Thursday, December 08, 2011

Divorce Case Listed in Tract Book

Yesterday I learned that a document number listed in a Cook County tract book was actually the case number for a divorce granted in the Superior Court. Here's the story:

A few weeks ago, I visited the Tract Department in the Cook County Recorder of Deeds office (118 N. Clark Street, Room 120, Chicago, Illinois 60602 ) and got some help book and paging some c. 1910 documents that I wanted to view. As the clerk looked at the list, three document numbers stood out to her. One had the letters "M L" following the number. I learned that this means "mechanic's lien" and that those early records aren't available.

One of the other two numbers--six digits each--had "C" following it and the other had an "S." The clerk mentioned that they might be "corporation" documents. It seemed a bit odd--the transaction appeared to be between family members--but we book and paged them and I went across the hall to have the corresponding microfiche pulled. The clerk there told me those particular records would have to be retrieved from the warehouse, so I placed the order.

Yesterday I stopped in to view the two corporation records. I verified that the document numbers matched but the records were from the 1880s and the names and property descriptions weren't relevant to my search. I asked if there might be another set of records with the same document numbers and in talking to the clerk in the Tract Department trying to puzzle things out all of a sudden we both realized that the "C" might not mean "corporation" at all. What if it meant "Circuit?" And what if the "S" meant "Superior?" What if they referred to court records?

I went across the street to the Circuit Court Archives, checked the Superior Court index, and made a discovery.The document listed in the Tract Book (266999 S) was indeed the case number for a divorce granted to the two people whose names were entered in the book. I had actually made copies from that file a few weeks ago.

Looking at the tract book page again I see many things that I didn't notice before--in part because I was focusing on finding documents rather than understanding the index and in part because I should have put my glasses on the first time around. : )

(These entries were actually in the middle of the page. I moved them up so the column headings would be visible.)
 First notice that the lines with case file numbers don't have a "Date of Instrument" date listed, just a "Date of Filing." It makes them stand out visually on the page. Second, notice that the first entry probably says "Di" in the Instrument column. I'm guessing that stands for "divorce." And notice that the note underneath seems to say "AmdBill" which I'm guessing means "Amended Bill."

I suspect I will find that the document number followed by a "C" is a Circuit Court case and looking back through my notes, I don't believe I've looked at that file. I'm hoping it might provide new insights into a complicated story. I also think a few of the other entries on the page might be for court documents as well and I plan to follow up.

I'm adding this image as a follow-up to the comment made by K Craine. I believe it shows the notation for probate.

Saturday, December 03, 2011

Chicago Jewish Historical Society

I'm working on a blog post about Northwestern Memorial Hospital Records which include birth registers from the Maxwell Station. One Google search led to another this evening and I landed on the page for The Chicago Jewish Historical Society.

If you have some time, check out their Journal Archive. Simply put, it's rich with history worth reading.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

New: Cook County Marriage Index 1912-1924

FamilySearch has Cook County marriage license images from 1871 to 1920.

A search of "Smith" at suggests that marriage licenses are available there from 1930 forward.

So what about the licenses from 1921-1929? Up until now, I've always said, "There's no public index. Just mail in a search request form to the Cook County Clerk's office." I've done that successfully for my own research.

Yesterday a fellow researcher (who wants to remain anonymous) mentioned an database called Cook County, Illinois Marriage Indexes, 1912-1924, new as of 17 Oct 2011. The notes say "The majority of these records come from the years 1914-1923" but the index still opens up a few more years and gives us an alternate way of searching before 1921.

 As you can see above, the index is alphabetical with both brides and grooms listed and it provides the name of the spouse, a date, and a serial number.

Comparing an entry with a marriage license (I chose Mary Appelman) suggests that the date is the marriage date (not the date the license was issued) and the serial number is the license number.

I can see a few ways that this index would be useful.

  1. If you find a 1921-1924 marriage listed here, it's pretty certain that a $15 search request to the county will result in a "found" result.
  2. If you can't find a marriage through 1920 at FamilySearch but can find the name here, it's likely that the license is online, just indexed in an interesting way. Keep looking. Search the Ancestry index by date, use other names to enter the FamilySearch database and then browse forward or backward to find the right license number.
One caution. The marriage indexes to 1916 available on FamilySearch microfilm include entries for licenses that weren't returned and so it can't be assumed that a couple married just because their names are in those indexes. (On the other hand, it's also not possible to assume that they didn't marry; it's possible the officiator simply forgot to send the license back to the clerk's office.) It would be tempting to use this new index to confirm a couple's marriage, but it's probably not wise without knowing how the index was created.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Cook County Naturalization: Stories from the Chicago Tribune

Many years ago, I remember seeing a picture of newly naturalized citizens in our local upstate New York newspaper. They were smiling, maybe even holding flags, and I sensed that they had just done something meaningful and significant.  I've always thought of my naturalized ancestors approaching the process in the same sort of way.

