Wednesday, December 16, 2009

So, where was Albert S. Bowman in 1900?

A Little Holiday Fun:

A one pound box of Fannie May chocolates to the first person to find a particularly elusive Albert S. Bowman in the 1900 census for me. The images below show Albert with his family in 1880 and as a single man (I'm pretty sure this is the right person) in 1910. An 1897 city directory shows him living at 224 N 8th in Philadelphia.

Additional Information:

He doesn't seem to appear in the 1900 Philadelphia directory unless he had temporarily changed occupations.

He may have also gone by A. S. Bowman. I don't know what the "S" stands for.

Important Rule for the Challenge:

I have done quite a bit of online research on Albert and his family and there is no need to spend time looking for any other census records or related documents unless they will help you in your search. No reward for anything other than the 1900 census page.

The Fine Print:

I have no idea whether or not Albert appears in the 1900 census, although he should be there, right? If no one is successful with the search, I reserve the right to eat the box of chocolates myself.

Ready, set ...

Okay, remember--the first person to post a comment that leads me to the census image wins. (Once you have it, just tell me enough that I can find it on Ancestry or Heritage Quest or FamilySearch.) And if you have any questions, just post them for my reply.

... go!

Thursday, November 26, 2009


As many of you know, Dean and I have been working on launching for a couple of years and we now have a slide show online which explains what we're up to! Please take a look. Cynthia

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The "Burial Permit Index"

What should we call this index?

If you search the Family History Library Catalog at you will find a resource listed under “Illinois, Cook, Chicago - Vital records – Indexes” called "Indexes to deaths in the city of Chicago during the years 1871 to 1933 : showing name, address and date of death" created by the Chicago Board of Health. It’s a very long, descriptive title, but it’s somewhat misleading.

It’s true that most of the people listed in this index died in Chicago, but the index also includes people who died outside the city. And, in fact, a note in the catalog says, “These indexes are believed to be for burial permits, the actual deaths having occurred both in and outside the city of Chicago, often times out of state.” That’s probably why some researchers call it the “Burial Permit Index,” but that’s misleading, too. As far as I’ve been able to determine, the numbers given in the index don’t lead to burial permits; they lead to death certificates and/or death register entries.

For lack of a better title, I often refer to the index as the “Chicago Death Index, 1871-1933” (CDI) as a short way of distinguishing it from the Illinois Statewide Death Index online.

What’s the index like?

The CDI is arranged alphabetically by surname, then given name, then death date. For example, a John Smith who died in 1888 will appear before a John Smith who died in 1902 and both will appear before a John C. Smith who died in 1872. Each entry includes a name, a place of death, a death date and a few codes and numbers which I’ll talk about later.

What makes this index useful?

I’ll list a few answers to this question and then illustrate the points with a case study from the lookups that I did today.

· The index includes deaths between 1871 and 1878 that aren’t in the online index. If you find an early entry here, you can be pretty sure that the county clerk’s office will be able to provide you with a transcription of the record if you send in a $15 request.

· The index lists place of death. If the death was in Chicago, you’ll see a street address. This can be very useful if you’re trying to figure out when someone with a common name died if you have a last-known address from a directory or census or other source. If the death was somewhere else, you’ll see a city and state. Sometimes people who are buried in Chicago aren’t in the online index because they died some place else—like Michigan. A quick check of the CDI can sometimes save a lot of time and frustration trying to pull an index entry out of the online index when it just isn’t there. Out-of-town death records for 1909-1915 are available on FHL microfilm. In most cases, though, I think it's best to try to get a copy of the original death record from the place where the person died.

· The index lists stillbirths for some years. (I haven’t focused on these entries and so I’m not able to provide additional information about what years are covered or how to find the corresponding records. There are some stillbirths listed with the Illinois Statewide Death Certificates, though.)

· Sometimes names are spelled differently in this index than they are in the online index.

· Sometimes a year is wrong in the online index. Cross-checking with this index can help you figure out where to look for the death record.

So what about the numbers in this index?

This index appears to provide register numbers. For deaths from 1916 forward, the register number is the same as the certificate number from the online index and you can use it to locate the actual record on FHL microfilm.

