Sunday, April 28, 2019

Cook County's Genealogy Online: Change in Ordering Process

Cook County Clerk, Genealogy Online (https://genealogy.cookcountyclerk.com).
So, big news. First the Cook County Clerk's Genealogy Online website moved to a new URL (https://genealogy.cookcountyclerk.com) and now it's been changed in a significant way.

It used to be that researchers could log into the website to search for births, marriages, and deaths. If a good match was found, the corresponding record could be purchased online and downloaded immediately. If not, it was possible to dig around the site to locate a hard-to-find pdf order form that could be mailed in to request a manual search.

The new website simply provides a multi-screen form that visitors can fill out to request a vital records search.

I'm ambivalent about the loss of the old search feature because, frankly, I almost never used it. I found it much more productive to search indexes on FamilySearch and/or Ancestry for the records I needed. If I found a match, I'd check to see if the record was available from FamilySearch for free by visiting a Family History Center. If not, I'd check the Cook County site to see if I could get the record there. But, the collection wasn't complete, so filling out a form and mailing in a search request was sometimes the only option.

I'm not bothered by the need to put a search in the hands of a clerk. The few times I visited in person to ask for records, the vital records employees who helped me did their best to search their computers for digital copies of the records I needed. I'd like to think they work hard to fulfill requests even when someone isn't watching.

With the new system, there will be times, of course, when researchers receive records that aren't a good match for the ones they've requested. And how do I know that? Because I did vital records retrieval from FamilySearch microfilm for ten years and there were a few times when, for example, I located the correct record, copied the wrong record, and sent it out to a client without noticing. I was careful and, frankly, good at what I was doing, but there were days when I was overtired, working long hours to get records out quickly to satisfy clients, and sometimes I made mistakes. When I discovered them, I corrected them immediately. I'd like to think the Clerk's Office, when approached with patience and understanding, would do the same.

To me, the main downside to the website change is that later records--the ones that aren't available on FamilySearch for free--are no longer available immediately. I like instant gratification when I'm on a research roll, but I can live with that. If I needed something in a hurry--which is rarely the case--I'd just hire a Chicago researcher to visit a vital records office to retrieve it in person. I'm guessing that option is still available?

The upside is that we've gained is an easy way to request records from the Cook County Clerk's Office online. And, I really like the screen that warns researchers to request "legal certified copies" for a variety of purposes including dual citizenship and lineage society application documentation. It seems like they're trying to help people have a good experience.

I went through the process without ordering and learned that a death certificate request requires, at a minimum, a name and a death year. All other fields are optional and there's a space for added information. The form provides a field for file numbers which makes me think that the website creators think that researchers will check indexes elsewhere before visiting the new page.

What about that required death year? If the death year is unknown, I'm thinking a best guess with a note that gives a range would be acceptable. If a name can't be found in an index, it's generally possible to narrow down a death date using census records, city directories, and the like and, really, we should do our best to do that in a precise sort of way before ordering anyway.

The one thing I think could be improved is the stated turnaround time. The website suggests it might take 10-21 business days to receive a record. I have no idea how many requests are received each day but I know how long it takes for one efficient person to retrieve records from microfilm and I know how quickly digitized records can be retrieved from FamilySearch. I think turnaround times could--and should--be improved for straightforward retrieval requests. It would make researchers happy (great PR, right?) and it seems like it would relieve stress. If there really is a backlog, it's got to weigh on people.

There are some search tools that I miss -- like the old HeritageQuest options for searching census records -- but I don't think the search feature that was on the old Genealogy Online website is going to be one of them.




Thursday, April 25, 2019

Close Look at Mount Carmel Registers


I'm a firm believer in taking the time to figure out a record set before diving in. Recently, I've been exploring the Mount Carmel Cemetery registers that are available on FamilySearch under the catalog title Interment Registers and Burial Logs, 1900-1955. This blog post will summarize what I've learned and suggest possible ways that the registers might be used.

The Four Types of Registers


Interment Registers: Chronological list of burials providing date, name of deceased, burial location, age, date of death, residence address, cause of death, clergy name, and remarks.

