Thursday, September 13, 2012

Chicago Naturalization Searches: What the "730" Means

If you search the Illinois, Northern District Naturalization Index, 1840-1950 at FamilySearch, you'll probably come up with a card like this one:

If the court is listed as Circuit, County, Criminal, or Superior then the record is held by the Cook County Circuit Court Archives. If the court is listed as District, then NARA Great Lakes has the record. But, what if no court is listed?

Recently I had a client send me the two cards below and I wasn't sure how to follow up because no courts were given. (I removed the names for posting.)

A quick email to NARA solved the mystery. The "730" prefix is the code for the United States District Court in Chicago.

If you visit NARA's page on naturalizations you'll find a link that will let you order copies of naturalization records online for $7.50 (includes postage).

If you need naturalization records from the Circuit Court Archives, you can submit a request by mail or I can retrieve them for you for a $10.00 fee.

Many of these records are also available on Family History Library films. Search the catalog to check for availability.

Sunday, August 05, 2012

Family History Expo Day 2: New Research Ideas

Okay. I'll be honest. The Springfield Family History Expo memory that will stay with me the longest--maybe forever--was my encounter with the warm pecan buns that were available as the final stop on the breakfast buffet that I splurged on the morning of the second day. They were delicious beyond words and I ended up eating four of them. (They were small. Really.)

After breakfast, I headed to the patio on the 14th floor, played a few fiddle tunes to relax and start the day off right, and then I headed to class.

First up, "Tracing American Ancestors Who Lived in Cities," a double-session workshop taught by Arlene H. Eakle, Ph.D. She shared many wise insights but here are three of my favorites:
  • People move within cities. First they live on the top floor, then they moved to the basement. From there, they move to the first floor and then (I'm pretty sure I have this right) they move on to better neighborhoods. How many of us have followed families through address after address in the Chicago city directories? That might be a reason.
  • Cities are big. Lots of people, right? And imagine how many births and deaths there would be to record in a single day. Imagine what it would be like for a single clerk handle that. Cities might  have kept multiple registers for events that happened during the same time period. Just because a name doesn't appear in one record doesn't mean that the event didn't happen in the area. Look for other records. This is relevant to Chicago/Cook research. For example, you WILL NOT find a "Chicago" birth recorded in a "Cook County" birth register even though Chicago is in Cook County. Why? Because Chicago births were recorded in "Chicago" birth registers. 
  • Some occupations are tied to a geographic area. Makes sense, right? If you are a coal miner, you live where there's coal. If you are a commercial weaver then you live where there's a mill. If your immigrant ancestor had a trade, you might be able to use that occupation along with other clues to figure out where the family lived previously. 
As a side note, Arlene uses an overhead projector and carries her transparencies around in notebooks. It's refreshingly old-school and it gives her lectures breathing room and flexibility. I liked it.

After a short lunch break, I sat in on James L. Tanner's "A Review of Major Genealogical Libraries and Repositories." The take-away from that? Two and I was aware of both, but hadn't really explored either in much depth. But, what's a lazy Sunday afternoon for if it isn't for that?
Census records to 1930 are there, free, in an easy-to-browse format. And, of course, there are thousands of scanned books of interest to family history researchers.

I'm fascinated by the media section, though. t took a bit of digging through some modern uploads, but I stumbled on a number of Chicago-related movies. If you missed Chicago's 1933 Century of Progress Exposition, it's not too late to take a tour (no sound). Or maybe you just discovered that your ancestor was a sign monkey. A what? Check out this informative movie about Chicago's Chevrolet sign. (I wonder what happened to it? Anyone know?) And where could a family turn for a small depression-era loan? Check out Financing the American Family
You'll want to explore this site in some detail, but this morning I followed up on the class suggestion to look at the Historic Newspaper section.  I typed in "valentine smith" with "chicago" (Valentine, the subject of one of my long-term research projects, worked tirelessly to promote and preserve Chicago's history during the early 1900s) and got two results.

The one from Maysville, Kentucky caught my eye--I've visited there for research--and so I clicked through.

I have long sensed that Valentine was a "society woman" but it was nice to see that someone else viewed her that way, too. I knew that she was involved in Chicago's centennial celebration, but I didn't realize, specifically, that she'd written a poem for it and I had no idea that writing had been a passion for her since childhood. If James Whitcomb Riley was an "admirer," how did he become acquainted with her work? Did their lives cross paths? Did she publish any of her writing? And why would a Maysville paper mention Valentine and James? Research-wise, I'm off and running again.