For deaths between 1878 and 1915 the register number is different from the certificate number and it can’t be used (directly) to find a death certificate on FHL microfilm. However, if a name is in the index, it’s very likely that there is a corresponding index entry in the online index and it’s worth digging for it using Stephen Morse’s One Step access if it doesn’t pop up immediately.

For deaths between 1908 and 1915, there is a small subset if FHL microfilms arranged by register number as well as an overlapping set arranged by certificate number. The numbers from the CDI can be used to find records on the register number films. (It’s not obvious from the FHLC which films these are; it’s best to use my key which is available on the Wilmette FHC website.)

So, how about a case study?

Today I was looking for three deaths from the 1890s, none of which seemed to appear in the online index. (I'm going to change the name to Smith but the details remain the same.)

Minnie Smith 9/16/1893
Lilly Smith 1892
August Smith 4/2/1891

Using Stephen Morse’s One Step site, I was able to find an index entry for Minnie. She was listed under “Winnie.”

SMITH, WINNIE 1893-09-16 CHICAGO 40 YRU 00001369

I then found two possible matches for Lilly:

SMITH, LILY 1892-11-15 CHICAGO 06 YRU 00001710
SMIDT, LILLIE 1892-07-01 CHICAGO 01 YR U 00000804

In the CDI, one of the two was listed with the same address of death as Minnie—most likely the record the client was searching for.

August was a bit more difficult.

I didn’t find any good matches in the online index for him but searching the CDI I found an entry for

Smith Augustus F 4 2 1892 [2 Apr 1892]

The chances of two August[us] Smiths dying on the same day and month are small and so my guess is this is the person the client was searching for even though it was off by a year. (Hopefully the client will be able to tell based on address, occupation, birth place, length of time in Chicago, etc.)

I went back to the online index and was able to pull up the matching entry. It was listed under the initials G. F. but based on the address of death it was the match.

SMITH, G F 1892-04-02 CHICAGO 67 YR U 0001418

I might have stumbled on the index entry for G. F. if I had looked closely at death dates for every Smith who died between 1890 and 1892 (I often broaden the date range because sometimes dates are wrong) but the Chicago Death Index made the search much simpler.

Now the question is this: If the death certificate just has initials, where did the name listed in the CDI come from? If I figure it out one of these days, I’ll post!

Friday, November 13, 2009

Polish Newspaper (1908-1917) Dziennik Zwiazkowy Online

This evening, I was looking for online newspapers that might help me with a bit of research I'm doing on a composer by the name of A. S. Bowman (I'll blog about him soon) and I stumbled on a resource that might be of interest to those of you who have Polish ancestors in Chicago.

It looks as though the first ten years (1908-1917) of Dziennik Zwiazkowy, “Chicago’s largest and oldest Polish newspaper,” are available online for free.

The newspaper is part of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign's Illinois Digital Newspaper Collection. Other titles include Barrington Review, Southern Illinois Journal, and several newspapers from Quincy.

For online newspapers from other states, check out Penn Libraries research guide titled Historical Newspapers Online. It's the web page that led me to the Illinois newspaper page.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Cook County Indigent Burials, 1911-1971

Another guest post written by Barbara, a fellow researcher at the Wilmette Family History Center. This time she shares information about searching indigent burial records.

My cousin and I have been trying to track down my “Prodigal Grandmother” for over a year now but have had no luck. Information from her step-niece seemed to indicate that she was quite poor and might have died indigent in Cook County.

Through searching the internet I discovered that Cook buried their indigent at Oak Forest Cemetery on the grounds of Oak Forest Hospital. There are no visible grave markers there to indicate where the indigent are buried but there is microfilmed information on who was buried in the cemetery and where.

The South Suburban Genealogical and Historical Society ( has a large room in a public building in Hazel Crest and they house the microfilmed records of the infants and adults who were buried by the County from 1911 until 1971. After 1971 the indigent were buried in Homewood.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Adoption Research: Using the Chicago Daily Law Bulletin to Find Birth Names

I have learned a lot from conversations with other researchers and recently a patron at the Wilmette Family History Center told me how she found a birth name for her father who was adopted in 1927. The resource she used was new to me and I was intrigued. I thought others might benefit from her experience and so I asked her to write a guest post for my blog. She graciously agreed and you’ll find her contribution below.