It wasn't until I did a search for "naturalization" in the Chicago Tribune Historical Archives that I realized there might be more to the story than a person's driving desire to become a citizen.

In October 1858, for example, the Chicago Tribune was encouraging two groups of individuals to naturalize--men of age who had arrived under the age of eighteen five or more years previous (they could naturalize immediately without filing first papers) and men who had filed declarations two or more years previous so that the waiting period to file the final papers had passed.

Why? Because the 1860 presidential election was coming up and the paper was eager to enroll more Republican voters. "Those who intend to vote the Pro-Slavery ticket need not apply for our assistance," the paper wrote. [1]

So what have I learned from the newspaper about the naturalization process in Cook County and what does it have to do with family history research?

1. Political parties encouraged aliens to naturalize as a way of increasing their voter pool. An October 1880 newspaper tells the story of an 81-year old Irish man who completed the naturalization process forty-nine years after he took out his first papers. The newspaper suggested that political party members "drew the octogenarian from his home and coax him to become a citizen so that he may help to diminish by one the minority for Hancock." [3] If your ancestor naturalized long after he was eligible, he might have received a little bit of outside encouragement.

2. If your ancestor naturalized in October, he might have been caught up in "The Naturalization Mill." In October of 1873 the Criminal Court was "working out citizens faster than a sausage-machine turns out sausages." [2] In October of 1880 the newspaper wrote, "the work of converting the subjects of foreign Kings, Emperors, or other potentates into citizens of the Great Republic is being very briskly carried on in all the courts of the city." [3] There were four courts that handled naturalization in Cook County early on--Circuit, County, Criminal, and Superior--and they sometimes held evening hours in order to accommodate the large numbers of people hoping to naturalize. If you look at the indexes (available on Family History Library film) you can see the entries swell during fall voter registration pushes.

3. The laws were sometimes bent. An 1873 article suggests "perjury is practiced with impunity" and that many of the men who naturalized were "no more entitled to vote than a citizen of Timbucktoo." [2] If you find  a naturalization record with a date that seems to be too soon after the arrival date for your answer, don't rule it on on that basis alone. It also seems that many found it convenient to state that they had arrived a minors to avoid filing first papers. An 1880 article states "A very singular feature was that so many of the applicants claimed to have come to this country while minors under 18 years of age. It would seems as though Ireland, Norway, Sweden, and Germany must have lost all their boys about six or seven years ago." [4]

4. And then there was downright fraud.  In December of 1873, a man who worked in the Criminal Court office, was convicted of issuing fraudulent naturalization papers to allow a fellow saloon-goer to vote. In this case, however, the man with alien status had no desire to vote illegally--it was the clerk who had initiated the process for him--and it was the clerk who was arrested. [5]

The Chicago Tribune published numerous articles on naturalization in the early years and if the subject interests you, I'd encourage you to browse the newspaper on the topic. If you come up with a find worth sharing, please post a comment.


[1] ""Get Naturalized this Week." Chicago Press and Tribune (1858-1860): 0_1. ProQuest Historical Newspapers: Chicago Tribune (1849-1987). Oct 27 1858. Web. 27 Oct. 2011 <>.

[2] "Local Politics." Chicago Daily Tribune (1872-1922): 4. ProQuest Historical Newspapers: Chicago Tribune (1849-1987). Oct 30 1873. Web. 27 Oct. 2011 <>.

[3] "Naturalization Papers." Chicago Daily Tribune (1872-1922): 6. ProQuest Historical Newspapers: Chicago Tribune (1849-1987). Oct 27 1880. Web. 27 Oct. 2011 <>.

[4] "Naturalization." Chicago Daily Tribune (1872-1922): 6. ProQuest Historical Newspapers: Chicago Tribune (1849-1987). Oct 28 1880. Web. 27 Oct. 2011 <>. 

[5] "Fraudulent Naturalization Papers." Chicago Daily Tribune (1872-1922): 3. ProQuest Historical Newspapers: Chicago Tribune (1849-1987). 1873. Web. 27 Oct. 2011 <>.

Monday, September 19, 2011

John S. Allen: Violin Maker

Today's post isn't about Chicago but it's about genealogy and another subject dear to my heart--fiddles and the people who make and play them. A few weeks ago a bit of insomnia brought me a couple of satisfying research finds, both fiddle-related, and today I thought I'd share one of them.

John S. Allen

On December 23, 2008, a fellow fiddler started a discussion on Fiddle Hangout titled "Who was John S. Allen?" I spent the holiday trying to answer that question. I knew that Mr. Allen had studied violin making with J. B. Squier in Boston, probably in the 1890s, and I knew that he had some connection to Battle Creek, Michigan, most likely moving there to work with Mr. Squier's son, V. C. but that was all I knew. Without an age or birth place or parent or sibling or spouse--some little something in addition to the name--I exhausted most all of the options I had and finally gave up the search.

