Thursday, October 19, 2017

Celebrating Digital Access: Coroners' Inquest Records, 1872-1911

Yesterday I wrote about coroners' death certificates. Today I'll focus on a related source—the Cook County, Illinois coroners' inquest records, Dec. 1872-Nov. 1911.

Background

As I mentioned in the coroners' death certificate post, a coroner was called to investigate deaths that occurred under unusual circumstances. A jury was assembled, witnesses were interviewed, and, together, they tried to determine the cause of death. The findings were recorded as inquest records—short entries in bound volumes—and as the verdict on the coroners' death certificates.

To see a list of situations where today's medical examiner would be called in (Cook County changed from coroner to medical examiner in 1976), visit the Medical Examiner page on the Cook County Government website.

What Information Do the Inquest Records Include?

The format of the records changed over time. The first few volumes contain formulaic paragraph-style reports written in a blank ledger. Later volumes contained printed forms. However, the information included seems to be fairly consistent. Entries generally include the name of the deceased, the place of death, the verdict (cause of death), and the names of those who served on the jury. They may also include the names, addresses, and/or occupations of witnesses.

Most volumes are very readable, although the handwriting can be challenging. Some volumes are damaged and some images are of poor quality. For a quick overview of what's available, go to the catalog entry and navigate to > Coroners' inquest records, v. 1-2, case #s 753-3821, Dec. 1872-June 1878, film 2132248 > images 7-10. (Note: These guide sheets suggest the first two volumes are not indexed. It's true—there are no indexes in the books—but the names are included in the Cook County Coroner's Inquest Record Index, 1872-1911.)

The easiest way to get a feel for the inquest records is to read through example pages. I'll post an image below, but you can also view full-size examples by following these links: 1872 | 1890 | 1910

“Cook County, Illinois coroners' inquest records, Dec. 1872-Nov. 1911,” FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org/search/catalog/833825 : accessed 19 October 2017) > Coroners' inquest records, v. 21-22, case #s 6536-7975, Nov. 1889-Oct. 1890 > film 2132256 > image 544.














How Can these Inquest Records Help in Your Research?

Here are two ideas and, of course, there are others:

First, note that the inquests date back to 1872. It's possible to get death information from 1871-1877 through the Cook County Clerk's Office (but that's a topic for another blog post), but, to the best of my knowledge, this information isn't available online or at an alternate repository. Easy access to an  inquest record can give you quick, inexpensive access to important information about a some early deaths.

And second, notice that some inquest records provide witness names, addresses, and occupations. These people may be family members, co-workers, friends and/or neighbors and the information may suggest productive follow-up research.

Obtaining Copies of Early Inquest Records

Digital copies of the early inquest records can be found on FamilySearch if you visit a Family History Center or an affiliate library and I will explain how to do that below. But, if you can't get to a Family History Center, you can get paper copies through the mail for $1.00 by calling the Illinois Regional Archives Depository (IRAD) at Northeastern Illinois University (NEIU).

How to Find the Inquest Records on FamilySearch

These records are easy to find. Here's how:

1) Search the Cook County Coroner's Inquest Record Index, 1872-1911.

2) Find the match and note the name, the volume, and the page. Let's say we're looking for Nikola Vojvodic, volume 86, page 27.


3. Go to the catalog entry for the Cook County, Illinois coroners' inquest records, Dec. 1872-Nov. 1911.

4) Select the correct film based on the volume number and note the icon at the right.

If it's a camera icon, like the one next to 2132288, click through to view the images. (You will need to be at a Family History Center or an affiliate library to do this. From a FHC, you will see the camera icons above; from home, you will see camera icon with keys above them.) If it's a film icon, the films hasn't been made available online in digital format yet. No worries! If you bump into that glitch—or if it isn't convenient for you to go to a Family History Center—just call IRAD at NEIU. (See the information at the top of the post.)

5) Browse to find the correct page. Just be careful. Notice how film 2132288 includes two volumes? Make sure you're in the right book before you begin looking for the correct page.

Where to Find Later Records

If you are in need of inquest records after November 1911, contact the Cook County Office of the Medical Examiner.
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Note: I see both coroners' and coroner's used to refer to the inquest records and death certificates. I guess it just depends how one thinks about it. I've tried to be consistent in keeping whatever spellings I see in the various titles.


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