Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Cook County Records of Foreign Wills

Franziska Lux entry, Cook County Probate Court,
"Record of Foreign Wills," v. 1, p. 619.
I can think of a number of times when I've sat, looking at a newly-discovered set of genealogy records, thinking, "Oh, wow!" but I had no idea that this morning would be one of them.

I've spent the month of April working hard to update the pages on and in the process, I had reason to examine the Illinois, Wills and Probate Records, 1772-1999 collection on Earlier this week, I noticed it included some "Records of Foreign Wills." I was intrigued, so I took a quick look.

A 1901 legal guide defines "foreign will" as  “…executed in a state or country by a testator there domiciled, admitted to probate there upon the death of such testator, and subsequently offered for probate or registry in another state.”1

That seems to fit. Simply put, the books appear to have been used to record wills that had a tie to Cook County but were part of probate cases handled elsewhere.

That doesn't seem very exciting, does it? But read on.

Let's use the entry for Franziska Lux, from "Strehlen in Silesia," who died 15 November 1904, as an example.2 (View image on Ancestry)

First off, the record begins with a translation of a document created in Strehlen on 18 Febuary [sic] 1905. From it, we learn that "the butcher Heinrich Lux" lived on Muensterberger Street and that Franziska Lux nee Schaefer, "the shoe makers widow," died on November 15, 1904. Franziska's brother Joseph Schaefer's estate was yet to be settled in America--he died in Chicago--but she was due to inherit from it. The document, signed by Heinrich, states, "The brother of my mother Joseph Schaefer, died in America before my mother, about 1903," suggesting that he, Heinrich, was Franziska's son.

We also learn that Joseph had two sons, Paul and Richard, who lived in America and another individual, Anna Lux, about 18 years old, was living with "the butter trades woman Raschdorf at Schildberg" and was "probably under the guardianship of the County Court of Muensterberg.

Imagine if you were a descendant of Joseph Schaefer, looking for a tie to Germany. Names. Relationships. Addresses. Death dates. Where else could you find that information so easily? And in English?

But that's not all. From another page we learn that Franziska's deceased son, Joseph Lux, had three children: Paul, Richard, and Anna, possibly the one mentioned above. Franziska had four children: Paul, a music teacher in Crefeld, Anna Hottermann, in America, Martha Hergesell of Brelau, and Heinrich, the butcher, who was taking care of his mother.

Obviously all of the records are not as information-rich as this one, and for most of the wills, "foreign" means out of state. But, if you have Chicago ancestors who were in the city during the early 1900s—the collection begins in 1904 with Volume 1 and ends in 1922 with Volume 18—it's worth taking a quick look.

The key would be to try to discover entries for relatives who lived outside Chicago so my best advice would be to look for specific people or search for family surnames and browse the matches.

I haven't tested to see if all of the volumes are included in the searchable index, but Franziska's name comes up, both for the index page at the front of Volume 1 and for the page where the actual will is recorded, so they may be. (Hint: The index entry with a date is the one that leads to the actual record.)

If you give the collection a try and finding something of interest, please post a comment and let me know!


1William Herbert Page, A Concise Treatise on the Law of Wills (Cincinnati, Ohio: W. H. Anderson & Co., 1901), 423; digital image, Google Books ( : accessed 26 April 2017).

2 "Illinois, Wills and Probate Records, 1772-1999," database, ( : accessed 26 April 2017), "Record of Foreign Wills 1," 619-623, entry for Franziska Lux, 18 Feb 1905, ; citing "Record of foreign wills; Author: Illinois. Probate Court (Cook County); Probate Place: Cook, Illinois."

Monday, October 31, 2016

Chicagoland Catholic Cemetery Burials Online at FamilySearch

Earlier today, a member of the Chicago Genealogy Facebook Group mentioned that some Chicago-area Catholic burials can now be browsed online for free at FamilySearch. In response to that, Nick Gombash of Hungary Exchange and Nick Gombash's Genealogy Blog posted an easy-to-use list of links to the various cemetery records. 

