who gathered in Iroquois County, Illinois and Sunday morning, on the way home, I stopped at the Onarga Township Cemetery to visit the grave of fiddler William Alonzo Janes. The long story of my connection to him is one for another post, but it's dear and finding his resting place was very important to me.

Onarga is a small town, population 1350 in 2009, and so my plan, small-town upstate New Yorker that I am, was to just wander the cemetery looking for Mr. Janes. One look told me that wasn't going to work.



I pulled out my iPhone, found my reading glasses, and looked at the Find A Grave entry to see if there was a cemetery section listed. No luck, but there was a clue. I noticed a thin line of gravel at the top of the image. The stone had to be on the edge of one of the roads through the cemetery. I drove around carefully, getting out to check a few likely markers, but I found no match. 


What to do? I noticed someone outside across the street from the cemetery so I asked if he knew where burial records might be kept. He was willing to show me where the sexton lived--I love small towns--but I didn't want to go knocking on a stranger's door after I'd been camping for three days without the benefit of a shower to wash my hair.

I made a quick trip into town to see if the library was open. It wasn't, so it was back to the cemetery for a second try. As I sat in the car, deciding how to cover the ground systematically so that I didn't miss anything, it came to me--RunKeeper, the app that I have on the third screen over on my phone for when I decide that I've had enough of the being lazy thing. I'd seen a Facebook post a while back about someone who uses the mapping feature to draw pictures and I realized that I could use it to record my path through the cemetery.

I drove the roads carefully with RunKeeper monitoring my every move. And at the end of 24 minutes, 8 seconds, I'd driven a mile, burned 137 theoretical calories, and still hadn't found the stone.


I saved the "walk" so that I could view the resulting map and it was then that I noticed that the large new section in the back seemed to be connected by a single road. It wasn't the way that I remembered it and I wondered if I'd missed a few of the sections around the perimeter of the nine-square box. I drove down the far left road and as I came up on the corner, my eye easily rested on the right stone. In that moment, I remember saying to myself with a quiet sense of reverent respect: "Mr. Janes."

This cemetery trip was a pilgrimage of sorts. Mr. Janes passed along a fiddle tune to Illinois fiddler Mel Durham who passed it on to California fiddler David Bragger, my teacher, who passed it on to me. I was there to bring Mr. Janes' tune back to him--to close the circle--and I did just that. It was an experience to treasure made possible by--of all things--the RunKeeper app.


Thursday, June 19, 2014

Research Tools: Chicago Board of Education Directories

Tuesday I found myself in downtown Chicago with an hour to spare between copying a divorce file at the Circuit Court Archives and meeting up with my husband to attend a [really awesome!] Carolina Chocolate Drops concert at City Winery.  I decided to stop by the Harold Washington Library to take a close look at the Chicago Board of Education directories that are available at the Municipal Reference Collection desk on the fifth floor.

What Years are Available?

A guide to the library's holdings lists volumes beginning with 1895, but 1899 was the earliest the staff member could locate for me. She thought the earlier volume might fragile and therefore unavailable. Glancing at the key, the collection appears to be strong from 1900 to 1990, with a few gaps, and then the final volumes cover 1998 and 2003.


What's in the Directories?

Here's a quick list of what I found in the 1899 directory:

Regular board meeting dates
School term dates -- fall, winter, summer, evening
Dates of examinations for principals, admission to high school, admission to normal school
Members of board of education with address and a year (ending of their term of office?)
Committee members
School districts and the schools they included
List of high schools
Office hours
Principals of schools for the school year covered
Schedule of salaries
Reference books furnished for high schools and elementary schools
Apparatus furnished including maps and a globe
Text books adopted for use
Supplementary reading for each grade (titles of books)
Street railway lines
Railway passenger stations
Elevated roads
Population of the city by divisions
Locations of schools and how to reach them by public transportation
Schools for the deaf
Manual training centers
Teachers, school assignment, and address (arranged by surname)

The 1924 volume had the same rich information by by 1951, the other year I sampled, there was much less information -- schools and their addresses, district personnel rosters including teachers, but no home addresses. The 1973 volume included school lists with personnel and a list of principals but no mention of teachers.