Recently a Fiddle Hangout member who had seen the archived thread sent me some information on the Squiers and somehow in that I-can't-really-explain-what-prompted-me-to-do-that sort of way, I typed "john s allen" into FamilySearch. I glanced at some Michigan death results, clicked through on a few, and all of a sudden found myself staring at a name and an occupation: John S. Allen, violin maker. He died of meningitis in Mason, Cass, Michigan on 9 Mar 1901.

I don't know that this is the right man, but I think there's a very good chance that he is.

1) This man was born in New York. It's reasonable to think he might have learned his craft from a Boston master.

2) He died at the age of 26. That would explain why so little seems to be known about him. He didn't live long enough to become a well-known maker.

If this is the right man, then one of the violins he made, number 58, was finished in 1896 when he was a pupil of Mr. Squier. If the death certificate is correct, John was born in 1874 which means he would have been 22 at the time.

Further research tells me that John and his wife Pearl had a son Dell F. Allen, born 16 Dec 1900 in Mason. In 1920 Dell was living with his grandparents, Dell Forest and Alice L., in Chenango County, New York. The Social Security Death Index suggests that he died in Colorado in August of 1955.

Perhaps someday I'll find the time to learn more about Mr. Allen and his violins. If you happen to play one or if you happen to know the family, I'd love to hear from you.

Related census images

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Now Online: Chicago Catholic Church Records to 1915

You can now browse Archdiocese of Chicago Catholic church records online for free at FamilySearch and because the Archdiocese includes nearby towns, you will also find records for places like Oak Park, Evanston, and Cicero.

To access the images, you'll need to log into FamilySearch but if you don't already have an account, no worries. It's quick and easy to sign up and it's free. To find the images, go to FamilySearch, click on "US, Canada, and Mexico" under "Browse by Location," and scroll down to "Illinois, Chicago, Catholic Church Records, 1833-1925."

These records were digitized from Family History Library microfilm and even though the date in the title goes to 1925, you'll find that the records for most parishes end with 1915. That was the cutoff year when the records were filmed.

So, here are some tips for accessing the records.

1) Many of the books have index pages in the front.

2) If you're not sure which parish to search, locate the family's address in a city directory or on another record, a birth certificate, for example. Then use that address with the search tool at to find out which parishes were close to the address.

3) If you're looking for a marriage register entry, find a copy of the marriage license first. Many will list the parish name. If the record doesn't, find the priest in a city directory to see where he was serving, or if it's an early marriage, try searching my priest/parish database for ideas.

4) It's helpful to narrow parishes by ethnicity. I usually use the list at POINTers in Person for that purpose.

Eventually, these records will be indexed, but in the meantime, happy searching.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Indexing Chicago Catholic Church Records: Tip for Reading Polish Surnames

As I mentioned in my previous post, I'm determined to contribute some time to indexing Chicago's Catholic parish records because I think it will create a much-needed resource for pre-Fire research and this morning I'm working on a page from a Polish church.
I'm familiar with the records and I've even bumped into a lot of Polish surnames in 5+ years of working with Chicago vital record searches but I'm still struggling to read some of the names.
This morning I was puzzling over the surname in this entry:
The "kowiak" was clear but was the surname really Autkowiak? It just didn't feel right.
I went to the Polish Genealogical Society of America (PGSA) website and pulled up the Dziennik Chicagoski Death Notice Index Search 1890-1929. I typed "kowiak" in the surname box, chose "wild card search" and hit enter. In this case, the answer to my question was on the first page of results.
Antkowiak. Of course! I know that "n" and "u" are often misread but it's so easy to forget when I'm reading names that are unfamiliar.
I suspect this database will prove to be a huge help as I work at accurately transcribing other names.
If you have other insights that will help make this project easier for other indexers, please post them as comments.

Thursday, September 08, 2011

FamilySearch's Chicago Catholic Church Record Indexing Project: Please Help

Yesterday I learned from the IL-COOK-CHICAGO-L mailing list that FamilySearch has begun a project to index Chicago's Catholic church records. The project title is

US, Illinois, Chicago—Catholic Church Records, 1833–1910 [Part A]

and the resulting index will give us powerful new ways to access these records.

Why is the project so important? Just off the top of my head . . .

1) It will create an index to pre-Fire Catholic deaths.

2) It will create a multi-parish index to pre-Fire Catholic births.

3) In many cases it will alleviate the need to try to guess a baptismal parish using a family’s address (which often doesn’t work)

4) It will be a useful tool for locating baptisms that took place in a parish
that wouldn’t have been the “logical” choice.