Update (2 Dec 2018): There is one provider who can help find adoption information in Cook County:

Illinois Adoption Lookup for Cook County, Chicago, 1934 - 1963 from julic

My sincere thanks to Barbara, the author of this guest post.

Unknown to most adopted people and their families, there is a record that can be easily accessed that will give the birth name of the child given up for adoption in the majority of cases: the Chicago Daily Law Bulletin (CDLB). Adoptions are legalized through the county level of the court system and the petitions to adopt are posted in the CDLB and list the adoptive parents and the infant or child they wish to adopt.

The Rinn Law Library of DePaul University on 25 E. Jackson in Chicago has all of the CDLBs on microfilm and, most importantly, THESE RECORDS ARE PART OF THE PUBLIC DOMAIN AND CAN BE ACCESSED BY ANYONE! The library is located on the 5th floor and the microfilms are kept behind the check in desk.

The CDLB is very organized and the section where the petitions are listed is usually on page 3 or 4 under “New Cases” for County Court, which always falls after the Superior Court listings and before the Probate Court ones. Since the CDLB is published daily there are only 6 to 10 pages at most so one can search through a lot of records relatively quickly. My own successful search for the birth name of my father, who was adopted as infant in 1927, took a scant few hours and some of that time was wasted in looking through the Legal Notices sections for Adoption Notices. The only time adoptive parents post an Adoption Notice is when the biological father or family of the child has not consented to the adoption, or the infant’s identity was truly unknown (i.e., a foundling).

The other mistake I made was in looking in the CDLB issues that were published less than 6 months after the birth of my father -- the child has to have been living in the adoptive household for a minimum of 6 months before they can petition to adopt. I found his petition was filed almost exactly 7 months after his birth so it is a strong possibility that he may have been 1 month old at the time of his surrender to my grandparents.

Once you have the birth name you can look for the birth mother in other documents, e.g. census data, birth indexes (for the mother’s name), etc.

For those whose adoptions took place in other counties or states I recommend contacting Melisha Mitchell, founder of the White Oak Foundation ( Melisha is a great resource and passionate advocate for adoptees and their families. It was she who told me where to find these records and of the 6 month waiting limit. Her website is chock-full of information and has many links to other resources as well.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Lookups through Genlighten: I Tried on Your Shoes Today and I Like Them

Two blog posts in one day. I’m on a roll. And no, I haven’t done a bit of housework but I did shower. That counts for something.

So, a little background to start. I’ve been doing lookups for about five years and people are always asking me, “Do you know how I can find someone who does what you do in … ” You name the state or country. And my answer has always been, “No.” And people have also asked to pick my brain about how they might offer lookups like I do as a way of earning a bit of extra income.

Well, a couple of years ago, in the spirit of my husband’s entrepreneurial 3rd great grandfather who came to Chicago in 1835 to open a hat and cap store, we decided to address those questions and with the help of some experts in website design and coding is now up and running in private beta. (Private beta just means that we need to give you a registration code if you want to try it out and we’re happy to do that. ChiGen_1 will work.)

The site is a work in progress and we are still testing and tweaking, but it works! It makes ordering and offering lookups pretty simple and we’re excited about the possibilities that it offers to both “providers” and “clients.” If enough researchers embrace it, it will make it easy to find lookup help in many areas of the country and world and it will make it easy to offer lookups to those who need them.

So why am I writing about this today? Well, it just so happens that one of the providers currently on Genlighten offers lookups in Kane County, Illinois and it just so happens that I am researching a few families who lived there. I just picked out two death record entries from the Illinois Statewide Death Index and a marriage entry from Elgin's Gail Borden Library's Local Newspaper Index and sent them off to a researcher who will now retrieve the matching records and upload the scans to Genlighten for me. Today I’m wearing the same shoes that those of you who send me requests wear and it’s fun! I’m looking forward to getting those records as much as I think someone of you look forward to hearing from me. And, yes, I’m itching to order a few more things that I think will be of interest.