Nick's list is a very useful tool for Chicago-area research and so, with his permission, I'm sharing it here.

Happy searching! And Happy Halloween!

Ascension Cemetery in Libertyville
All Saints Cemetery in Des Plaines
Assumption Cemetery in Glenwood
Calvary Cemetery in Evanston
Calvary Cemetery in Steger
Holy Cross Cemetery in Calumet City
Holy Sepulchre Cemetery in Worth
Maryhill Cemetery in Niles
Mount Carmel Cemetery in Hillside (1)
Mount Carmel Cemetery in Hillside (2)
Mount Olivet Cemetery in Chicago
Resurrection Cemetery in Justice
Seminary Cemetery assumed* in Lake County
St. Adalbert Cemetery in Niles
St. Anne Cemetery in Richton Park
St. Bede Cemetery in Fox Lake
St. Benedict Cemetery in Chicago
St. Boniface Cemetery in Chicago
St. Casimir Lithuanian Cemetery in Chicago
St. Gabriel Cemetery in Chicago
St. Henry Cemetery in Chicago
St. James Cemetery in Glenwood
St. Joseph Cemetery in River Grove
St. Joseph Cemetery in Round Lake
St. Joseph Cemetery in Wilmette
St. Mary Cemetery in Evergreen Park
St. Mary Cemetery in Fremont Center
St. Mary Cemetery in Highland Park
St. Mary Cemetery in Lake Forest
St. Mary Cemetery in Waukegan
St. Michael the Archangel Cemetery in Palatine
St. Patrick Cemetery in Wadsworth
St. Patrick Cemetery in West Lake Forest
St. Peter Cemetery in Skokie
St. Peter Cemetery in Volo
Transfiguration Cemetery in Wauconda
Queen of Heaven Cemetery in Hillside

Saturday, April 09, 2016

Explore _Chicago Genealogist_ Online

In recent months, I've begun to work on polishing my research and writing skills and I've discovered that reading genealogy articles is an enjoyable way to study up. It's helpful to hear what people have to say, but it's also helpful to think about how they say it.

This evening, I found myself wanting to read through back issues of The Chicago Genealogist, the Chicago Genealogical Society's quarterly publication, and I discovered digital images of volumes 1-39 are online at CARLI Digital Collections. ("CARLI" stands for "Consortium of Academic and Research Libraries in Illinois.")

I decided to explore the collection and thought it might be useful to share a few things I learned.

What do the publications include?

Answer: Articles related to Chicago families, book reviews, queries, record transcriptions, and many lists of names of Chicago residents drawn from every imaginable source.

So, how do you access the online images? 

Start by visiting CARLI's "Chicago Genealogist (Newberry Library) page at

This page offers two options: search and browse.


As a test, I searched "macfarland," a Chicago surname related to my current project. The results returned two thumbnails. Clicking on one of the thumbnails took me to a list of photos that the author hoped to return to descendants and the entry--"MacFARLAND, Joseph (father of Henry)"--matched the family I'm researching. Nice find.

Search tips:
  • If you start with a broad search, you can add keywords and easily narrow the results.
  • If you click through to view a search result and find yourself on the cover page, scroll through the thumbnails on the right and click on the one that's outlined in red. The keyword(s) will appear there. (This worked on a Mac; not sure if it would be the same on a PC.)
  • If you're taken to the middle of a list of names (likely for many searches), scroll up through the thumbnails to find the first page of the article. It will give you more information.
  • After your first search, the drop-down default will be "within results." Make sure to change it to "new search" if you want to start over.
If you choose the browse option, you'll be taken to a thumbnail page, the first of eight. Clicking on a cover image loads the larger image and from there you can click through the pages. 