Burial Logs: Arranged chronologically with one page per day. Early registers list time, name, lot, location, box, and undertaker. Beginning in 1940, registers are titled "Funeral Order Register" and list time, deceased, description (lot, block, section), location, box, and notes. Name in "deceased" column may be lot owner. Relationship of deceased to lot owner may be indicated.

Lot Registers: Chronological list of purchasers arranged in alphabetical sections by first letter of surname.

Lot Owners Registers: Arranged by section and lot with chronological entries for lot owners showing interment dates; does not include names of deceased. There is some duplication (portions of Section O are repeated in two volumes, for example) and the dates given in the FamilySearch catalog aren’t particularly relevant.

I'm working on creating a key for my own use that might be helpful to others. It breaks down the catalog entries into register books and includes some information as to coverage to make it quicker to select the right volumes. It also includes direct links. The current version can be accessed here: Mount Carmel Cemetery Register Guide

Using the Registers for Research


So, how can we use these to answer research questions? Here are a few ideas:

Learn Burial Location: If we have a burial date, say from information found on a death record or in an obituary, we can check the interment register to learn where in the cemetery a person is buried. Knowing that Bruns Vidone was interred on 23 June 1924 makes it easy to find his name in an interment register. From the entry, we learn that he is buried in in Section 23, Block 6, Lot 23.



"Cemetery interment registers and burial logs, 1900-1955," digital images, FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org/search/catalog/444244 : accessed 23 April 2019), path: 1924-1935, DGS 4372656 > image 811 of 833, Mount Carmel Cemetery (Hillside, Illinois) interment register, 1919-1924, p. 382.

Learn Who is Buried in a Lot: Now that we have Bruno's burial location, we can use the section, block, and lot to consult a lot owners register to see if anyone else is buried with him. These volumes are arranged by section, block, and lot numbers and there appears to be some overlap. We can check the key that I've been working on, make an educated guess, and then take a look to see if we've picked the right volume. If so, great. If not, we'll try again.

In the case of Bruno, we're looking for Section 23, Block 6. I'm going to guess it's in the volume that begins with Section 21, Block 1 because the next volume begins with Section 25, Block 1. From the image below, we see that his grave is owned by Alfred Vidone and that only one burial has been recorded for the lot and the date matches information for Bruno. It's unlikely he is buried with family members, but it is very likely he is connected to Alfred. If we don't know what their relationship is, that might be a starting point for further research.



"Cemetery interment registers and burial logs, 1900-1955," digital images, FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org/search/catalog/444244 : accessed 23 April 2019), path: Vol. 10 ca. 1926-1954, DGS 4371547 > image 541 of 812, Mount Carmel Cemetery (Hillside, Illinois) lot owners register beginning Section 21, Block 1, 221.
On the next page of the volume, Lot 28 belonging to Otto Westphal is shown with two burials.




"Cemetery interment registers and burial logs, 1900-1955," digital images, FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org/search/catalog/444244 : accessed 23 April 2019), path: Vol. 10 ca. 1926-1954, DGS 4371547 > image 542 of 812, Mount Carmel Cemetery (Hillside, Illinois) lot owners register beginning Section 21, Block 1, 222.

To find out who was buried in the lot, we locate the dates noted in the lot owners register in the interment registers. For example, William O. Westphal, age 1 year, 11 months, 21 days, was buried in Section 23, Block 6, Lot 28 on 7 July 1924. 

"Cemetery interment registers and burial logs, 1900-1955," digital images, FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org/search/catalog/444244 : accessed 23 April 2019), path: 1914-1924, DGS 4372655 > image 811 of 833, Mount Carmel Cemetery (Hillside, Illinois) interment register, 1919-1924, p. 384.

Go the Extra Mile: Another avenue for research is to use the lot registers--a chronological list of purchasers divided up by first letter of surname--to look to see if a family member purchased grave(s) during a particular time period. For example, I am searching for death information for an older Italian woman who was living with her daughter in 1920 in Chicago and then disappears. The most likely scenario is that she died before 1930 in Chicago but no amount of creative searching has turned up a death certificate. Her husband was buried at Mount Carmel and it seems like this woman would have been interred there, too. 