I don’t have a lot of free time—we are working very hard to meet our goal of having the new version of ready for public beta by the site’s two-year anniversary this coming October—but I will do my best to contribute.

One of the things I’ve noticed searching for Chicago death records at FamilySearch is that there transcription errors that sometimes make it hard to pull records out of the database. This is inevitable, completely understandable, and I’m grateful to indexers who did their absolute best to decipher those hard-to-read records. But, as this new project begins, I’d encourage Chicago researchers who have experience working with the Catholic records and a familiarity with Chicago surnames to join in the project. I’m thinking the more pages that are indexed by people from the Chicago research community, the better the index will be.

And to that end, I’ve been thinking how much fun it would be to have a FamilySearch indexing party. I picture friends gathering around a table, laptops plugged in, batches downloaded and ready to go. Along with the clicking of computer keys, there’d be the occasional, “Please pass the chocolate-covered cashews?” and “Can anyone tell what this letter is?” Have any of you ever tried that? Was it fun?

Sunday, August 21, 2011

The Search for Mrs. Nelson: Part 6

The naturalization record for Sigurd Nelson that I ordered from the Iron Range Research Center arrived last Saturday and I'd give the process a 9 out of 10. The online index was easy to search, the online ordering process went smoothly, and communication from the Center was great. Three days before the document arrived I received a pleasant email letting me know that it had been mailed. The only thing that would have made it better? Receiving the record in digital format a few days quicker. (See The Search for Mrs. Nelson: Part 5)

If you've read previous posts, you'll remember that I am searching for the wife and child of a man named Sigurd Nelson. The researcher who's interested in them believes that they died of influenza before 1920 but he doesn't know anything more about them.

I have reason to believe that the Sigurd Nelson who was living in Duluth is the man the researcher is interested in and I was hoping that this Sigurd's naturalization record would give me the name of his wife and child.

Finally--a clue. The naturalization took place on 7 May 1920 and Sigurd's wife was listed as Myrtle, born 19 November 1899 in West Duluth, Minnesota.

A quick search of the 1920 census told me that Myrtle's middle initial was "L."

So, the Duluth Sigurd Nelson married a woman named Myrtle L. sometime between 5 June 1917 (draft registration card) and 8 January 1920 and it's very likely that he married her in Duluth.

Even though the researcher told me that he thought the wife and child died before 1920, I don't think I can rule this person out. It's possible that the "before 1920" conclusion was made because the family hadn't been able to find the family in the census in Chicago.

So, what's the next step?

Go after a marriage record? The client gave me parent names. If they're listed, I would learn Myrtle's maiden name (if I have the right family and if she did die, perhaps she's buried with her family in Duluth?)and be certain that I had the right Sigurd. (The researcher gave me parent names.)

Look for the death of a Myrtle Nelson in Duluth just after 1920?

Look for Myrtle's death in Chicago?

Look for a birth record to a child born to Myrtle and Sigurd?

See if I can find Myrtle and Sigurd in the 1930 census to rule them out?

Check Duluth city directories to see if Sigurd appears and if he then disappears?

What do you think? I'd love to hear your ideas.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Cook County Circuit Court Archives: Criminal Case Index, 1873-1944

Recently a researcher asked if I could check indexes at the Circuit Court Archives for a crime that happened c. 1922. I'm always happy to learn something new and so I said I'd give it a try. I'm no expert on using this resource, but maybe a few quick notes about my experience will be helpful to someone else.

The microfiche index with the title "Counter Index Alpha Criminal Div" is kept in a thick black notebook on top of the filing cabinets. It covers 1873-1944, but some years are missing.

The entries for the earliest years are docket book pages. Information includes the name(s) of the defendant(s), the indictment number, the reason for indictment, a dollar amount that's probably bail, and brief dated notations that probably document various steps as the case proceeds. One of the cases had a December 1879 entry that seemed to read "Cont [or Cout] by Agt" and an August 1880 entry that said "Stricken off &c."

The later years have index pages with columns that read "Defendant," "Original Indictment #," "Charge," and "Amt of Bail." The pages are numbered and a date (month/year) is often stamped on.

The entries aren't alphabetical, but they're grouped by first letter of surname in chronological order and they're fairly easy to search. In my search, I looked at names and then checked the Charge column to take a closer look at the cases that might have been a match.

So what kinds of cases are recorded in these indexes? Skimming a single page I found entries that included

Rape, etc.
Burg, etc.
Asslt intent to murder
Con games

What's the next step if you find a match in the index? The best answer can be found on the Archives list of holdings. If the records are still available, follow up. If not, perhaps the information gleaned from the index would lead to newspaper articles or other indirect sources of information.

For my search, I didn't find a match, but the files for the 1922 cases aren't available anyway. If I had been successful, though, the indictment records still exist.