Browse Tips: 
  • If you use the download button to save the file to your computer, you can quickly scroll through the pdf which, I think, is much easier than trying to view the page online. It only took me 15 seconds to download a pdf on a slow wireless connection.
  • If you try to read the pages online, you can expand the view using the little arrows at the bottom of the view window.
  • Use the table of contents to get a quick overview of what each issue contains.
Share Your Finds

If you come across an article or list of name that might be relevant to a number of other researchers, please share in the comments. I'm sure there are some not-to-be-missed treasures in these publications just waiting to be discovered.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

How to Do a Pull-out-all-the-stops Pre-1916 Death Record Search in Chicago

This evening, chicago-lookups, a go-to person for early Chicago vital records now that I'm a sun-warmed, ocean-cooled Californian, wrote to ask me what to do in a case where there are no apparent matches in any of the available indexes for the name and the death date that her client provided. As my reply to her grew longer and longer, I realized that my answer might be useful to a wider audience. Blog post time!

Here is what I would do to search for a pre-1916 Chicago death certificate if I wanted to exhaust every possibility that I could think of before reporting back to a client:

  • Search the given name and surname, as provided.
  • Search the given name and surname, leaving off letters. For example, use Mar... if the name is Mary, Maria, Marianna, Marianne, Martha, Marta. Use Ab... Abraham just in case the name is in the index as Abe. You get the idea. Also try just the first letter of the given name.
  • Search the surname with the death year.
  • Search the given name with a year, if unique. Add a few letters of the surname, if it isn't.
  • Check alternate years--a "3" could be misread as an "8" for example.
2) Check the Illinois, Cook County Deaths, 1878-1939, 1955-1994 index at FamilySearch. Remember, though, that the names of parents or spouse won't be useful in searching for records before c. 1908. The early forms didn't ask for that information.

3) Check the Indexes to deaths in the city of Chicago during the years 1871-1933: showing name, address and date of death (also called the "burial permit index"). It's on Family History Library microfilm. It includes out-of-town deaths and sometimes names don't appear in the indexes mentioned above because a Chicago resident died outside the area.

No luck?

Look for a way to confirm the death date and place.

4) Check for an obituary in the Chicago Tribune online. Some libraries offer access or you can get to it through Fold3.

5) Check for an obituary in other Chicago newspapers. If you don't have access, Genlighten's mollykennedy is a pro at finding Illinois obituaries using the resources that are available in Springfield.

6) If you have an idea where the person was buried, contact the cemetery to see if you can find a burial date. Ask if they have information similar to what might be on the death record.

7) Check the Cook County Coroner's Inquest Index, 1872-1911. Remember, this is a pull-out-all-the-stops search. It's worth a try.

Still no luck?

8) Scroll through the Family History Library film where the record you're looking for should be.

Use the One Step index linked above to search for a person with the same first letter of surname who died the same month and year as the person you're looking for. Use that certificate number to choose the Family History Library film that would have that record. 

Early death records are arranged in a logical way. All of the "K" deaths for January 1894 will be grouped together, for example. Starting from the record you identified using the index search, scroll back to find where the "K" records for January start. Look through one at a time until you come to "K" records for February.

9) Repeat the process described in #8 using a film from the Cook County (not city) series.

Still no luck?

10) Mail in a search request to the Cook County Clerk's Office to see what they can find.


11) Look for the death in other places. For example, an elderly parent might have gone to stay with an out-of-state child during a last illness.


12) See if there's a church burial record, especially relevant for Catholic deaths as many of those records are on Family History Library film.

If none of those approaches work, you might be out of luck, but I never say never. You might stumble on the record you're looking for in an unexpected place--a pension file, for example? Or? What other ideas come to mind?

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Clerk's Hesitancy Might Mean No Record to be Found

When I was actively pursuing Chicago research, I sometimes searched the ProQuest version of the Chicago Tribune when I wanted contemporary insights into the workings of, say, the vital records office. 