We could look through the interment registers to see if her name is there, but looking through the lot registers to see if a family member purchased a grave during the decade is also a possibility. Her husband is buried in a single grave purchased at the time of his death by a son, so it's possible this woman would also be in a single grave purchased when she died.

Now, I hear what you're saying. Why not just check Mount Carmel Cemetery, Hillside, Illinois interment records, 1900-1987, the handy-dandy card index that's also available on FamilySearch? Been there, done that. With no luck. So, in this case, where I'm having absolutely no luck, I want to turn over every stone available in Chicago before I start to brainstorm other death and burial places.

Exploring these registers has been an education--one that I should be able to put to good use as other projects point me to Chicago Catholic cemeteries.

If you use these registers for your own research, add a comment. I'd love to hear about your experiences using the records.




Thursday, March 21, 2019

Error in Naming the 1912-1942 Marriage Index

Screenshot from Ancestry's "Cook County, Illinois Marriage Indexes, 1912-1942
I am updating my website to reflect changes in record availability and, let me tell you, with Chicago research, knowing what's what is NEVER easy.

Ancestry offers a database titled Cook County, Illinois Marriage Indexes, 1912-1942.

I did a quick study, searching for exact years from 1912-1925, and noted the number of matches below. It's likely this index only covers 1914-1923 in a reliable way.

Some of the outlying entries may be correct. I find Thomas Kelly and Geneveve Carter listed in this index and in FamilySearch's Illinois, Cook County Marriages, 1871-1920 with the same year (1913) and license number.

But some are due to error. Max Stone and Mabel Freed come up under 1912, but the printed index page that's linked from the index entry says 1917 and it's corroborated by the FamilySearch index. The fiche was scratched, making the date hard to read.

I need to get to a Family History Center so I can do a bit more detective work, and I never say never, but a few words of advice:

1) If you're searching for a record through1920, use the FamilySearch index linked above.

2) If you're going to use this index to search for records outside of the 1914-1923 range, be cautious not to jump to the wrong conclusion if no matching entry can be found.

I'll try to address indexes for 1925 forward in another post.

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Have a Horrible Copy of a Chicago Vital Record from Microfilm? Try Again Online!

Back in the day, before many Chicago vital records were made available in digital format on FamilySearch),  I retrieved hundreds--maybe even thousands--of Chicago birth, marriage, and death records from microfilm.

Here's one of the records I printed long ago. I was really good at tweaking the settings and, I promise you, this is absolutely the best I could do.

Chicago, Cook County, Illinois, death certificate no. 17017 (21 March 1908), Charles B. Smith; FHL microfilm 1239777; Wilmette Family History Center, Wilmette, Illinois.

I don't remember why, but not too long ago I decided to look for the same record on FamilySearch and this is the image that I found:

Chicago, Cook County, Illinois, death certificate no. 17087 (21 March 1908), Charles B. Smith; digital image, "Chicago death certificates, 1878-1915," FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org/search/catalog/42925 : accessed 12 March 2019) > microfilm 1239777, digital folder 4004622 > image 841.

Comparing both images, it appears that they are of the same certificate. I'm thinking three things:

1) The online certificate image was created from the original, not from the microfilm. I talked with the FamilySearch folks who were digitizing records in the Cook County Clerk's office some years back and I remember them telling me they were working with some records that had already been microfilmed.

2) Just because a film number appears in the FamilySearch index entry doesn't mean the published image came from the film.

3) This is probably something that's unique to Chicago records and very few others.

So, for what it's worth, if, by chance, you have a hard-to-read printout or digital image that was made from FamilySearch microfilm, it might be worth checking online to see if you can now get a better copy.





Thursday, March 07, 2019

Newly Available: Chicago Death Registers, 1871-1879

I woke up thinking it would be a good day to work on updating chicagogenealogy.com. I ate a pink-frosting-covered sugar cookie that I got on sale at the grocery store yesterday, went to work on the tutorial page for finding death records, and was like, "Wow. Wow! WOW!"