So, now that I've had a first-look at the index fiche, I'd like to give it another try and I'm looking for a test case. If you are researching someone who might be mentioned in the Criminal Case Index, let me know. If you can narrow down the date--perhaps the crime is mentioned in the newspaper--email me. If I choose your project to work on, I'll check the index and follow up for free as long as you give me permission to blog about the search. (Disclaimer: If I came across a large file and you wanted me to copy more than what I needed for my post, I'd ask you to help with copy costs.)

Thursday, August 11, 2011

The Search for Mrs. Nelson: Part 5

The researcher who is looking for Sigurd Nelson's family members provided me with new information a couple of days ago and looking back on it tonight, the birth place he sent reminded me of the World War I Draft Registration Card that I mentioned in a previous post.

The "Kristiana, Norway" from the email seems like a great match for the "Christiana, Norway" on the card for Sigurd Godferd Nelson. Earlier today I had a hunch that I might be on the right track. Now I'm thinking that I really might be.

The Duluth newspaper mentioned that Sigurd G. Nelson had naturalized with other veterans in 1920 and I decided to go looking for an online index. I found one at the website for the Iron Range Research Center in Chisholm, Minnesota.

A search for Sigurd Nelson brought up five possibilities with one clear match.

The fee to order the record was $10 and I went ahead and placed the request. If Sigurd filled out the usual forms, I'm very likely to find a spouse and child listed. If not, it was worth the gamble. I think I will put this search on hold until the record arrives and then pick it up again.

Fingers crossed. It would be so much easier to search for deaths if I had names.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

The Search for Mrs. Nelson: Post 4

Note: If you haven't been following my posts, you can find background information for the search in The Search for Mrs. Nelson and Child Begins.

A number of years ago I spent some time searching Duluth newspapers at and so I decided to see what I could find out about Conrad and Sigurd Nelson using that approach.

A search for "sigurd nelson" in Minnesota newspapers brought up seventeen results. One was a mis-match. Seven were for a Sigurd G. Nelson who was an elected representative from Ironwood, Michigan. That left nine possibilities.

Among them I fould Sigurd the divinity student and Sigurd the young single man attending social events. It's possible this is the same person. Then I found Sigurd the soldier--possibly two men. One was mentioned as Sigurd and the other was mentioned as Sigurd G. Sigurd G. returned to be naturalized after the war. And then there were two mentions of a Sigurd being arrested for vagrancy, one before the war and one after. It's hard to tell if this is one man or two but it's likely that it's not the divinity student.

1912: Sigurd charged with vagrancy; testimony by boarding house matron from 615 W Superior who caught him going through another boarder's pockets

1915-Aug: Sigurd attends the birthday part for Miss Amanda Dignes, 27 N 66th Ave West

1915-Sep: Sigurd, a divinity student at Northwestern Theological College, goes to Chicago

1915-Nov: Sigurd Nelson to speak in the Norwegian-Danish M.E. Church

1915-Nov: Sigurd Nelson to speak in the Norwegian-Danish M.E. Church

1918-Jul: Sigurd Nelson among draftees leaving for Ohio

1918-May: Sigurd G. Nelson of 109 N 63rd Ave West is among draftees leaving for Ohio

1920-May: Judge grants citizenship to former soldiers including Sigurd G. Nelson

1919-Aug: Sigurd Nelson a guest at an Onaway Club Weiner Roast

1921-Jan: Sigurd Nelson is arrested for vagrancy

I'm not sure what to think except that the Sigurd G. who went to war is a possibility if the brother of the man I'm looking for was living in Duluth. I'll think on it over night and decide what my next step will be. In the meantime, if you have suggestions, please post.

The Search for Mrs. Nelson: Post 3

Note: If you haven't been following my posts, you can find background information for the search in The Search for Mrs. Nelson and Child Begins.

The researcher tells me that Sigurd was born 13 January 1894 in Norway and I've decided to try to use that information to find a matching record in's World War I Draft Registration Cards, 1917-1918.

I usually start with bare bones information to see what I'm up against and a search for "sigurd nelson" yielded 316 matches--to many to scroll through at this point. I edited the search and added a birth year of 1894 +/- 2 years. That narrowed the search to 218 results. I'm not 100% sure that he was living in Cook County at the time he would have registered, so I added a January birth month. This gave me three results.

*Sigurd A. Nelson, born 14 Jan 1892 in Illinois (living in Cook County)

*Sigurd Nelson, born 22 Jan 1893 in Wisconsin (living in Pacific, Washington)

*Sigurd Godferd Nelson, born 31 Jan 1894 in Norway (living in Duluth, Minnesota)

The birth dates for the first and third were close enough to earn a careful look.

