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Guide to Online Birth Indexes for Cook County: Which Ones to Use When (with links)

Handy Links to the Indexes Mentioned in this Post

Cook County Birth Registers, 1871-1915 (FamilySearch)
Cook County Birth Certificates, 1878-1922 (FamilySearch)
Cook County, Illinois, Birth Certificates Index, 1871-1922 (Ancestry)
Cook County, Illinois Birth Index, 1916-1935 (Ancestry)
Historical Cook County Illinois Vital Records (Cook County Clerk)

This is the last of a series of three posts focusing on the Chicago and Cook County vital records indexes that are available online. In this article, I'll give you links to the Cook County birth indexes that I use regularly and summarize their strengths and limitations to help you decide which one(s) will work best for your search.

Once you've found an index entry, the records can be obtained from a number of different places but the rule of thumb is this:
  • get records from 1923 forward from the the Cook County Clerk's Office ($15 + a handling fee if you buy the records online at

  • get records from 1871-1922 from Family History Library microfilm (the cost of a photocopy if you have local access to the films; $7.50 if you need to order a film from the FamilySearch catalog and have it sent to your local Family History Center);  or from me through Genlighten ($6.00 each with quick turnaround; discounts for batch orders)

Cook County Birth Registers, 1871-1915 (FamilySearch)

Quick Advice: Use this index if you're looking for births from 1871-1877. The birth register pages are the only records that are available for this time period (no certificates before 1878). Be aware that many of the entries lack given name(s) for the child so you might need to search on parent names.

If you're looking for records from 1878 forward, search the Cook County Birth Certificates, 1878-1922 first. It leads to certificates. If you can't find a match there, then check this index because names might be transcribed differently. If you find a match in this index, the birth register number can be used to find the certificate.

  • can be searched using combinations of child's name, parent names, gender, race, birth year range, and parent birth places
  • * can be used as a wildcard
  • search results show birth dates and parent names
  • entries provide FamilySearch film numbers
  • the Reference IDs provide volume and page numbers needed to find matching entries
  • reference IDs are inconsistent (some provide volume and page; some provide page and line number)
  • in most cases you'll have to look at the register page to get the certificate number needed to find the matching birth certificate (1878 forward)
  • if a name is misspelled, especially the first few letters, it might be hard to bring up the matching entry
Additional Information: It seems likely that birth information was copied from certificates onto the register pages in the order that the clerk's office received them and that certificate numbers were assigned based on the line numbers in the register. If you have a choice, get a copy of the birth certificate rather than the register pages.

Cook County Birth Certificates, 1878-1922 (FamilySearch)

Quick Advice: Start with this index. If you don't find a match for a child, search parent names instead. If you still can't find a match for births up through 1915, try searching the birth register index linked above.

  • can be searched using combinations of  child's name, parent names, gender, birth year range, and parent birth places
  • * can be used as a wildcard
  • search results show birth dates and parent names
  • entries provide FamilySearch film numbers and certificate numbers (Reference ID)
  • if a name is misspelled, especially the first few letters, it might be hard to bring up the matching entry

Cook County, Illinois, Birth Certificates Index, 1871-1922 (Ancestry)

Quick Advice: This index overlaps the two FamilySearch indexes listed above and it doesn't provide certificate numbers or distinguish between birth register entries and birth certificate entries. It's best to use the FamilySearch indexes first.

  • combines the two FamilySearch indexes listed above
  • entries include FamilySearch film numbers
  • entries can be saved to Ancestry trees
  • entries don't include certificate numbers
  • searches bring up entries for birth register pages and birth certificates; the only way to tell them apart is to check film numbers in the Family History Library Catalog or to find matching index entries at FamilySearch
  • no links available for purchasing the matching records through the county clerk's website

Cook County, Illinois Birth Index, 1916-1935 (Ancestry)

Quick advice: Use this index if you need records from 1923 forward or if you are planning to purchase records from 1916-1922 from the County instead of getting them from FamilySearch films.

  • can be searched using the child's name and birthdate
  • provides file (certificate) numbers
  • provides links to purchase records online from the Cook County Clerk's website
  • database doesn't include parents which limits search possibilities and makes it hard to find matches for common names
  • doesn't provide film number for the records from 1916-1922 that can be obtained from FamilySearch films (Cook County Clerk)

Quick advice: The search capability on this site seems to be limited to exact spellings within a year range. Create a free account on this site but use the 1916-1935 index at to search (see above). This approach offers more flexibility and lets you easily click through to purchase and download records from this site. 

  • search results include children's names and birth dates
  • database includes records 75 years and older
  • records are available for immediate purchase and download
  • must create an account and log in before searching
  • can only be searched using exact spellings
  • searches can only be limited by a date range
  • doesn't include early birth records and may not include recently-released records
  • database doesn't include parents which limits search possibilities and makes it hard to find matches for common names
Additional Information: Birth certificates are available if they are 75 year or older but the online collection is, to the best of my knowledge, incomplete. If you can't find what you need online, you can mail in a search request using the Genealogy Record Request Form.


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