How Can the Directories be Used for Family History Research?

I started to brainstorm based on the list above, but my ideas seemed to obvious. So, instead of making suggestions, I'll ask you a few questions:
  • Have you used these directories? If so, for what?
  • Have you seen similar directories in other parts of the country?
  • Are there other ways to find the kinds of information that these directories include?
I'll go first. I haven't used school board directories for my own research but I was able to figure out a Minnesota school clerk's early 1900s employment dates and determine her salary using school board payroll records on microfilm. At the time it felt like a nice find.

Now it's your turn!

Example Pages










Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Chicago Police Department Personnel Registers, 1890-1910

Quick Introduction


Last Friday I visited the Chicago History Museum to explore the microfilmed Chicago Police Department Personnel Registers, 1890-1910, part of a collection titled Chicago Police Department collection [manuscript], 1966-1969.

There are three register volumes, 1890-1897, 1897-1904, and 1904-1910, and I chose to focus on the last one because it was the most relevant to my search. The names were grouped together by the first few letters of the surname and the handwritten entries were easy to read.  It only took a couple of minutes to find the first match. I also took a quick look at an earlier volume and it wasn't quite as easy to use. The names were only grouped by first letter of surname and so I had to look through many more entries to find what I needed.


What Information Do the Registers Include?



Register entries cross two facing pages and the column headings are listed below.

(View large images: Page 1 Page 2)

(Number) There are numbers on the far left with no column heading and I'm not sure what they mean.     Generally, they repeat, but when they change, they seem to climb sequentially.

Surname

Given Name

Star No. -- Usually not filled in.

Born (Month, Day, Year) -- Generally includes day, month, and year.

Place of Nativity -- Generally a country, a county and country, or a city and state.

Former Occupation -- Varied; examples include cigar maker, stone mason, railroad employee, piano maker, clerk, and cab driver.

Residence -- One or more street addresses.

Year -- Most likely the year the street address (above) was recorded.

Date of Appointment as Special -- Provides a date.

Date of Appointment on Probation -- Provides a date.

Date of Appointment as Regular -- Provides a date.

Resigned or Discharged -- Provides a date.; indicates resignation or discharge.

Cause -- This seems to be related to the resignation or discharge; causes are recorded with numerical codes.

Record (Fines) -- In one example, this column provides a date, the number of days of pay that were withheld, and the "Violation Rule No." In other example, the entry includes a date, the word "Susp'd," a Violation Rule No., and a note that the employee had been "restored to duty."

Record (Promotion) -- Provides date and rank and often includes multiple entries.

Retired on Pension -- Provides a date.

Many of the columns on the second page were blank, but the ones most relevant to family history research, were usually complete.

Why Search these Registers?


Birth information:
These registers provide birth dates and birth places that might otherwise be difficult to find. For example, many of the early Chicago records just list "Ireland" as place of birth, but these registers often include a county and in at least one case, the town and county in Ireland were listed.

Addresses:
Knowing where the family lived in a particular year can be a jumping off point for other research including city directories and church records.

Work history:
Knowing when a man joined and/or left the police force can be helpful in determining when individuals arrived in or left Chicago. It can also be helpful in narrowing down a death date. And, confirming a man's occupation before he joined the police force can be useful in tracking the family through earlier city directories or in confirming a matching record for a man with a common name.

Family stories:
Information about disciplinary action or promotions can add interesting detail to a family narrative.

And what about the scrapbook?


I also took a look at the scrapbook covering 1912-1914. It would be interesting to read and it might be helpful to someone looking for a particular event within that time period if an exact date was unknown. If the date was known, it would be better to search newspapers directly so the title, publication date, and page number could be recorded.