The first man was married and was claiming an exemption because of his wife and because of his work for the telephone company. He was born in the United States. It's likely that he's the Sigurd A. that I'm inclined to rule out based on yesterday's research. (See Post 2)

The third man was single, born in Christiana, Norway. He was employed as a car repairer for a railroad. Checking my notes, the researcher hasn't mentioned Sigurd's birth town but he did give me additional information.

Sigurd had these siblings:

Conrad, 15 Jun 1885, married to Caspara Christenson and living in Berlin, New Hampshire in 1916. Son Arthur died at age 1.
Johann, 1889
Abraham, 1887

Their parents were Johannes Magnus Nilson 1852 and Anna Kristine Kristensen 1858.

I decided to look to for a draft registration card for Conrad to see where he was born. Searching with the birth month and year returned 384 possible matches, none with the exact birth date. I narrowed the search to New Hampshire with no luck. Scanning down the list, though, I found a John Emanuel Conrad Nelson born 11 July 1885 living in Duluth. (It wouldn't surprise me to find an unmarried brother living in the same place as a married brother especially since the researcher had suggested that Conrad might have taken care of Sigurd's wife and child when he went off to war.) This man's wife is listed as "Caspara" which matches the name the researcher gave me. I was hoping that the addresses on the two cards would match, but they don't.

I'm not one to jump to conclusions but when something seems promising, I like to follow up. I think my next step will be to find out more about this Sigurd and Conrad Nelson.

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

The Search for Mrs. Nelson: Post 2

I am searching for the unknown wife and child of Sigurd Nelson. (See The Search for Mrs. Nelson and Child Begins for details.)

FamilySearch's Illinois, Deaths and Stillbirths, 1916-1947 seemed like a good first step because spouse names are included the database.

I chose the advanced search option typed in "sigurd nelson" with 1916-1922 with "Exact & Close match" selected. No matches were found. I removed the dates and searched again. This retrieved three records:

*Sigurd A. Nelson who died in 1944, wife Emma, parents listed

*Sigurd A. M. Nelson Jr., the son of Sigurd A. M. Nelson and Anna W. Bietan who died 23 May 1921. His birthdate was given as 20 Oct 1817 but he was three years old so he was likely born in 1917.

*Anna Cathrine Maurer who died at the age of 44, the daughter of Sigvard Nelson.

I decided to follow up on Sigurd A. M.

A search for "sigurd nelson" in FamilySearch's Illinois, Cook County Marriages, 1871-1920 brought up 13 matches. The researcher told me that Sigurd arrived in 1912, so repeated the search with a narrower date range and got five results. Four were for women named Sigrid. One was the match for the parents of Sigurd A. M.

Groom: Sigurd A. Nelson
Groom's Estimated Birth Year: 1891
Groom's Birthplace: Chicago, Cook, Illinois
Bride: Emma Bietan
Bride's Estimated Birth Year: 1893
Bride's Birthplace: Chicago, Cook, Illinois
Marriage Type: Marriage
Marriage Date: 06 Sep 1916
Marriage Place: Chicago, Cook, Illinois

I know that Sigurd was born in Norway but I can't rule out the match based on the groom's birthplace. The Chicago marriage licenses didn't ask where the parties were born; they asked where the parties were living.

I decided to learn more about Sigurd, Emma, and Sigurd, Jr. from the 1920 census from

According to the census, Sigurd was born in Illinois to Swedish parents and Emma was born in Illinois to German parents. Sigurd is an office clerk for a telephone company. Based on birth place, this doesn't seem like the person I'm looking for but I won't rule him out yet.

Notice that the marriage license lists the bride as "Emma Bietan" and the death record gives the mother as "Anna W. Bietan" and the census lists the wife as "Emma" with "Sigurd, Jr." in the household. I think Emma and Anna are the same person.

Looking back to the first death index search, there's a Sigurd A. Nelson with wife Emma who died 16 Jan 1944. I think I can cross this family off the list of possibilities.

So, back to square one a little farther ahead.

I decided to make a quick check of the directory at The best choice was 1917 but there was only one image available. (I KNOW that but I always forget. I'll have to use the microfilm copy the next time I'm at the Family History Center.) I checked 1923 instead.

There were four people of that name in the city in 1923.

I think I'll poke around in World War I draft registration cards next to see if I can figure out where Sigurd was living and what his occupation was. If I had an address, I could look for matches in the Chicago Death Index, 1871-1933.

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

The Search for Mrs. Nelson and Child Begins


Recently someone asked for help finding out what happened to the wife and child of "Captain Sigurd Nelson." I haven't been able to turn up anything quickly but I think there are answers in Chicago records and I'm not ready to give up.

I thought blogging might be an interesting way to keep track of a multi-step search done over a number of days and so I offered to take on the project as a no-charge challenge in return for permission to talk about the search in a public forum.

The Starting Point

Name of wife unknown

Wife died in a flu epidemic, 1918-19??