If those of you who try the Genlighten site have the same kind experience that I just had, well, I think we might have something there.

Sometimes Children Just Want to be Found

Last week I received a request from a researcher who had an urgent need for information from a death record so that she could prepare for an upcoming trip to Chicago. I told her I thought I could help and that I would have the record for her the next day.

Unfortunately, when I got home from the Family History Center I discovered that I had scanned the wrong certificate. It’s an easy mistake to make and it doesn’t happen often, but it does happen. I locate records using a regular microfilm reader and then I transfer the film to my scanner where I peer through a tiny magnifying glass to move the right frame into the scanning window. Sometimes it’s easy to misread the numbers.

So, having made a promise, I went back to the FHC to get the correct record. And it’s here that the story begins. I noticed that the child died of diphtheria and I remembered that the record that I had scanned by mistake had been for a child of the same surname so almost without thinking I moved the film one record forward to take a look. The next certificate was for a child who died of the same disease at the same address. Very likely a sibling. And the next record was for yet another child. Same disease, same address.

Within the space nine days in the summer of 1894 this family lost three young children, ages 3, 5, and 8, to diphtheria. I felt a deep sense of grief as stood by the reader. But I felt something else, too. I felt as if those children had wanted to be found. And I learned later that the researcher had been looking for members of this family for fourteen years.

A lot of times people people say, “Oh, you’re so good at finding death records” and it’s true that my experiences over the last few years have taught me a lot about how to search. But I can take no credit for this find. I think it was supposed to be and I think that I was simply the one given the privilege of making it happen.

How lucky I am to have a job with perks like that.

Friday, September 18, 2009

How to Find Chicago Birth Certificates at FamilySearch

A number of researchers have asked me how to find Chicago birth certificates at and so I've put together a quick tutorial which can be found at

If you have questions that the tutorial doesn't answer, just let me know!

Saturday, July 04, 2009

Happy Birthday, Lucy Theodate Holmes

One of the challenges in doing research in Chicago and Cook County is that many early births weren’t reported to the county clerk’s office. In other words, many people born in the late 1800s and early 1900s in Chicago didn’t have a birth certificate.

Baptismal records are usually a first-choice option for proving a birth date when no birth certificate can be found, but United States passport applications are another good source of birth information. They can be found on Family History Library microfilm, but they have also been available for some time on

Here’s an example from my own research of how helpful they can be.

For a number of years I have been gathering information about the family of H. H. Holmes, one of the the subjects of Erik Larson’s best-selling book The Devil in the White City. Holmes and his wife Myrta Z. Belknap had a daughter named Lucy and I was interested in finding a birth record for her. I started the search based on a couple of sentences from Larson’s book:

In the summer of 1888 her parents [Lucy’s mother’s parents] moved to Wilmette, Illinois, where they occupied a pretty two-story house on John Street, opposite a church. Lonely, sad, and pregnant, Myrta [Lucy’s mother] joined them at the house and there bore a daughter, Lucy. (p. 65)

A Wilmette birth would have had a Cook County birth certificate (they were kept separate from the Chicago birth certificates) but I wasn’t successful in locating an entry for Lucy in the Cook County birth registers on my first try (the registers serve as a helpful index to birth certificates) and even after I learned her birth date, I still wasn’t able to find her name in the register. I also checked the Chicago birth certificates with no luck.

Then I read in the program syllabus from the 2006 National Genealogical Society Conference (in Patricia O'Brien Shawker's "Passport Applications: Introduction and Background") that passport applications sometimes include birth dates and that passports were required for travel at the end of World War I. I knew that Lucy had been in Europe about that time. I ordered the appropriate microfilm through my local Family History Center and found the application for the passport she obtained to travel to Europe in 1918 for “Y.M.C.A. Overseas War Work.”

It was quite a find. From the application I learned that Lucy was born “on or about the 4th day of July, 1889” and this was supported by an affidavit from her mother, Myrta B. Holmes. I finally knew when she was born.

