Thursday, January 05, 2012

Chicago Lying-In Hospital Birth Records

When I look at birth certificates, I focus on names and dates and places--information I can add to a family tree. When I look at hospital records, I come face to face with the realities of giving birth. I think the records from the Chicago Lying-In Hospital and its satellite clinics provide fascinating and important family history details and I believe they merit a closer look.

The hospital records are listed in the Family History Library Catalog (FHLC) as Chicago, Illinois birth records, 1896-1933. The added author is Northwestern Memorial Hospital and I think the originals are most likely held by the Northwestern Memorial Hospital Archives.

These hospital books document services provided by four clinics connected to Dr. Joseph Bolivar DeLee, the physician who founded the Chicago Lying-In Dispensary at Maxwell Street and Newberry Avenue in 1895. Dr. DeLee was interested in improving birthing conditions and his clinics offered care to needy women while providing training opportunities for doctors and nurses in the emerging field of obstetrics. The primary clinic was Maxwell Station but others included Northwest Station, Stockyards Station, and the Chicago Maternity Center. The history of the Lying-In Hospital intertwines with other Chicago medical institutions and some related historical records, 1913-1943 can be found in the University of Chicago Library's Special Collections Research Center. Photos can be found here.

There are three types of clinic records available on the 14 microfilms--application books, birth books, and case books--and I will take a look at each of them in turn.

Application Books

Application books are available on 11 microfilms (1315895 to 1315905) and the FHLC identifies them by volume number and year range. However, some years are covered by more than one book (because the books are from different clinics) so it would be hard to know which film(s) to view without more information. I've created a key which can be viewed as a PDF here. The application books cover the following clinics:
  • Maxwell Station, Dec 1896 – Jun 1932
  • Northwest Station, Sep 1903 – Nov 1907
  • Stockyards Station, Aug 1923 – May 1926
  • Chicago Maternity Center, Sep 1932 – Aug 1933
There are two kinds of application books. The standard books, with the exception of the first one, have entries made on pre-printed forms. They are organized by the date of the woman's first visit to the clinic (births often happened a few months later) and recorded information generally includes name (either the woman's given name or her husband's), address, nationality, how the woman was referred to the clinic, information on previous pregnancies, and expected date of confinement. If the woman gave birth the birth date, sex, and weight of the child are noted. Beginning with Vol. 49, the forms asked for the birthplaces and ages of parents, but sometimes that section was left blank.

Eight of the earliest application books log house calls and I've indicated that on the key linked above. Entries in those books include name, address, including notations like "1 Floor Rear" to help the doctors locate apartments, the names of the physicians sent to assist, and the number of the bag that they carried. Time called, time started, and time returned are also noted along with the "nature of the case." In some instances the notes are detailed but if a birth was without complication, the entry might simply read "normal delivery."

Birth books are available on 3 microfilms (1315995 to 1315997) and they are included on the key linked above. It's difficult to determine the exact coverage because the volumes include birth books, case books, and birth and case books and some aren't labeled with a clinic name. As a group, they appear to go from November 1898 through July 1933 with the bulk of them being from the Maxwell clinic.

Birth Books

The entries are chronological by birth date and span two pages. Information includes spouse with the patient's name to the right, for example, "Gold, Sam Tillie," the names of the intern and student assigned to the patient, an application number, a case or confinement number, and the diagnosis which usually reads something like "Normal L.O.A. Female 8#."

The birth and case book from February of 1900 gives detailed instructions for how to determine whether to assign a case or a confinement number. For example, full confinement cases received a confinement number, hospital cases received no number, and false alarms, abortions, midwife cases, postpartum cases, and treated pregnancy cases received a case number.

The later birth books include obstetrical terms that were unfamiliar to me. In the example below, the word that begins with "ceph" is "cephalic" which, according to Wikipedia, means the head enters the pelvis first. "Para" refers to "parity," the number of times a mother has given birth. Comparing the notation for one of the births to the information on the corresponding birth certificate, it appears that this number refers to previous births. In other words a "I" would mean that the woman was giving birth to a second child. The abbreviations refer to the way the babies are facing. R.O.A., for example, means "right occipito-anterior."