My final class of the day was Jennifer Holik's "Branching Out: Teaching a Youth Workshop" presentation. She's recently published a series of books called Branching Out and she shared tips for introducing children to family history research. Jennifer will be teaching workshops for the younger generation at the upcoming Illinois State Genealogical Society Fall Conference in Rockford. Check them out.

The conference wrapped up with a closing keynote titled "Holly Shares Her Personal Research Magic and Awards the Grand Prize  Drawings" by Holly T. Hansen, president of Family History Expos, Inc. Her story highlighted the magic that she's seen in her own personal research quests and I suspect most people in the room were thinking what I was thinking: "Yes. Exactly." We've all experienced that magic. 

But, what do they say? 99% perspiration and 1% inspiration. I don't really like that saying and you'd never find me saying it but I think it applies here. Much of the magic happens when we put the time in to learn the resources, create a plan, and  follow through without giving up. I came home with a number of new ideas for research and the motivation to follow through on them. Magic has already sprung from that.

Thanks to the Family History Expo folks for putting together a worthwhile (and delicious) weekend.

Friday, August 03, 2012

Family History Expo Day 1: Chicago-related Insights

Chicago from the train
Long day. I caught a 6:35 a.m. Metra train into Chicago’s Union Station, took  Amtrak’s 8:15 a.m. Saluki to Champaign, and rode the rest of the way to Springfield by bus. I arrived at the Illinois Family History Expo in time for the 2:00 p.m. opening keynote and spent the rest of the afternoon and evening attending conference sessions. The last class finished about 8:40 p.m. which left me some time to take my fiddle up to the 14th floor garden patio to practice and now I’m back in my room, ready to share a few of the many things that I learned that might be of use to Chicago researchers.
The opening keynote was a talk by Bernard E. Gracy, Jr. titled “Ancestral Echos” and a quick summary might go something like this: the times and places and events associated with the lives of our ancestors echo down through the generations. Our family history becomes richer and more understandable when we learn to identify those echoes.
As I’ve mentioned before, my husband’s ggg-grandfather, James Ayer Smith, traveled from upstate New York to Chicago in 1835 to establish himself as a manufacturing hatter, an occupation that would sustain his extended family for the next 40 years. There were setbacks and there were successes and family stories lead me to believe that his descendants were proud of his courage and his accomplishments.
I have to wonder if his example didn’t echo strongly in his granddaughter’s decision to run her husband’s business after his untimely death? And I wonder what role it played in her grandson’s decision to start his own business? I know that both my husband and I looked to him for inspiration as we made a decision to launch our own entrepreneurial endeavor.
So you have Chicago ancestors? What echoes from their lives have come down through the generations? Where did they come from? When did they arrive? Where did they live? Who were there neighbors? Did they move around the city or stay in one place? What were their communities like? Did they associate with any religious congregations? What about the schools they went to? Did they belong to any clubs? What did they do for recreation? The more you are able to place their lives in context, the better chance you'll have of identifying the echoes. Reading through early issues of the Chicago Tribune online is a very enjoyable way to see the city through the eyes of its former inhabitants.
The first two classes I attended were given by Arlene H. Eakle, Ph.D. One was titled “What is “The South,” and Why is it Such a Genealogy Research Challenge” and the other was titled “Want Land Will Travel: Land and Property Records in the Southern US--State-by-State.” I have no experience researching in southern states and I thought it would be both useful and enjoyable to learn something new. It was.
Most of the information was state and region specific but I came away with one tip that is universal. Put in terms of Chicago research, if you’re reading a book related to family history in Cook County, check out the sources listed and follow up. You might discover a new-to-you resource that would be of help in your research.
Another tip. Record loss is a stumbling block for southern research and a similar challenge exists for Chicago research because of the 1871 fire. Just because one record was destroyed doesn’t mean there isn’t an alternate source for the information. Look around and think creatively. You might be surprised at what you find.
The next class I went to was James L. Tanner’s “ for Experienced Users.” The take-away from that? Use the website’s card catalog to select specific databases to search. Try it. Type in “chicago” and look at the list that comes up. Narrow it by using the filters. “Chicago Irish Families, 1875-1925is a valuable database for Chicago research but you might not find it doing a global search. Also check out Reminiscences of early Chicago and vicinity. It’s fun to read and it’s a useful way to gain insights into the lives of early Chicagoans.
Evening view from the 14th floor garden patio
The last class I attended was Jennifer Holik’s “Visualizing Your Genealogical Data.” Jennifer is a Chicago researcher and her talk on using Excel, OneNote, maps, and blogs to identify information gaps and craft focused research questions was sprinked with examples from her own Cook County research.
Here’s a tip I think you’ll like: if the streets your ancestors lived on no longer exist (maybe they’ve been replaced by a university or a shopping center) use historical maps to help in your search. Jennifer mentioned one in particular--Tillotson’s--and I’ve pulled up a 1910 version online for you. Check it out!
And so, a long day comes to an end. Four classes tomorrow and two of them will focus on research in cities. Certainly there will be something valuable for Chicago researchers there. 