Child of unknown age and gender also died from flu

Sigurd died at age 32 in 1926 and is buried at Montrose Cemetery

Sigurd has no grave marker and no family members are buried with him

Sigurd was born in Norway in 1894

Sigurd came to the United States in 1912 at age 18

Sigurd's military records destroyed in 1972 St. Louis fire

Sigurd had an older brother Conrad in Chicago

Conrad might have taken care of Sigurd's wife/child during the war

Other relatives buried at Mount Olive on Narragansett

Research Ideas

I can think of many ways to approach this search but I think the most obvious first step is to check FamilySearch's Illinois, Deaths and Stillbirths, 1916-1947. Spouse names are often included in the search results and a death record for a Nelson woman who died c. 1918 with a husband Sigurd would be a very likely match.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Norwegian Ancestors? Try the Pedersen Funeral Home Records

Recently a client asked for help locating death information for members of a Norwegian family and made me think of the John M. Pedersen & Sons Funeral Home records that are available on Family History Library microfilm. If you have Norwegian ancestors who died in Chicago between 1899 and 1972, you might want to check these out.

Last night I took a look at the first few items on film 1672191 which covers part of 1913 through part of 1926. The first thing I noticed was that the volumes were indexed and the index included addresses, something that might be helpful when researching a family with a common surname. The handwriting was clear and it was easy to jot down page numbers of interest.

The volume I looked at was organized chronologically, one page, one person, and the page numbers were easy to read. The entries included the usual information about the deceased--things like name, death date, parents, birth date, and address--but they also included specific burial information including information about the service (location, time, officiating clergyman) and the burial (casket size and maker, method of travel to the cemetery, and expenses). If an obituary was published, the name of the paper was given. To get a better feel for what these records are like, take a look at the iPhone photo examples below.

So, why would you want to consult these records?

1) To learn if and where an obituary was published.

2) To obtain information about deaths after 1947 without ordering $15 death certificates.

3) To gather details about a burial.

4) To search for a Norwegian death when you can't find the name in a death index.

As I write this, I'm wondering if the funeral home records before 1910 would provide any information than the Chicago death certificates did during that time--spouse or parents, for example. I'll check the next time I'm at the Family History Center.

_ _ _ _ _ _ _


I checked the volumes beginning with 1899 and similar to the early death certificates, the register didn't provide a place for parent names.

But, the register that begins with an August 1903 entry does include space to record that information. Most times parent names are left blank but a few are recorded. In the examples below, Violet Carlson's parents aren't listed on the death certificate but her father's name is given in the Pedersen register. This would be a valuable piece of information for a researcher trying to piece together a family, especially one with a common surname.

So, if you find a death certificate at FamilySearch for 1903 forward and if the undertaker is listed as "John M. Pedersen," it would be well worth checking these records.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Free Genealogy Workshops in Wilmette this Saturday

If you're in the Chicago area, there are two free genealogy workshops at the Wilmette Family History Center on Saturday, July 30, both led by Denise Mortorff, a retired university lecturer from California with 35+ years of family history research experience.

10:00 am
Furthering your colonial ancestry requires resourcefulness. Move your search forward by learning the historical context in which you are searching, the knowledge and skills required to conduct research, record types, their availability and how to determine their ”fit” with your research needs.

11:00 am

Thousands of organizations around the world house materials that can enable researchers in furthering their ancestry. Learn about organization types, how to identify those pertinent to your research needs, and ways to access their collections from a distance. Considerations in creating effective research queries will be presented.

If you're interested in one or both, feel free to email me for more information.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Finding a Story in Antique Photos

Last week my husband's banjo teacher told me that a friend of his had uploaded scans of historical photos--including pictures of early musicians--to a Facebook account and that I should really take a look. I did.

One photo in particular caught my attention--a man and a woman standing side by side for the photographer. I don't know anything about the people in the photo but it was easy for me to imagine a story filtered through my own experience and imagination.

The man's coat--not a suit jacket, a coat--was heavy and hung from his shoulders in a box-like shape. The bottom of it was noticeably wrinkled and his pants were baggy and worn, his shoes coarse. His large hands were drawn up across his chest in an awkward sort of way but they looked strong, like the hands of a laborer. The woman cut a solid figure clothed in a dark dress with rows of light vertical dots and a wide ribbon at her collar.

The fascinating thing was that the faces of the man and the woman seemed to match. It's possible that they were brother and sister, but I don't think so. Some people say that people who have been married a long time begin to look alike. I think that might be true.

Both the man and the woman were staring straight ahead, almost emotionless, but the woman had threaded her arm through the crook of the man's and it seemed that their bond was strong. Whatever life held for them, they were in it together. I suppose I'm a romantic at heart but I loved looking at that photo and I've thought about it ever since.