Organizing files earlier today, I came across a copy of an 1878 article titled "The County Building" which included a paragraph suggesting that the County Clerk was a bit timid about taking action to force ministers and physicians to report births, marriages, and deaths. 

THE COUNTY BUILDING. Chicago Daily Tribune (1872-1963); Mar 8, 1878;
ProQuest Historical Newspapers Chicago Tribune (1849 - 1986) pg. 8 

If you've been looking for a record that doesn't seem to exist, this might be why. My feeling, though, based on thousands of searches, is that most marriages and deaths were probably recorded (although sometimes marriage licenses were obtained but never returned) but that births were often overlooked.

Monday, June 08, 2015

My Experience Obtaining a Cook Vital Record In Person

I wrote this blog post in 2014, but never shared it. Looking back, I'm thinking the information might be useful and so I'm going to make some minor edits and click the "Publish" button. ~ Cyndy

Almost a year ago I received an email from someone asking for my help to obtain a certified copy of a Chicago death certificate from 1910.

When someone needs a record that can only be obtained from the Cook County Clerk's Office, I usually suggest contacting the office directly but in this case the circumstances were such that I thought it would be best for someone to obtain the record in person. I offered to make the trip as part of my continuing education because I'd never been to a satellite office before.

Here's my experience in a nutshell:

I visited the Skokie office on September 11. The clerk tried very hard to find a digital copy of the record in her computer system for me, but had no luck. I left a by-mail request. After a few weeks of waiting, I called. The request was still in the system but the clerk couldn't tell me when it might be processed. As the six-week mark approached, I emailed to check on the request. I got an immediate response and the record arrived three days later.

And here are the details:

On September 11, I took an uncertified copy of the death certificate that I needed to obtain and visited the Skokie office.

The first challenge was finding the right building. I'm usually a bus rider and so I pulled in the lot where the bus stops are. Nope. The parking garage is east of that. It took me a while, but I found it.

I knew that there would be strict rules about what could be taken into the building--no cell phones, for example--and so I carried just a few things--my ID a few papers, money, and my keys--in a clear plastic case. I make it through security in a breeze. In fact, they didn't even send my case through the scanner.

Once I was through security, I walked down the hallway to the right and found the Vital Records room on the left. There were only a couple of people ahead of me. I wasn't quite sure where to wait--stand in line or take a seat?--but it wasn't too long before a clerk called me over.

She took my request and did a thorough search of her online database trying to find a match for the record so that she could provide a certified copy immediately. She used wild cards and even looked at births just in case the record had been entered wrong. Unfortunately, she just couldn't find a digitized copy of the record and so I had to leave a by-mail request.

She created the request form on her computer and printed it out for me to sign. I said, repeatedly, that it needed to be a certified copy. She didn't put that in the note but she assured me that saying it was "needed for dual citizenship" would tell whoever prepared it for mailing that it should be certified.

The bottom of the form asked for my relationship to the deceased and I put "none." She said that wouldn't work. She gave me a new form and I wrote something like, "Agent for grandson of the deceased."

And then I went home and waited, watching my mailbox every day. After a few weeks, I called the Skokie office. I was able to confirm that the request was still in the system (I provided the surname and the clerk pulled it up and mentioned the given name so I know it was there) but the person I spoke to had no estimate of when I could expect the record. Her comment was just that the record was old. On the surface, that seemed to be an odd way to answer my question, but it's possible that it is more difficult for them to pull early records and it's possible that it takes a while for them to find the time to do it.

On the eve of the six-week mark, I located an email address for the Vital Records office and sent a polite note, briefly explaining the situation, attaching a copy of the request form and the uncertified document, and asking these questions:
  • Can you give me an idea of how long it will be before our request will be processed? 
  • Or, if the record has been mailed, can you tell me when it was sent?
  • If it hasn't been mailed, do you need anything else from my clients in order to process the request?
I was worried that the relationship information might be holding things up and I didn't want to have to start the process again.