Monday, July 23, 2012

Boost your Genealogical Superpowers at the Springfield Family History Expo

Did you ever think about whether or not you have a genealogical superpower? It's a question that we toss out when we interview researchers for a spotlight over on our site and it's one that I've been thinking about recently.

I'd like to think that I do. I'm pretty good at finding Chicago-related things at the Wilmette Illinois Family History Center--I can usually pull badly misspelled index entries out of the Illinois Statewide Death Index and there have been a few occasions when I've found Chicago death certificates that just didn't seem to be there--and people are always saying, "Ask Cyndy. She'll know."

Truth is, though, I don't have all the answers and I don't have any superpowers at all. When I am able to help people with tough research questions, it's just a matter of having learned what records are available and what information they generally include. A person looking for an early birth date for Chicago who wasn't familiar with all of the available resources would check the birth index, right? It's the logical approach! But someone who's used the records at the Family History Center extensively might also check the birth registers, the delayed birth index, church baptismal records, and maybe even Chicago Lying-in Hospital records.

So what does this have to do with the Illinois Family History Expo in Springfield? Well, it seems to me that spending a couple of days attending lectures by folks who are knowledgeable about their speaking topics is good way be exposed to new resources and new ideas and that seems like a good way to boost our research superpowers.

Case in point. A few years ago Dean went to a conference--I think it was National Genealogical Society conference, but I don't really recall--and brought home a thick volume of conference handouts. One day I picked it up and started reading. One of the lectures had been on United States passport applications--something I hadn't thought about. (They weren't yet on at the time.) One of my most significant research finds--a photo of the woman I was researching--came about because of what I learned, albeit indirectly, from that conference.

So, if you're interested in attending, I don't want you to find yourself saying, "If I had only  known about that ... "

Here's the scoop:

Family History Expo
Springfield, Illinois
August 3-4
Crowne Plaza Hotel

The keynote address will be given by Bernard E. Gracy, Jr, External CTO and VP Business Development, Volly at Pitney Bowes.

Ask-the-Pros will be available for Q&A

There is no cost for attending the keynote address or visiting the exhibit hall. Early registration for classes is $69, at the door $99, for a single day $59 or to attend any single class $20.

Grand Prize Drawings include: World Discovery Memberships as door prizes
FamilySearch--canvas goody bag filled with fun FamilySearch stuff
National Genealogical Studies--$900 online genealogy course
Arlene H. Eakle, Ph.D.--$300 research package.

Expo details and the class schedule are available online at:

If you can make it, see you there! If not, I'll be blogging from Springfield, sharing some of the the superpower-enhancing information that I pick up from classes I attend. 

I'm psyched. I might come home needing to sew myself a cape.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

I'll be Blogging from the Springfield Family History Expo

Last week I received an email inviting me to be a "Blogger of Honor" at the upcoming Family History Expo in Springfield, Illinois. In return for a number of perks including free conference registration, I would need to share information about the event beforehand, report on presentations and exhibits on the Friday and Saturday of the gathering, and wrap up with a post-conference summary of my experience.

I gave it a lot of thought, and decided to give it a try. I've been to a number of conferences over the last couple of years, but I've always gone as an exhibitor for our website,, and I've never  attended classes. This will be a first!

My plan is to approach the conference with three questions in mind:

1) What can I learn that might be of use to Chicago researchers?
2) What can I learn that might be of use to me in my own genealogy-related activities?
3) What can I learn that might help me better meet my clients' needs?

Browsing the list of presentations has been fun. Here are some of the classes I'm interested in attending:

  • Ancestors Making News
  • Branching Out: Teaching a Youth Workshop
  • A Review of Major Genealogical Libraries and Repositories
  • Scanning and Photo Retouching for Beginners
  • Shooting a Quality Family History Video with Your Cell Phone
  • Storytelling - Sharing with the Next Generation
  • Tracing American Ancestors who Lived in Cities
  • Visualizing your Genealogical Data
  • Want Land Will Travel: Land and Property Records in the Southern US--State-by-State
As you can see, there's a wide variety of topic to choose from.

So, come August 3, I'll be hopping on a train in Chicago headed to Springfield for a new genealogy-related experience. Have you attended conferences before? Any suggestions for how to prepare? How to get the most out of the presentations? Is there a class on the list that you'd like me to report back on?