Browsing the album reminded me of a batch of old photos that I once bought on eBay. Some of them are from Chicago photographers and I think it's likely that they're all Chicago-related. Only one has any identifying information. The back of the first photo below reads "Frank Myslinski, 21.E. 120 Str, Kensington."

After my experience looking at the Facebook album this week I thought I'd share the photos that I have. Peering into the pictures below, do you see a story? If you do, please share.

Sunday, July 03, 2011

Fourth of July: A Cautionary Tale from The Chicago Tribune, 1907

On July 4, 1907, The Chicago Tribune used a cartoon drawing to remind local folks to use caution when celebrating the holiday with fireworks and other explosives. (The image below is from The Chicago Tribune, 4 July 1907, p. 1 and it was accessed through

Unfortunately, the advice came too late for Mrs. Hart and her son. Her death certificate tells us that she died of "Organic Heart Disease" but apparently there's more to the story than that. (Death certificate image from FamilySearch's Illinois, Cook County Deaths, 1878-1922)

The Chicago Tribune reported that she "fell dead on her doorstep from heart disease when son and playmates exploded giant firecracker." (The Chicago Tribune, 4 Jul 1907, p. 1, col. 3 accessed through

Have a safe and happy Fourth of July everyone!

Friday, May 27, 2011

Face to Face with a Marriage License Clerk

It's funny how things happen.

This morning my husband was reading The Ancestry Insider and the blog post linked to a FamilySearch Wiki entry titled "Gretna Greens in the United States" and he sent me the link.

I knew I'd seen articles in the Chicago Tribune about the topic so I logged into and did a quick search and suddenly found myself face to face with Cook County's "Marriage License Clerk Salmonson." Did you ever wonder what the County Clerk's office was like at the turn of the century? Take a look at this photo and imagine yourself next in line to get a marriage license. "Name? How do you spell that? Residence? Age?" Peer into the photo below to see the clerk's office through your ancestors' eyes.

I've often wished that I could talk to some of the clerks from days gone by. I'd love to ask them about the records that they kept--how they were created and organized and stored. This is kind of a next best thing.

The article is from The Chicago Tribune, 27 April 1902, p. 56 and I located it using Click on the image to enlarge it to full size.

Chicago, by the way, was a popular place for eloping couples to marry. And if you're looking for a "Chicago" marriage that's nowhere to be found, try places like St. Joseph, Michigan (Marriage Index, 1889-1925) and Lake County, Indiana (Indiana Marriage Collection, 1800-1941 at

Saturday, March 05, 2011

Are Sources Ever Really Exhausted?

An email from a blog reader a little over a week ago got me wondering. How many valuable records are there out there that we don't search for because we don't know they exist?

A number of years ago I discovered the Minnesota Historical Society has a collection of papers from James A. Smith, my husband's ancestor. It was an exciting find and I immediately called to see if I could get photocopies of everything in the file. I gave them my debit card number and waited for the envelope. Nothing came and I thought, "Oh, well."

And then a box arrived--a box with three or four inches of paper and a receipt for more than I usually pay for a week's worth of groceries. I was a bit poorer than I had expected to be but I was elated. Most of the papers documented activities of the Northwest Fur Company in the mid-1860s (James was a partner) but there were also some land records and other miscellaneous items.

A few years later I was able to go to the Minnesota Historical Society in person and I found myself with a few extra hours at the end of my visit. I asked for the box of James A. Smith papers thinking that it would be fun to see the original documents. Looking through the files I noticed a folder with family letters. Family letters? When I got my bearings I realized that the folder contained correspondence between my husband's ancestor and his ancestor's brother--letters written in 1835 at the time that James A. Smith first came Chicago. Those letters hadn't been included in the box of photocopies that I'd received and they answered many of the questions that I had about the Smith family's decision to settle in the west. Finding those documents was moving and memorable.

Last week I heard from a researcher, Elliott Malkin, who had a similar Chicago-related experience. He had researched his great-grandfather's life in depth and thought that he had exhausted all of the available sources until he received an email from the granddaughter of his great-grandfather's third wife. It's a great story and I asked him if I could share the link.

Read Hyman Victor Revisited. It's a wonderful example of genealogical serendipity and collaboration. And then, once you've finished the blog post, click on the "my website about his life" link to visit the website that Mr. Malkin created to document his grandfather's life. It's a very nicely done.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Genealogy-Related Focus Group Opportunity in Chicago

If you live in the Chicago area and would be interested in participating in a paid genealogy-related 2.5 hour "market research discussion" organized by Schlesinger Associates on January 31 or February 1, email me and I'll send you the flyer.

This is not related in any way to or In fact, I didn't even qualify to participate! I received an email from Schlesinger Associates and offered to help get the word out.

I'm guessing, though, that it might be related to a post on the FamilySearch Facebook page yesterday asking for participants for a focus group in New York City. But, it's just a guess.

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...