I also learned that her middle initial “T” stood for Theodate which meant that she was named after her maternal and paternal grandmothers, Lucy Thyrza Beers and Theodate Page Price. This was particularly interesting to me. Did it mean that Myrta knew something of H. H. Holmes’ parents, and if so, did she know them as “Holmes” or did she realize that her husband had been born “Herman Webster Mudgett?” Or did it mean that Holmes, without explanation, had suggested Theodate, his mother’s name, as a middle name for his daughter?

And I discovered (I have no reason to suspect that the information on the passport application is false) that Lucy was born in Englewood, Illinois, and not in Wilmette as I had previously thought. (An Englewood birth, by the way, would still have a Cook County birth certificate and so I still do not believe that her birth was reported.)

In this case the place of birth was significant. If Lucy was born in Englewood, she might have been born in the apartment above the drug store that Holmes ran. Holmes castle, according to The Devil in the White City, was only half completed in the summer of 1889 and Holmes didn’t move into the building until the following year. (p. 71) And if Lucy was born in Englewood, it seems reasonable to assume that Holmes attended the birth. This opens up all sorts of questions about the relationship between Myrta and her husband. Did Myrta go to Englewood just before Lucy’s birth or did she, perhaps, move back with Holmes before Lucy was born after spending time in Wilmette with her parents? (Holmes eventually built a duplex in Wilmette and Myrta and Lucy lived on one side and Myrta’s parents lived on the other.). And, if Holmes attended the birth, was he the only one there? Or would Myrta’s mother have perhaps been there, too? What was it about the relationship between Myrta and Holmes that allowed her to survive unlike many of the other women he was attracted to?

These questions fascinate me and I hope, one day, to find some answers, but back to the topic at hand. The important point here is this: If you’re looking for evidence of a birth in Chicago and haven’t had any luck finding a birth certificate, consider taking a look at passport applications. You might find yourself well-rewarded. In this case, I not only found a birth date and place, but the passport application included a photograph of Lucy in her late twenties. I was finally able to “meet” the person that, through other research, I had come to know so well.

Today is the 120th anniversary of Lucy Holmes’ birth. Happy Birthday, Lucy.


Images used in this blog posts are from U.S. Passport Applications, 1795-1925 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: The Generations Network, Inc., 2007. Original data: Passport Applications, January 2, 1906-March 31, 1925; (National Archives Microfilm Publication M1490, 2740 rolls); General Records of the Department of State, Record Group 59; National Archives, Washington, D.C.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Marriage License Mystery

Marriage license mystery on my hands . . .

Looking at the Chicago Tribune for June 17, 1890, p. 2 at I find that a marriage license was issued to Samuel Prince and Rachel Provolsky, but I don’t see their names in the Illinois Statewide Marriage Index and I need the license number to be able to find the license on microfilm.

Fortunately, the lists that appeared in the newspapers were arranged in license number order and so it’s not hard to deduce the license number based on index entries for the surrounding names. The following chart shows what I found using the online index.

Jan Jetonicky (153867)
Charles Foster (153868)
Samuel Prince
Wenzl Plefka (153870)
Omund Lindberg (153871)

Based on this, the license number for Samuel should be #153869 and I find an entry in the hand-written marriage index books (on microfilm) which confirm this.

However, when I look at the marriage license film, #153869 is not a license for Samuel and Rachel. It’s for James Gething and Bertha Bonk and their names appear in the online index. But, based on a quick quick check of the hand-written marriage index books James Gething’s name doesn’t seem to be there.

GETHING, JAMES BONK, BERTHA 1890-06-21 / 00153869 COOK

The marriage license numbers weren’t reused during this time period and so there should be only one record for any particular number.

I’m thinking I could scroll through the license film to see if the record for Samuel is misnumbered but I think there’s more to this search than that. Something out of the ordinary is up, but what? I wish I had quick access to the marriage license applications to see if James Gething’s name appeared there, but I don’t.

I’d love to hear your suggestions for how to proceed. Maybe the mystery will solve itself when these records go online at FamilySearch's Record Search pilot.

