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 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 on-cookcountygenealogy.com 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.