If you're attending the Expo, be sure to say hello. I'll probably be the only person there carrying around a violin case covered in apple fabric so that I can step out for a fiddle break, as the need arises. : )

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Why Would the Recorder of Deeds have Death Records?

Back in November, I wrote about Sam Fink's Marriage and Death Indexes and I mentioned that some of the death index entries have volume and page numbers that refer to -- well, no one really seems to know.

And I also mentioned that there was a key to the years included in the index.

Vital records are held by the Cook County Clerk's Office but Sam Fink made it clear that the volumes he was indexing were held by the Recorder of Deeds and, knowing a little bit about Sam Fink, I don't think he made a mistake. But why would the Recorder of Deeds have death records?

Here's one possible answer:

In a few weeks I'm going to make a trip to Van Buren County, Michigan with the hope of discovering the history of a particular property there. I was looking at  the frequently-asked questions on their website today and this paragraph caught my eye:

Q: My spouse passed away and our property is in both our names, what do I do?
A: Bring in a certified copy of the death certificate and we will record it.

Is it possible that the same thing has been happening in Cook County from the late 1870s forward? Is it possible that the Recorder's Office entered death record information into large volumes to document the reasons for changes in ownership?

If that's the case, it's possible that the volumes Mr. Fink was indexing include records for deaths that happened both in and out of Cook County.

A few months ago I asked, casually, about the existence of the books that Mr. Fink was looking at but I didn't get very far and I didn't pursue it. I think I'll have to ask again.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Taking a Creative Approach to Research: Holy Family Tuition Records

Recently I corresponded with a researcher who had come up with a creative approach to answering a family history question. She just needed someone in Chicago to carry out her plan. I said, "Sure. I'll give it a try if it's okay with you if I blog about it." She said it was.

What she knew:
  • Her husband's ancestor's family was in Chicago in 1868.
  • One of the family's children was baptized at Holy Family in 1873.
  • The mother was listed in the 1880 New York census as a widow.
Her questions:
  • When did the father die?
  • When did the family return to New York?
The researcher had learned that Holy Family Parish School Tuition Records, 1865-1879 were available at the Loyola University Archives and Special Collections and she thought that at least one of the family's children would have been enrolled. Her hope was that the tuition records could help her zero in on when the family left Chicago.

I called the Archives and made an appointment to visit. (Hours and FAQs) It was an easy trip on the Red Line. I got off at the Loyola stop, crossed the street to campus, and walked toward the lake. The sidewalk wound between a number of buildings and easily led to the Cudahy Library. I showed identification, signed in, and made my way to the archives room where I was met by an associate archivist. She was friendly and welcoming and went out of her way to help me access the records I was there to use.

The Holy Family Parish School Tuition Records were kept in large bound ledgers and although the bindings were somewhat fragile, the pages were sturdy and easy to use.

Entries included the following information:

  • When Received (I'm not sure what this date means. On the example page, that date is given as "November 20" for the first entry but tuition is only recorded for March through June.)
  • Name (the child's name)
  • Age (the child's age)
  • Parents (usually the first name of a father)
  • Residence (the family's street address)
  • Rate per Month (this seemed to vary from 0 - $1.00 on the example page I copied; older children seemed to pay more; some children don't appear to have been charged)
  • Months (August through July in separate columns)
  • Room (class assignment)
  • Fuel (blank on the example page I copied)

The books are divided into sections by first letter of surname, but entries are chronological, not alphabetical. As I read through each year looking for the researcher's family names, I noticed that many children returned year after year and children from the same family were usually entered together. These records could be used to track a family's address. The could also be used to approximate the birth dates of children in a family.

I'll include two example images below so that you can get a feel for what the records are like.

So, was the search of use to the researcher? I think so. I was able to find one entry listing two of the family's children and from it the researcher learned that the family was still in Chicago in 1874, living at a previously-unknown address. The children were received in April but they paid no tuition, so it wasn't possible to determine when they might have left the school.

I really liked the researcher's resourcefulness in trying to answer a hard-to-answer question. If you know of any other off-the-radar Chicago records that could be used in similar ways, please post a comment and share.


A kind reader shared a link to a Finding Aid for Holy Family Records. Follow the link to learn about the records that are available at the Archives.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

You Should Read Jim Craig's Blog: Under Every Stone


I love visiting cemeteries, wandering the rows, reading the stones. Sometimes a particular monument will catch my eye and I'll stop for a minute and wonder about the person who's buried beneath it. For me, that's as far as it goes. But not for Jim Craig.