UPDATE: Quick update: License 153386 is for Frank Herle and Eva Greiner with a date of June 4.

One possibility is that the license number was written wrong on the license and thus "misfiled" according to that incorrect number but I didn't see the Prince license scrolling through the 153800s and because I think my chances of find the license are getting smaller and smaller I have to stop somewhere. I think it's time to wait and see if the license appears on FamilySearch's Record Search pilot . . .

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Happy Birthday, Benny Goodman

I'm listening to a 100th anniversary birthday tribute to Benny Goodman on WDCB's Swing Shift--wonderful music--and then I got to thinking . . . He was born in Chicago.

To view his birth record at FamilySearch Record Search, follow this link, click on his name, and then click to view the image.

Happy Birthday, Ben!

Monday, February 23, 2009

Researcher Finds Needle in the Haystack

I received an email from one of my clients and I think she’s come across a wonderful example of how powerful the Record Search pilot site is. With her permission, I will post her note here in a slightly edited form.

Thank you, Margie!



When the Chicago birth certificates became available [at] I pulled up everyone I could think of. I was looking for two sisters, Mabel and Joan Hayes.

I found Joan.

Baby not yet named
Second baby, two living
Father, Joseph Hayes, born in Pontiac Illinois, age 37, laborer
Mother Hannah Austgen Hayes, born in St. John, Indiana, age 31

I could not find Mabel. When I search for the name Austgen, I came up with

Mary *BROWN*
First baby, one living
Born December 29, 1910
Father, Joseph BROWN, born in Pontiac, Illinois, age 37, laborer
Mother, Hannah AUSTIN BROWN, born in Dyer, Illinois, age 29

Dyer is in Indiana, not Illinois, and is right next to St. John. The birth places of the parents matched so well!

This looked suspiciously like Mabel's birth certificate. Mabel's middle name could be Mary, her middle initial is M. I ordered the death certificates, and … guess what Mabel's birth date is: December 29, 1910! And on the death certificate, her father is born in Pontiac, her mother in St. John.

Can you believe it! It has the … wrong family name! I noticed it wasn't filed for more than a month after the birth. It’s like the doctor said, “What was that name? Something common? Oh, yeah, Brown.”

Funny thing, I NEVER would have thought of looking for the Hayes family under Brown!

Friday, February 20, 2009

Chicago Births at Record Search: When the Index Doesn't Match the Record

My husband pointed me to a blog called "TransylvanianDutch" which mentions the Cook County birth records online at FamilySearch Record Search. The author spotlights a birth record that's indexed as "Clifford Paul Cruvant" but clearly says "Edward Cruvant" and asks "What was the indexer looking at?" He goes on to say, "I want to know what that document is, what other information I might expect to find on it, and where I can get a copy of it."

I think I can be of help here.

The indexer must have been looking at the Certificate of Correction which was filmed just after the original birth certificate. This correction form doesn't seem to be included with the linked records on the FamilySearch Record Search site but it is available on Family History Library Film 1288077. The Certificate of Correction is numbered the same as the birth record and it includes the child's name as it appears on the certificate, the corrected name, the birth date and address, and the name of the person who submitted the correction. I suspect it also includes the date the correction was made, but the bottom part of this particular record isn't readable.

In a similar instance, one of my clients found an index entry for a birth register page that included a father's name, but that information was covered by a piece of paper attached to the register page on the linked scan. (The paper was probably a birth certificate form or a correction.) On the film, though, the next image is of the same page with the paper lifted to show the information underneath.

Saturday, January 24, 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 manufactured entirely of any other materials, Fur and Buffalo Robes and Lap Blankets left with them for safe keeping and for the deliver of which to the owners, they have made themselves responsible, loss or no loss, contained in the fourth story of the four story brick building with stone front known as Nos 34 and 36 Washington Street Chicago Illn." The policy was sold by Miller & Drew on La Salle in Chicago and the $10.00 premium provided $2500.00 worth of coverage.

Based on a list of policies held, goods covered, and settlement amounts, James appears to have had at least twenty-eight policies in effect at the time of the fire. But what about your ancestor? Was he or she insured?