Example: Page from a birth book showing delivery details.
It's possible to use the application number from a birth book to find the corresponding entry in the application book and following up in this way provides additional information, address, for example.

I think it's likely that the children listed in the birth books had birth certificates created and those records should be easily accessible at FamilySearch's Illinois, Cook County Birth Certificates, 1878-1922 database. Conversely, if you've found a birth certificate stamped "Chicago Lying-In Hospital," it should be easy to find the matching entries in the application and birth books.

Case Books

The birth book films include four "birth and case" books and five separate case books. The case book entries cover clinic visits that didn't result in confinement. Information generally includes names, application numbers, case numbers, and a diagnosis, "False Alarm," and "Precipitate Mid wife on case," for example.  These books include numerous entries for miscarriages.


So, here's what I've learned so far from and about these application, birth, and case books:
  • If a family had enough resources to pay a doctor, you probably won't find a birth or clinic visit listed in these records. For example the Maxwell Station book for 1900 has a notation that says, "Not case for dispensary – can afford to pay doctor."
  • Some of the poorest women in Chicago had access to innovative medical care from the late 1890s forward. Even if a child was born at home, the birth might have been assisted by a skilled physician.
  • Many of the entries in the early Maxwell Street books are for Jewish women from Russia but other neighborhood women used the clinic, too. 
  • The Stockyards Station books list religion. Notations include things like "Amer Cath," "Amer Prot Col," and Amer Prot"  and this information might prove useful in looking for baptismal records.
  • Comparing hospital record information with birth certificate information I notice that there are sometimes minor variations. Name might be spelled differently, for example.
  • Sometimes the doctors recorded remarks about the health of an infant. For example, I saw notations such as "Upper lip shows imperfect union" and "Birthmark."
  • Sometimes the doctors were called to the home only to find they weren't needed. One note said "Met husband who said he had an other doctor & did not need us.”
  • In the 1920s, the Stockyards book begins to mention payments. Notations include things like "Will try to give $5" and "$16.50" (I saw amounts ranging from $5 to $20) but some patients are listed as "Free Care."It's possible that these payments or donations were used to fund the construction of the new hospital.
What use might these records be? Here are some ideas that come to mind quickly:
  • Birth records are available for public searching up through 1922. If you want quick confirmation of birth without obtaining an actual birth record, these records might help.
  • A mother's medical history might provide some interesting insights into the makeup of a family. Was there a medical reason, for example, that there were large gaps between siblings' births?
If you've read to this point and find yourself thinking, "I wonder if my ancestor appears in the records?" post a comment. I'll gladly take a look at the records, time permitting, for the first person to ask.

Related Links Collected while Researching this Post

Caroline Benoist Collection at University of Virginia School of Nursing
Caroline studied in-home delivery at the Chicago Lying-in Hospital and her papers include some publications from the same.

Syphilis in Pregnancy and Labor

Report of a study done at the Stockyards Station published in American Journal of Syphilis; follow the link and search the book for "chicago lying-in."

American Child Hygiene Association Annual Meeting Report
Search for "chicago lying-in"

Directory of History of Medicine Collections
A tool for finding the locations of archived hospital records.

Numerous additional references can be found by searching for "chicago lying-in hospital" at Google Books.


Betsy said...

This is a fabulously valuable document, Cyndy. I can only say, WOW.

ChicagoGenealogy said...

Thanks! I hope the post proves to be of use to people researching families who lived in the poorer areas of Chicago. I admire the courage of the women listed in the hospital records and I want them to be remembered.

Juli said...

I'm so pleased that you posted this valuable information. Thank you!

Dr. Ruth said...

Hi Cynthia,
Thank you for this post!
I have been researching the Chicago Maternity Center for the last 13 years (on and off) and have collected stories from the doctor's point of view.
Please see my trailer film at Keyword: CatchTheBaby1
or you can see my website at
I would love to speak with you sometime.