Last year, Jim started a blog called Under Every Stone and he uses it primarily to tell the stories behind gravestones that catch his eye on frequent Find-A-Grave trips to local cemeteries. Most, but not all, of the posts relate to Chicago families.

The first entry, "Finkelstein: Four Souls in One Tomb," tells the tragic story of a family that succumbed to a gas leak from an open jet in their kitchen in 1903.  Another early post tells the story of Lazarus Finkelstein from Russia Poland who died in Chicago in 1918 at the age of 107. And then there's the recent entry for Sammy Meisenberg (now spelled "Mizenberg" by the family) titled "Born a Jew, Lived an American, Died a Patriot." He was killed at Vera Cruz in 1914 and his death became part of Chicago's  history. A newspaper report that Jim shared in his post estimated that 100,000 people would participate in Sammy's funeral.

I find one post particularly memorable. Jim titles it "A Christmas Tragedy - Virginia Richdale Kerrigan" and relates the story of a happy little girl whose dress caught on fire as she twirled too close to a gas heater. Apparently she was a favorite of Rudolph Valentino and he used to bring flowers for the small now-empty vases at her crypt. If I ever have a chance to visit Hollywood or if you happen to find yourself in that cemetery this spring with a few extra daffodils ...

It's all about remembering, really, and I'm touched by each story that Jim tells.

Under Every Stone is on my short list of favorite blogs. If you haven't visited, I hope you'll take the time to do it. I think you'll be well rewarded.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Things You Should Know About: A How-to Blog Post, a Book Translation, and a Free Webinar Schedule

I keep an eye out for information that's useful to Chicago researchers and I have a couple of things to share today.

First, Ginger Frere of Information Diggers recently shared a link on a mailing list that I subscribe to for a Newberry Library blog post titled "Using to Locate Church Records." Even if you've used the site to search for churches, take a look at the post. Good chance you'll learn something new.
And then, a genealogy friend recently made me aware of a new Czech and Slovak American Genealogy Society of lllinois (GSAGSI) publication that will be of interest to researchers with Czech ancestors. It's Karleen Chott Sheppard's translation of a 1939 book titled A History of the Czechs in Chicago. Here's a link to a  flyer with more details and ordering information.
And finally, the Illinois State Genealogical Society has scheduled free monthly webinars for 2012. The next one will be April 10, "Going Digital: Organizing Your Research Files Electronically" given by D. Joshua Taylor and Jean Wilcox Hibben (a friend and fellow old-time music enthusiast) will be presenting "Clue to Clue: Tracking a Family Over Time and Miles" on July 10. Check out the schedule!

Friday, March 16, 2012

What If You Could Read 50,000 Foreign Language Articles from Chicago Newspapers in English? You Can!

Yesterday, Chicago-area genealogist Jennifer Holik-Urban posted on the ChicagoGenealogy Facebook group to make researchers aware of the Foreign Language Press Survey. It's a new-to-me resource for Chicago research and a valuable one if you have foreign-born ancestors. The site provides access to translations of almost 50,000 articles from newspapers serving 22 ethnic and linguistic groups in Chicago. These translations were done as part of a Works Progress Administration project in the 1930s.

Visit the survey site (use the link above) and click on "Read about this historic project." As researchers, sometimes we have to guess how or why a particular resource was created. That isn't the case here. In fact, the background information is  detailed. If you click on the "Press Survey Codes" link, you can read through the subject guide that was used to pick articles for the project.

Click on "Return to search" to get started. I didn't have a name, so I typed in "bicycle" (inspired by Chicago's unseasonably high temperatures this week?) and explored the results. One of the first entries was a letter to the editor of Skandinaven (28 Mar 1898) titled "Ladies on Wheels." The subject was "Norwegian // Attitudes > Position of Women and Feminism (I K)" and clicking on it brought up related articles. Exploring further, I found mention of German and Polish bicycle clubs, an appeal for contributions to the family of a young Bohemian boy killed while learning to ride a bike, and a biography of the Danish owner of a bicycle company.

Even if you can't find mention of the specific people you're researching, the articles provide a valuable way to learn more about the communities in which they lived.

Thanks, Jennifer. And all the best with your March 28 release of Branching Out, a new genealogy textbook series for kids!

Thursday, March 08, 2012

Determining 1940 Census EDs for Czech and Slovak Neighborhoods

Kevin Hurbanis sent me a link to his "Searching Chicago's 1940 Czech & Slovak Neighborhoods" page this morning and I asked permission to share it. It's meant as a tool for people who will be looking for ancestors in Pilsen and Lawndale, but it's nicely done and I think it has information that's relevant to us all.
Take a look when you get a chance. And if you know of any other 1940 census tools for Chicago, please post a comment and let us know.
Kevin--thank you!
Update: I posted on the ChicagoGenealogy Facebook page this morning and a group member reminded me that Stephen Morse has some great tools for census research on his One-Step Webpages. Check those out, too!