I had a very pleasant response within hours. If I would reply with my address, the person would get a copy out in the mail to me. (They had my address on the request form, but I was happy to do what I could to make it easy for them.)

Three days later, I had the record and dropped it in the mail to my client the next day.

I don't have a lot of experience working with the Cook County Clerk's Office and so I don't know if this turnaround time is typical or not. The few times I've requested marriage licenses, it seems like they've come quicker.

But, anyway, here's what I learned from this experience:
  • Satellite offices can provide vital records to in-person visitors immediately if the records are in the computer system. Good to know!
  • The clerks will try hard to find what you need. (This has been my experience downtown, too.)
  • If a record isn't in the system, you'll have to leave a by-mail request. There's no way to know ahead of time but I'm guessing old record means not much chance and means pretty certain.
  • The request form asks for relationship to the deceased. If you need a recent certificate and you're not someone who can legally obtain the record, I believe (based on a previous successful experience) you'll need a notarized document authorizing you to act as an agent for the person, copies of documents proving that person's right to the record, and personal identification. Call ahead for more information, if you find yourself in that situation.
  • Requests made in person go into the system immediately so they can be tracked. I liked that. It  probably happens with mail-order requests, too, but I'm not sure.
  • It might take a bit of patience to get a record.
  • It's worth following up if a record doesn't arrive in a timely way.
  • A polite inquiry by email will likely get a pretty quick response.
Overall, except that it seemed to take much longer than expected to get the record, I'd say the experience was a very positive one.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

I'm a Californian Now!

Last week I closed the door to our Wilmette home one last time,  climbed aboard the Southwest Chief out of Chicago's Union Station, and forty-three-or-so hours later I arrived in Los Angeles ready to experience life as a Californian! My husband's work has brought us to west coast and we have officially moved.

So, what does that mean for ChicagoGenealogy?

First, that it's time to pass along the document retrieval work that I've been doing for nearly twelve years to others. I've arranged for Khania, a new researcher who has easy access to the Wilmette Family History Center, to take over birth, marriage, and death record lookups. I've shared with her much of what I know about Chicago research and she's a quick learner! That part of my work is in good hands. You can find her as "chicago-lookups" on our Genlighten site.

There are many others who are skilled at the divorce, probate, and naturalization searches that I did at the Cook County Circuit Court Archives and a number of those researchers can be found on Genlighten. Kim Stankiewicz's services most closely mirror my own--I've enjoyed the times we've found ourselves at the Daley Center at the same time, putting our matching scanners through their paces side by side--and so I will be referring my previous clients to her.

At the moment, my plan is to continue to maintain the ChicagoGenealogy website and I'm hoping to find time in the near future to make some much-needed updates. Chicago research strategy changes with additions and subtractions to websites like FamilySearch and Ancestry and I want to make sure the information presented is current.

I will also be removing the first person voice from the site, remaking it into a cooperative rather than an individual endeavor, and that brings me to the blog. I will continue to add to it, but I would like to invite other local researchers to use it as a forum for sharing their own insights into Chicago and Cook County research. If you would be interested in guest posting, please let me know.

I've enjoyed the time I've spent as ChicagoGenealogy. I printed and scanned thousands of records and, sure, after a while some of it became routine, but being able to come up with a hard-to-find record was always satisfying and having a request come in while I was at the Family History Center so I could turn it around in jaw-droppingly short order was always fun.

So, what does the future hold for me--besides unpacking lots and lots of boxes? Well, we've got a new version of Genlighten that will launch later this year--simpler and more visually appealing with a few more powerful features--so some of my time will be taken up with that. And then, I'm not sure. I might decide to learn all that I can about genealogy research in Southern California or I might decide to learn to code in Ruby on Rails--something I've always wanted to do. Or I might just slather myself with sunscreen, by myself a porch swing, and work on clawhammer banjo for the rest of my life. We'll see!