Linda said...

I have my father's and my uncle's birth certificates. My uncle's is signed J. B. DeLee per Englert, 7/14/1906, and my Dad's J. P. L., 12/19/1908. Would I be able to find out more than is on the birth
certificates? If so, how so I start?

ChicagoGenealogy said...

Linda--Are you in the Chicago area? If so, you can search the records on film at the Wilmette Family History Center. If not, email me and I'll see if I can help.

Anonymous said...


Thank you so much for this post, Cynthia! My great-Aunt Sadelle Kishinefsky was born prematurely in 1901 and delivered by Dr DeLee at the Maxwell street branch of Chicago Lying In. She was one of the first babies to be brought home in the incubator that Dr DeLee invented. I will order these films to view at the Los Angeles FHL as soon as I can.

Jane Neff (shortened from Kishinevsky) Rollins
La Crescenta CA USA

ChicagoGenealogy said...

Jane--I'm glad my post was of help to you. It'll be interesting to see what the hospital record say about your aunt's birth.

Ruth said...

Hi Jane,
I would love any info that you get especially on the incubator. I have been studying the Chicago Maternity Center and Dr. DeLee for the last 13 years (on and off).
Ruth Ann Crystal, MD

P.S. I have some of the old DeLee teaching films from the National Archives.

Anonymous said...

Ruth, contact me at so we can talk in more detail about Dr DeLee, as I have some material about him that relates to the incuabtor.
Jane N Rollins

Ken H. said...

unI just stumbled on this blog and was pleased to see the interest in Dr. DeLee, who was my great great uncle. My dad's family spent every Sunday afternoon at Dr. DeLee's home on Ellis Ave during the 1930's. I am the family historian. Please let me know if I can help your research in any way.
Best Regards,
Ken Horner
La Canada, CA

Unknown said...

Cynthia - Your article is fascinating. I just received a non-certified copy of my father's pre-adoption birth certificate and indicated that his biological mother gave birth to him at the Chicago Lying-In Hospital. I had no idea what that even was and found your information to be very helpful. Was wondering if it is possible to gain access to the archives to see if there is any other information about my biological grandmother.

Thanks so much.


artmdiggs said...

Kelly, Did you know your father's surname from his biological parents? Also, did you review microfilm archives or did you write to Chicago's Bureau of Vital Statistics to obtain the non-certified birth certificate?

GrannyJo said...

I was excited when I saw birth records from Chicago Lying-In Hospital until I saw there weren't any after 1933. I was born there in 1938.

Char's Daughter said...

How do I get a certified copy of my mom's birth certificate from being born in Chicago Lying-In Hospital in 1937

ChicagoGenealogy said...

This page on the Cook County Clerk's website should tell you what you need to know when it comes to requesting birth records:

scotirish said...

I love how every once in a while you come along a site or as in this case a blog and you discover golden nuggets you didn't expect to find. My sister just called to ask how she could get a copy of her birth certificate. She mentioned she was born in Chicago Lying In Hospital, and was I (44), (she in 52) I had never met anyone who even heard of the hospital let alone actually being born there. Okay its not a subject that's going to come up while you're sitting in the stands watching you son play baseball, but still. Thank you for your coverage of this information and even mentioning the Wilmette Family Center, as I live in Evanston and Have a Happy Easter.

Colleen said...

I have been searching for my father's birth records for years. The only information I have is that he was born Alfred Sprigg Robinson in Chicago Laying In Hospital, December 1, 1925 to Alfred Robinson and Mary Ellen Chesley Robinson and I don't even know if that is totally accurate since my grandmother was 19 when dad was born and there is no record of her marriage either. I'm on the west coast, so have no way of getting to Chicago. Is there any other way to search these films?

ChicagoGenealogy said...

Colleen, if you send me an email through, I can refer you to someone who could help search the microfilms.

Maddie Nowlin said...

Colleen- I just received my fathers records. Lying-in records are now with university of Chicago. Call their records department- I filled out the record request, faxed it in and they needed about a month to get them and send them over.

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