Sunday, January 11, 2009

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 available both in Springfield and on microfilm that can be viewed at or borrowed from the Family History Library in Salt Lake. And, in the Chicago area, they're available at the Wilmette Family History Center.

It's likely that the word "only" is there because it's much easier to phrase it that way than it is to try to explain that some records are available from a number of repositories while others are only available from the clerk's office, but it would be better to just leave the "only" out. Most people would just click through and purchase the records from www.cookcountygenealogy.com anyway.

I applaud Ancestry and the Cook County Clerk's Office, by the way, for teaming up to make this index and the corresponding records easily available to researchers. I really do. Sometimes people ask me, "Can you get records after 1947? and sometimes they mutter, just a tiny bit, when they find out that I can't, and that they will have to pay $15 for whatever they need. My reply? It costs money to preserve valuable records and to build applications like the new Cook County vital records website and $15 is money well spent if you need a record to keep your research moving forward.

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