Sunday, March 04, 2012

Embracing our Musical Heritage: What I Learned at Fiddle Club this Weekend

Saturday evening I went to a Fiddle Club of the World gathering to hear Finnish fiddler Arto Järvelä play with the American duo Kaivama. How was it, you ask? Click through to Arto's website and listen to the tune he has playing on the main page. Yes. Do it! Before reading any more, click the link. It'll open in a new window and the music player will start automatically.

Now multiply that sound by two exquisite fiddlers playing in harmony and add in a brisk rhythm from mandolin or guitar or a slow drone accompaniment on harmonium and you will understand why  the only word I have to describe the experience is, well, "incredible."

And what does this have to do with Chicago genealogy? Plenty, actually.

Kaivama musicians Sara Pajunen and Jonathan Rundman are Finnish-Americans hailing from Finnish immigrant communities in Michigan and Minnesota. During a break between tunes, Sara noted, with great feeling, the connection that the music provides to their cultural heritage.

In the midst of collecting names and dates and places, maybe even photos and family stories, let's not overlook the power that music has to strengthen our ties to our ancestors.

For an fascinating overview of ethnic music in Chicago, check out the "Ethnic Music" article in the Chicago History Museum's Encyclopedia of Chicago. Then, if you're in the Chicago area, here are a few examples of ways to learn more about the music of your ancestors:

  • Irish? Check out programming at the Irish-American Heritage Center. Click on the "Education" tab to explore classes in music and dance.

  • Swedish? Stop by the Swedish American Museum. I see both a dance and a jam on the calendar for March. 

  • Ukrainian? A search for the topic "music" in the Ukrainian National Museum's library catalog returns 80 results.

  • Polish? The Polish Museum of America has a music library with 4000 78rpm records donated by the family of a Polish music store owner.

If your ancestors came from other places or if you're not local, just Google. I suspect you'll be able to turn up all sorts of creative ways to learn about your family's musical heritage.

Arto, Sara, and Jonathan are touring the mid-west right now and they have concerts planned for Michigan, Ohio, Missouri, Iowa, Minnesota, California, Oregon, and Washington. Kaivama Concert ScheduleIf you have Finnish ancestry and live near one of the cities they'll be visiting, or if you'd just like to be inspired to learn more about the music that accompanied your own ancestors through life, you should go. Really. You should go.

100 Years Ago: Chicago's 75th Birthday

Chicago celebrates its 175th birthday today and news of the festivities reminds me of--well, actually, it reminds me of Valentine Smith, my husband's 1st cousin 3 times removed. In January of 1912, she urged the city fathers to create a public holiday and fund a 75th birthday party for the city but they chose, instead, to read the incorporation documents in a city council meeting.

Twenty-five years later, though, they threw a party and invited the world to stop by. Chicago celebrated its centennial with the Century of Progress Exposition. Unfortunately, by that time Valentine was living at the Kankakee State Hospital. Even if she caught word of the world's fair, I think it's unlikely that she was able to attend. If she had gone, though, she would have liked it. A lot.

The Chicago Tribune, January 22, 1912, p. 11 (obtained from

Chicago Tribune, March 4, 1912, p. 1 (obtained from

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

CGS Publication: Chicago Cemetery Records 1847-1863

A number of years ago, I had an opportunity to look at undertakers reports from 1863 held by the Illinois Regional Archives Depository (IRAD) at Northeastern Illinois University. I was thrilled to find these pre-fire death records and asked about the possibility of offering my help to index them to make them more accessible. I was told that there was a project already underway. There was!

In 2008 the Chicago Genealogical Society published a book titled Chicago Cemetery Records 1847-1863: Sexton's Reports and Certificates, Treasurer Receipts, Deeds, and Undertakers' Reports. It's a useful resource for early Chicago research and I'll introduce you to it in this post. Below you'll find the main sections listed along with an example entry and a quick summary (in parenthesis) of what the information means. The book includes a name index which makes it easy to use.

Chicago Cemetery Records 1847-1863 can be found in many libraries (see WorldCat Entry) or it can be purchased from the Chicago Genealogical Society for $40.00.

Have you used the book? Has it been of help to you?