Because extensive damage meant an unusually high number of claims, many insurance companies filed for bankruptcy and court documents related to these proceedings include lists of creditors--people with claims.

For example, creditors of The Republic Insurance Company of Chicago, Illinois listed in papers published by the District Court included the following:


John Cronin $250
Charles E. Crandall $500
C H McCormick $27500 (one of many entries for him)
Mrs. K Fishback $200
Patrick Murphy $381.06
Methodist Book Concern $2500
Gilbert Hubbard Co. $453.22

And the list goes on--three pages, four columns each, with tiny type. And that's just one insurance company. There are similar documents for many other companies included in the James A. Smith papers.

Unfortunately, the names on the lists aren't alphabetical. It would take some time to search for a particular name, and if the name was common, "Patrick Murphy," for example, it would be hard to determine whether or not the person listed was actually an ancestor. But if you are researching a unique name, it might be worth taking a look.

Lists of creditors are available from documents included in the James A. Smith papers, held by the Minnesota Historical Society, but they may also be available from the courts which handled the bankruptcy proceedings. Two of those mentioned in the James A. Smith documents include the District Court, Northern District of Illinois, and the District Court, Northern District of New York.

[With the exception of the letter from Charles Smith to James A. Smith which is held by the Chicago Historical Society, all other documents mentioned and/or shown in this post are from the James A. Smith Papers held by the Minnesota Historical Society.]

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

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, p. 10: Indiana marriage license is not good in Illinois

28 Mar 1912, p. 10: Nevada laws permit remarriage within months of a divorce; marriage there under those circumstances would be considered legal in all other states.

1 Apr 1912, p. 10: Nieces and nephews would inherit if unmarried uncle dies with no living parents or siblings

8 Apr 1912: Legal name change can be done through Circuit Court for about $15; Slight change in spelling wouldn’t require legal proceedings

12 Apr 1912: Aliens who have served in the United States military can receive citizenship with petition (no previous declaration of intent) and have only to prove a one-year residence

15 Apr 1912, p. 10: Wife desertion punishable by a fine or imprisonment; husband cannot be brought back from another state

29 Apr 1912, p. 10: If a man marries under an assumed name, he should obtain another license in his real name and be married again

6 May 1912, p. 4: Statute prohibiting marriage in Illinois during the first year after divorce went into effect 1 Jul 1905

3 Jun 1912, p. 6: Seventeen year old girl married without parental consent, lived with husband four months then went home; he cannot support her; marriage can be annulled

17 Jun 1912, p. 6: Statue prohibiting common law marriage went into effect July 1 … [year is difficult to read; probably 1900 or 1909]

19 Jun 1912, p. 6: If a spouse leaves for more than two years, it is grounds for divorce

5 Jul 1912, p. 6: If a father gains citizenship before his son turns 21, the son automatically becomes a citizen; if the son reaches 21 before the father gains citizenship, the son can file his own petition

8 Jul 1912, p. 4: Illinois divorce cases usually called within a couple of months of filing

27 Nov 1916, p. 8: Minister visiting from another state can marry an individual who has obtained a Cook County marriage license

22 Oct 1917: Man married in Florida, wife left him in England, and he is back in the United States; he would have to get a divorce before remarrying here

17 Dec 1917: Law making it illegal for divorced persons to marry until a year had passed went into effect 1 Jul 1905

24 Dec 1917: Woman divorces in Illinois, goes to Michigan to marry an Illinois resident and returns; “Evasion Act” might make marriage invalid

31 Dec 1917: A marriage between persons who used assumed names to get license is legal, but the parties are subject to punishment; Crown Point marriages are not announced routinely in Chicago in a public way

30 March 1918: No “statutory limit” on when a marriage license has to be used

20 May 1918, p. 6: A marriage license from Indiana can’t be used in Illinois

3 Jun 1918, p. 8: Marriage license generally issued by County Clerk; offices not open on Sundays

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, 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 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.

Using the Family History Library Record Lookup Service

Have you heard about the Family History Library Record Lookup Service? It's a very convenient way to obtain digital copies of Chicago vi...