Tips for Making a Research Trip to the Chicago History Museum

The Museum's website offers useful tips, so I'll just mention a couple of things. First, take a USB flash drive in case you want to save images from microfilm. And second take a camera. Scanners aren't permitted, but cameras are. I used my cell phone. It worked great.

And, in case you're wondering how to get there, I took the #22 bus from the Daley Center because I visited the Circuit Court Archives on my way and it was very easy. You can drive--there's a parking lot quite close--but there are also many possibilities for bus and "L" listed on the Museum's directions page.


Tuesday, April 22, 2014

How to Locate District Court Naturalization Records Online, 1922-1940


Once again, FamilySearch has made an important group of Cook County records available online. This time, it's a database titled Illinois, Northern District Petitions for Naturalization, 1906-1991.

There are two things you should know about the title.

First, it says "petitions," but the database actually includes declarations and certificates of arrival, too.

And second, it says "1906-1991, but the images are being added and the collection isn't yet complete.

Current coverage (updated 1 May 2014):  First record #98951 from 1931; last record #278950 from 1943.

So, how do you find these records? It's pretty simple.

First, search for names in the Illinois, Northern District Naturalization Index, 1840-1950


When you find a match, check the "Title and Location of Court" box. If it says, "District" (or U.S. Dist.") then there's a chance you can find the matching record online.

Check the naturalization date. If it's between 1922 and 1940, look for the petition number. It will be found in the "Certificate Number" box and it's usually prefixed with the letter "P."

Next, go to  Illinois, Northern District Petitions for Naturalization, 1906-1991, click "Browse through images" and click on the "Cook County" link.

The numbers you see are petition numbers. If you can find a group that includes the P-Number from your Soundex card, you're in luck.


The online images will include certificates of arrival and declarations of intention in addition to the petitions, but they will be arranged numerically by petition number (even if the petition number doesn't appear on the certificates or declarations).

And what if the record you need isn't online yet? If it's from the District Court, I'd suggest submitting a request to the National Archives at Chicago online. The cost is $10 and I hear the turnaround time is pretty quick.

If it's from any other Cook County court (Circuit, Superior, County, or Criminal) then it will be at the Cook County Circuit Court Archives and I'd suggest having someone pick the record up in person. It's quicker and less expensive than by mail and it opens up the possibility of having color scans or photos instead of black and white photocopies. You can connect with a few researchers who offer that service by visiting the Circuit Court Archives page on our Genlighten website.



Sunday, February 23, 2014

Help Index Cook Death Certificates, 1959-1994


I haven't done any FamilySearch indexing for a while--just too busy with other things--but my husband and I are getting ready for the Wilmette Family History Center's Family History Fair coming up on March 22, and so I logged in this morning to see what's changed since I last helped out. (The plan is to set up computers so that the youth who attend the Fair can give indexing a try.)

I was surprised and thrilled to find that Cook County death certificates were listed as one of the current indexing projects. I immediately downloaded a batch and went to work!

The batch was from May of 1963 and my job was to extract detailed information from the easy-to-read certificate and type it into the form--everything from the obvious name, death date, death place, to occupation, birth and parent information, to informant, to cemetery name and funeral home. It's going to be a very useful index.

I immediately posted a note on the Chicago Genealogy Facebook page--perfect way for Chicago researchers to give back--and realized that there was a need for some detailed instructions on how to participate. Step-by-step instructions are below.

If you'd like to know more about the project, check out the Project Page. It describes the project and includes sample images.

If you decide to lend a hand, post a comment and let blog readers know about your experience.

How to Get Started Indexing Cook County Death Certificates at FamilySearch


1) Go to the Get Started with Indexing page.

2) Download and install the software. (It's pretty quick and easy.)

















3) Find the icon on your desk top and click to open it.












4) Sign into FamilySearch or register for a new account.