I don't know when it happened, and maybe this is old news, but Chicago death registers, 8 October 1871 to 29 February 1879, are now available for viewing on FamilySearch under the title Illinois, Cook County, Chicago, death registers, 1871-1879.

For years, I've been saying "they must have death registers" but I'd never seen one. I'd just seen evidence of their existence.

Remember the Indexes to deaths in the city of Chicago during the years 1871 to 1933 : showing name, address and date of death? Here’s the index entry for James A. Smith who died in 1875. The “D” refers to a death register, the “120” is the page number, and the “13” is the line number.

Indexes to deaths in the city of Chicago during the years 1871 to 1933 : showing name, address and date of death,” digital image,FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org/search/catalog/293534 : accessed 6 March 2019) 
digital folder 4261177 > image 263, entry for James A. Smith, 1875.
Up until now, the only way to get the matching record was to write the Cook County Clerk’s Office. I did that some years ago and this is the document I received:

Chicago, Cook County, Illinois, death registration no. D-120-13 (1875), James A. Smith; Cook County Clerk’s Office, Chicago.

It was great to have the information but it was clearly a derivative record. I knew it had to have been copied from a death register–that was the only logical explanation–and I longed to see the record the information was copied from.

Well, this morning, that dream came true. I discovered the record images are now online and knowing that I could only access them from a Family History Center or an affiliate library, I took a quick shower, dropped my husband at work, and headed to the Orange County FamilySearch Library.

Here’s the matching register entry:

Chicago, Cook County, Illinois, “Deaths 4, Jan. 1, 1875 to May 31, 1876,” p. 120, line 13, James A. Smith (1875); digital image, FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:3Q9M-CSYX-R311-K?i=122&cat=3157227 : accessed 7 March 2019).
I believe this is actually a derivative record, too–it was likely created by copying information from certificates into the book as that’s the way the Chicago birth registers were created–but it’s one generation closer to the original.

And why is this so exciting? Because it means researchers can now access information about early post-Fire Chicago deaths without needing to rely on the Clerk’s office for help.

If you can’t get to a Family History Center to access the index and the register pages, I can search for you. Just send me a project request through my profile on Genlighten.com.

And, please post a comment to let me know if this post was of help to you in your research. I'd love to hear from  you.

Monday, January 07, 2019

Calculating Birth Date Ranges

In my last post, Visualizing Birth Evidence, I used date ranges calculated from an age on a particular date. It took me a long time to wrap my mind around this but now that I understand how it works, I find it much more useful than just subtracting an age from a year and it isn't that much harder to do.

Let's use Frank M. Smith as an example. On 2 July 1885, he stated, under oath, that he was forty-eight years old. [1]

Subtracting 48 from 1885, I get 1837. (To easily do this in my head, I subtract 40 from 1885 and get 1845. Then, because I can't take 8 from 5, I take 8 from 15 and get 7 and just reduce the 10s by 1 to get 38 instead of 48. And, I try to remember to add things back up to double-check my mental math.)

So, if 2 July 1885 happened to be Frank's birthday, he would have been born on 2 July 1837.

And, in fact, if he had been born any time between 1 January 1837 and 2 July 1837, he would have already turn 48 by 2 July 1885.

But what if he happened to have been born in the second half of the year?

If he was 48 on July 2, looking forward to celebrating his 49th birthday between 3 July 1885 and 31 December 1885, that would mean he was born in 1836.

So, the birth date range for Frank, who was 48 on 2 July 1885 is 3 July 1836 to 2 July 1837.

Let's do one more example.

When Frank registered to vote on 16 October 1888, he stated that he had been in the city of Chicago for 52 years. [2] He was born there, so, theoretically, that would have been  his age.

1888 minus 52 equals 1836. So, the date range for Frank's birth calculates to 17 October 1835 to 16 October 1836.

Now let's look at these two date ranges together.


