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Showing posts from January, 2009

The Chicago Fire: Was Your Ancestor Insured?

My husband's ancestor, James Ayer Smith, arrived in Chicago in the spring of 1835 with plans to open a hat and cap store, and in August of that year, his father sent him a letter with some very detailed advice on how to succeed. In closing, he wrote, "There has been a heavy fire at Cleveland & I hope you will not fail to have insurance made on your stock immediately to the full amount Your affectionate Father Chas. Smith." James appears to have taken that advice. When he lost business property in a fire in 1857, he received a $3000 settlement, with payments shared by six insurance companies. And in 1871, when The Chicago Fire hit, he was once again well insured. For example, James A. Smith & Co. had a policy from Washington Insurance Company purchased in August, 1871 in force through November of the same year "against loss or damage by fire ... on Furs manufactured or unmanufactured, also on Wearing Apparel manufactured in whole or in part of Furs or manu

Gleanings from "Legal Friend of the People"

In January, 1911, the Chicago Daily Tribune began publishing a column called “Legal Friend of the People.” Readers wrote in to ask questions about legal matters and topics ranged from what to do about a neighbor’s bothersome ducks to marriage, probate, and citizenship. For genealogists, this column is a rich source of information about the laws of the times. Below are some examples of the kinds of things I've learned from the Legal Friend. (I have access to the Chicago Tribune Historical Archives online--the source of the columns mentioned below--using my Chicago Public Library card.) 4 Mar 1912, p. 8: The legal age of a woman is 18; legal age of a man is 21. 11 Mar 1912, p. 8: Illinois law states that a divorced person must wait one year before remarrying; in questionable cases, couple should be remarried 11 Mar 1912, p. 8: Common law wife has same rights as any other wife, but definition of common law wife is strict; best to have legal marriage performed 18 Mar 1912,

The Problem with "Only"

I'm not sure I'm the best one to point this out. After all, I earn extra income by looking up Chicago birth, marriage, and death records for researchers for a small fee. But, on the other hand, one of my goals is to educate researchers on which Chicago and Cook County records can be found where, and I think this falls under that umbrella. So, here goes . . . I was just searching Ancestry.com, hoping to stumble on some information about a person I'm researching, and I ended up in the Cook County Death Index, 1908-1988. It's a handy resource, but I think one small tweak needs to be made to the results page. When I rolled over the "Purchase from Cook County" link, the pop-up read "Indexes have been made available here at Ancestry, however, images and original certificates are only available through the Cook County Clerk's office" and the word "only" isn't quite right. Chicago and Cook County death records up through 1947 are availa