"Sexton's Receipts and Certificates, Treasurer Receipts, Deeds" 1847-1859

August 1851
South half [of]; 517; [blank]; [New]; Edward Cleghorn; $5.00; [blank] 2

(Date of deed or receipt, location in cemetery, name of grantee, amount, comments, page)

Undertakers' Reports 1863 (January - July)

February 1863
15; 15; dtr of W. K. Greenleaf; 2 years, 4 months; ND; Scarlet fever; Chicago; Chicago Cem; Unknown

(Date of death, date interred, name, age, residence, disease, where born, where interried, physician)

Oak Woods Cemetery: Lots Sold to the City of Chicago (Deeded 1867)

13; Andrew Gausen; 1; 7; $64.72

(Lot number, deeded to, number of burials, possible vacancies, charges)

'Old Catholic Cemetery' Records (Dates appear to be from the 1850s and 1860s)

DEHN, Carolina 8  11 8/16/63 4/7/64

(Name, Age, Date of Death, Date of Burial)

Additional Sections

The book also includes Chicago ward boundaries 1837, 1851, 1857, and 1863 and information about the IRAD system.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Explore the Chicago Examiner, 1908-1918, for Free

Recently Bonnie Brown, a fellow Chicago researcher, sent a message to the IL-COOK-CHICAGO-L list at Rootsweb to make sure that we were aware of a free online resource for Chicago newspaper research -- Harold Washington Library's digital images for the Chicago Examiner, 1908-1918. It wasn't long before people began posting news of their success in finding family-related information. If you haven't explored images, you should!

If you want to browse the newspaper by topic, you can access it through a link from the library's Digital Collections page. Highlights include "Cubs World Series," "White Socks World Series," "Eastland Disaster," and "Plan of Chicago." Other topics include "Jane Addams and Hull House," and the "1912 Olympics."

If you want to search the newspaper, go to the library's main page, click on "A-Z Research Databases," click on the letter "C," and select "Chicago Examiner."

The default view will let you search using various combinations of words

 but I'd recommend using the other search options, too. These include "Selected fields," "By proximity," and "By date."

Give it a try. And if you find something you'd like to share, post a comment.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

What to Do when the Church Name isn't on the Marriage License

Cook County marriage license images, 1871-1920 are online for free at FamilySearch up through 1920. If you find that your ancestors were married by a justice of the peace, it's likely that there's no other marriage record available. The Cook County Circuit Court Archives website says "Justice of the Peace Court records were destroyed as allowed by Illinois statute in the early 1970s." But, if they were married in a church, there's a good chance that you can find a church marriage record and in some cases--if it was a Catholic marriage in a Polish parish, for example--the ecclesiastical record might have additional information such as witness names or parent names.

If the church name is listed on the marriage license, the next step is to find where the records are held. The Newberry Library's "Guide to Chicago Church and Synagogue Records" is a good place to start.

But, if the church name isn't listed, you'll have to do some detective work to figure it out. If the name of the priest or pastor is easy to read, try checking the name in a Chicago city directory. They're online at and many of them are also available online for free. Check the "Tools Tab" at, for example.

If the name isn't easy to read it's a lot harder. Recently, a researcher sought help from the IL-COOK-CHICAGO list at RootsWeb. The priest on a license was listed as "Carl A." but what was the surname? What letter does it start with? N? M? St? And it looks like "ead" but is there an "h" at the end? "eadh?"

I skimmed the names of Catholic priests in city directories c. 1915, but, unfortunately, most of the entries just had initials for given names so there was little chance of finding the name Carl and nothing resembling the surname caught my eye. To help with the search, I typed the address in at to see which parishes were close by but still no match. I even checked the marriage register images for the closest parish to see if there was a priest with a similar name making entries. There wasn't.

I decided to check the marriage license on microfilm at the Wilmette Family History Center to see if better contrast would help me decipher the writing but no luck. I enlisted the help of a FHC volunteer and long-time Chicago researcher and we puzzled over the name, skimming the index to a two-volume Chicago Archdiocese history, but still no luck.

Finally she said, "It must be an Episcopal priest." It didn't seem likely -- the bride was Irish and the groom had a name that looked to be Polish -- but I decided to check a city directory anyway. Skimming the entries for Episcopal churches, the name jumped out at me almost immediately.

Rev. Carl A. Nybladh was the priest who performed the marriage ceremony.

Collaborative genealogy works!

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Canoscan LIDE 200: Using Plexiglass to Flatten Documents

Like many researchers, I use a Canoscan LIDE 200 to scan archival records where it's allowed. It's small (easily fits into my messenger bag next to my computer), lightweight (3.5 lbs), inexpensive (currently $75 on Amazon),  convenient (connects to my computer with a USB cable), and it works great.

The challenge has been scanning tri-folded documents from a hundred years ago. It's impossible to flatten them so it's hard to keep them straight while closing the scanner cover. I've finally found a solution.