1835
1836
1837
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Proof of Heirship














1888 Voter Registration



































Published Family History






If -- and that's a big if -- Frank's age was stated correctly on the two dates, then comparing the two narrows his birthdate to between July 1836 and October 1836. Knowing that makes it easy to see that the exact birth date stated in a published family history falls squarely into the range of possibility. [3]

Some thing to keep in mind:

1) The approach is only as good as the information it's based on.

2) Date ranges are particularly useful for comparing age information from records that were created in different months.

3) When calculating date ranges from census records, the census dates vary, depending on the census year. (For a quick reminder, just Google "u s census dates.") Also, census takers might have recorded ages as of the census date or as of the date they visited--no matter what the instructions asked them to do.

And where can we find age information for particular dates in Chicago records?

Quickly brainstorming, let's see ...

  • marriage licenses
  • parent information on children's birth records
  • death certificates
  • voter registration (if the person was born in Chicago)
  • proof of heirship interviews in probate files
  • census records
  • legal documents
What have I forgotten? Leave a note in the comment section to let us know!

So, in summary, here's the way that I've finally wrapped my mind around the idea of calculating birth date ranges from an age on a particular day, month, and year:

Subtract the age from the particular year to get the end year. The end year is the same as the particular day.

Subtract 1 from the end year to get the start year.

The start day is the day after the particular day.
__________

1.     Cook County, Illinois, probate file no. 4-2790 (1885), Marcia M. Smith, proof of heirship, 2 July 1885; Cook County Circuit Court Archives, Chicago.

2.     "Chicago, Illinois, Voter Registration, 1888," database with images, Ancestry (https://search.ancestry.com/search/db.aspx?dbid=5991 : accessed 5 November 2018), entry for Frank M. Smith born in Illinois.

3.     American Ancestry: Giving the Name and Descent, in the Male Line, of Americans Whose Ancestors Settled in the United States Previous to the Declaration of Independence, A. D. 1776, Vol. IX (Albany, N.Y.: Joel Munsell’s Sons, 1894), 132; digital image, Google Books (https://books.google.com/books?id=7Ew7AQAAIAAJ : accessed 5 November 2018).

Sunday, January 06, 2019

Visualizing Birth Evidence

So, prompted by some work I've been doing on trying to figure out birth, marriage, and death dates for a number of my husband's Chicago relatives, I've come up with a way to visually compare the evidence. It isn't a ground breaking approach--I'm sure a lot of you do something similar--but it's pretty simple and I'm finding it really helpful so I thought I'd share.

First of all, in the three years that I've been working on learning to "do it right," I've fallen into a routine of gathering evidence into a table to help me wrap my mind around it. Each line includes a year for sorting purposes, a citation, the information, and quick notation to help me consider the quality of the source, the information, and the evidence. The table is for my own use and it looks something like this:

Birth Date Evidence for Frank M. Smith

0SourceInformation
Source
O/D/A
Info
P/S/I
Evidence
D/I/N
18501850 U. S. census, Cook County, Illinois, population schedule, Chicago, First Ward, n.p., dwelling 275, family 293, F (male) Smith; digital image, FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org : accessed 7 May 2018), citing NARA microfilm publication M432, roll 102.Age 13 [born 2 Jun 1836 to 1 Jun 1837]
O
I
D
18601860 U. S. census, Cook County, Illinois, population schedule, Chicago, First Ward, p. 36 (penned), dwelling [illegible], family [illegible], Jas A. Smith; digital image, FamilySearch(https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:MXH7-C5Q : accessed 7 May 2018), citing NARA microfilm publication M653, roll 164Age 23 [born 2 Jun 1836 to 1 Jun 1837]
O
I
D
1885Cook County, Illinois, probate file no. 4-2790 (1885), Marcia M. Smith, proof of heirship, 2 July 1885; Cook County Circuit Court Archives, Chicago.Informant, Frank M. Smith stated that he was forty eight years on 2 July 1885. [born 3 July 1836 to 2 July 1837]
D
S
D
1888"Chicago, Illinois, Voter Registration, 1888," database with images, Ancestry (https://search.ancestry.com/search/db.aspx?dbid=5991 : accessed 5 November 2018), entry for Frank M. Smith born in Illinois.Applied 16 Oct 1888; had been in precinct, county, and state for 52 years [born 17 Oct 1835 to 16 Oct 1836]
D?
S
I
1894American Ancestry: Giving the Name and Descent, in the Male Line, of Americans Whose Ancestors Settled in the United States Previous to the Declaration of Independence, A. D. 1776, Vol. IX (Albany, N.Y.: Joel Munsell’s Sons, 1894), 132; digital image, Google Books (https://books.google.com/books?id=7Ew7AQAAIAAJ : accessed 5 November 2018)."Francis Marion Smith, born in Chicago, Sep 27, 1836"
A
I
D
1899Rosehill Cemetery Office (Chicago, Illinois), burial record, int. no. 48981, Francis Smith.Age 63; died 13 October 1899 [born 14 Oct 1835 to 13 Oct 1836]
D
I
D
1899"Chicago death certificates, 1878-1915," FamilySearch(https://www.familysearch.org/search/catalog/42925) > 1033071 > image 1265, Chicago death certificate no. 18070 (13 October 1899), Francis M. Smith.Age 63; died 13 October 1899 [born 14 Oct 1835 to 13 Oct 1836]
O
I
D
1899"Frank Smith Passes Away," The Chicago Tribune, 14 October 1899, p. 7, col. 1; digital image, Newspapers.com (https://www.newspapers.com/image/349269502/ : accessed 9 April 2018).Born in Chicago in 1836.
O
I
D

But, as you can see, even though the evidence is neatly summarized in one place, it's still hard to grasp what's what.

Here's where a visual summary like the one below comes in.

1835
1836
1837
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Proof of Heirship














Death Certificate























Burial Record


























Obituary





























1850 Census























1860 Census















1888 Voter Registration



































Published Family History






Basically, it's a table that allows me to plot dates or calculated date ranges from the sources listed in the evidence table. It took a bit of tweaking to set up the template, but now that I have it, it's pretty quick and easy to fill it in. Sometimes I use color, but this one happens to be grayscale.

In this case, it shows, at a glance, that the exact date published in the family history falls into the ranges suggested by information from every other source collected to date. It also shows, by way of the shading, which sources should be the most reliable. Frank was the informant for his age on the proof of heirship record and for his length of residence on the voter registration record (which should have been his age because he was born in Chicago) so I've colored those squares darker than the records that have unknown informants.

Here's another example:

Birth date Evidence for Charles B. Smith

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1870 Census



























































1880 Census
























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Death Certificate






































Burial Record






































Obituary
















Parents’ Marriage
Parents’ Marriage



















































Brother Born






















Possible Birth


















The parents probably married in 1828, but one source suggests 1829 and it can't be completely ruled out, thus the two entries in yellow/orange. The brother's birth month and year, shown in green, is very likely correct. His death at sixteen months was recorded in a church register and reported in a local newspaper. 

Knowing these two things, it's easy to see that the birth date range suggested by the age in the 1870 census is an outlier that doesn't work well with the parents' probable marriage year.  And, the birth dates and date ranges suggested by the 1880 census and the death-related records aren't feasible. I'm quite sure the two children were born to the same mother and it's very unlikely she gave birth to one child five months after another.

But, if the exact birth date provided in the obituary is off by a year--the hypothesized date is indicated in blue--then it would be consistent with his age provided by a brother in the proof of heirship document and with his age as recorded in two census records. 

It would be necessary, of course, to examine specific evidence in detail, in writing, before drawing any conclusions, but the visual makes it easy to see a path that a proof argument might take.

I'm curious to know how the rest of you approach this topic. If you can offer further advice for sorting through birth, marriage, and/or death date evidence, please post a comment. Thanks!


Cook County's Genealogy Online: Change in Ordering Process

Cook County Clerk,  Genealogy Online (https://genealogy.cookcountyclerk.com). So, big news. First the Cook County Clerk's Genealogy ...