5) You might see a white screen for a few seconds. Just be patient and the indexing dashboard will load.

6) Click on the "Download Batch" button, click on "Show all projects," and scroll to find "US, Illinois Cook County--Deaths."

7) Make sure "US, Illinois Cook County--Deaths" is highlighted, select the number of batches you want to download, and click "Okay."










8) From there, read the directions carefully, and start typing.

If you haven't indexed before, there's one thing you should know. Information from every batch is extracted by two people and then it goes to an arbitrator who reviews any discrepancies to make the final call. Index carefully, yes, but don't sweat over something that you're not quite sure about. Just do your best and it will be plenty good enough.








Friday, February 07, 2014

Why Does the FamilySearch Death Index Have Duplicate Entries?

Have you noticed that some people are listed twice in FamilySearch's Illinois, Cook County Deaths, 1878-1922 index, sometimes with slightly different information or spellings? Have you ever wondered why? Have you ever wondered which record to go after? Or whether you should go after them both? In this post, I'll tell you what I know about the duplicate entries and the corresponding death records.


Let's use Charlotte Klug as an example. If I search for her name in the index two matches come up. The first entry leads to certificate #5805 on film number 1239830. The second entry leads to MF 73350-1 p 8967 on film 1239813.

If you search the two film numbers in the Family History Library Catalog, you'll see that they're from the same series: Chicago Death Certificates, 1878-1915.

From 1908-1915, many individuals who died in Chicago will have two death certificates on two different films from this series.

The record from the first entry can be found on a film using a register number that can also be found on a microfilm index called Index to Deaths in the City of Chicago During the Years 1871 to 1933: Showing Name, Address and Date of Death. These numbers appear to group the records together by the date they were recorded. Surnames beginning with all letters of the alphabet are mixed together. I'll call this the "register number record" or RNR.

The record for the second entry can be found on a film using a certificate number that's also available from the Illinois Statewide Death Index. These records are organized by the certificate number on the films and the numbers group them together by month by the first letter of the surname. In other words, all of the "K" records for March, 1909 would be a sequential group. I'm going to call this the "certificate number records" or CNR.

So, what's the difference between the two records? Let's look at the CNR for Charlotte first. Notice that it's written in two hands. The top was probably filled in by the undertaker and the bottom was likely filled in by the physician.



Now look at the RNC. The handwriting, including the signatures, is all the same.



I believe the CNR is the original record and I think the RNR is probably a copy made by someone at the Cook County Clerk's Office.

So, how did the recording process work? I don't know for sure, but I can guess, based on what I know about other Cook County Clerk's Office records.

In this case, I think the CNR was filled out by the undertaker, physician, and/or coroner, and returned to the  County Clerk's Office. Then I think a copy was made by hand on a blank form and I think both were assigned a register number based on the order that the original was received and entered.

The copies were kept in register order number and eventually the originals were grouped by the first letter of the surname within the month and assigned certificate numbers. There's a third number stamped on top of the original records, but I don't know what the significance of it is.

I've compared duplicate records from other years, but I haven't done a systematic study. In some years, the two records look the same at quick glance but there are usually very subtle differences in the writing. In those cases, I think the undertaker and physician created two record at the same time and submitted both to the clerk's office.

So, which record should you search for if you find duplicate entries in the index? I think it's best to search for the CNR -- the one that seems to be the original.

But how can tell which is which? Easy. Find the matching entry in the Illinois Statewide Death Index, Pre-1916 and use the certificate number listed there to choose the matching entry in the FamilySearch index.


If you live in the Chicago area, the Wilmette Family History Center has all of the CNR films and many of the RNR films. If you don't, you can access the reels at the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, order in the film at your local Family History Center, or just ask me to retrieve the record. I charge $6/search and if the local FHC has both reels, I'm happy to provide copies of both records for the same fee. I also offer small discounts for 3 or more requests submitted at the same time.