A few weeks ago I had the clerk at my local hardware store cut a piece of thin plexiglass slightly smaller than the glass on the scanning bed. There's a small lip around the scanning glass and when I set the plexiglass against it the plexiglass becomes a see-through cover. I put the paper on the glass, straighten it, bring the plexiglass down on the page, and make sure the paper underneath is straight. Then I close the actual cover and scan. The plexiglass doesn't seem to affect the image quality.

And what about stapled tri-fold documents that can't be unfastened? It's not always possible to use the plexiglass in those cases, but a double-thick file folder or piece of poster board used in place of the stiff scanner cover can make it easier to line up those documents for scanning.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Chicago Birth Registers: W. P. A. Entries

If you look at the Illinois, Cook County Birth Registers, 1871-1915 on FamilySearch, you'll notice that some entries read "W. P. A." Members of the Chicago Genealogy Facebook group were pondering those entries last night and I realized that my thoughts on the subject were too lengthy for a Facebook post so I'll share them here.

First things first. What are the birth registers and how were they created? The short answer is that I don't know for sure. But, I have a guess that pertains to the books that were organized into alphabetical sections by month and year. (The earliest books are arranged differently.) Many early births went unrecorded, but when a record was created, I believe a doctor or midwife, or another person who attended the birth, filled out a birth certificate form and returned it to the county clerk's office.

At that point, I think the county copied the information from the birth certificate into a birth register and assigned a certificate number based on the line number for the entry. The registers would have provided a systematic way for assigning certificate numbers while serving as a detailed, chronological index to the actual records.

Example birth register page from 1913. (Year is recorded on
the right-hand page but I've omitted that image to save space.)
Notice that the lines were pre-numbered and that
the writing is consistent up to the last few entries.

Let's look at an example page from a register that shows W.P.A. entries. Notice that the last six entries are in different handwriting. What's unique about them?

Register: Acerra (regular writing)
Certificate: 608 Maria Acerra, record not dated
Comment: This was probably the last entry made in March of 1913

Register: Altiger (dark pen)
Certificate: 609 Edward Atiger, record dated March 29, 1927
Comment: This certificate was signed by a doctor many years after the birth

Register: Arizzi (dark pen)
Certificate: 610 Laura Arizzi, record dated April 1, 1929 (regular form)
Comment: This certificate was signed by the father many years after the birth

Register: Taken Adler (dark pen)
Certificate: 611 George Adler, record dated March 18, 1929 (later form)
Comment: This certificate was signed by a doctor many years after the birth

Register: Taken WPA
Certificate: 612 Zosfia Andzejewska, no date (regular form)
Comment: This certificate appears to be from 1913 but the certificate number has been changed

Register: Taken WPA
Certificate: 613 John Adams, record dated March 30, 1914 (regular form)
Comment: This certificate was signed by a doctor in 1914 and the certificate number has been changed

Register: Anderson "Late Entry"
Certificate: 614 Douglas Anderson, record dated March 7, 1941
Comment: This certificate was "signed" by the father but the name is actually typed

The two W. P. A. entries come after births reported in the 1920s and before a birth reported in 1941. The Works Progress Administration was active in the 1930s and I think it's safe to assume that these entries were made by W. P. A workers.

So, why were the entries made? Notice that the two W. P. A. certificates had at least one thing in common. The certificate number was changed. It's possible that the workers were moving misfiled records.

The certificate numbers that were changed were low, as I'd expect for an "A" birth early in the year, so I decided to check the birth register for March of 1914 to see if I could find an entry for John Adams. It was there on line 458, just as I'd hoped. It looks like his certificate was originally recorded in the 1914 register and assigned a certificate number from there but that's misleading because he was really born in 1913. I think the W. P. A. workers were correcting that error and I think it's likely a bit of detective work would also locate a register entry for Zosfia Andzejewska.

1914 birth register page showing entry for John Adams on line 458.
Continuation of John Adams entry showing year as 1914.

The curious thing to me is that the W. P. A. didn't record the names in the registers when they fixed errors and that they didn't make notations by the original register entries to document the certificate number changes. If I had located the birth register entry for John Adams in 1914 and used the year and line number there to search for his birth certificate on microfilm, I would have come up empty-handed.

Two things come to mind as I bring this post to a close.

1) Thing aren't always as they would seem. Looking at the birth register entry for John Adams, it would make no sense to say that he was born in 1913, and yet ... Notice, though, that the register probably isn't a primary source.

2) I am grateful for the efforts of the countless individuals who have volunteered indexing time to make Chicago records accessible through FamilySearch.

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.

Using the Family History Library Record Lookup Service

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