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Guide to Online Death Indexes for Chicago: Which Ones to Use When (with links)


Handy Links to the Indexes Mentioned in this Post
Illinois, Cook County Death Certificates, 1878-1922, 1959-1994 (FamilySearch)
Illinois Deaths and Stillbirths, 1916-1947 (FamilySearch)
Illinois Statewide Death Index, Pre-1916 (Illinois Secretary of State)
Illinois Statewide Death Index, 1916-1947 (Illinois Secretary of State)
Cook County, Illinois Death Index, 1908-1988 (Ancestry)
Cook County Genealogy, Certificates 20 Years or Older (Cook County Clerk)

If you're searching for Chicago and Cook County death records, there are a number of overlapping online indexes to choose from. In this post, I'll give you links to the indexes I use regularly and summarize their strengths and limitations to help you decide which one(s) will work best for your search.

Once you've found an index entry, the records can be obtained from a number of different places but the rule of thumb is this:
  • get records up through 1947 from microfilm available through Family History Centers or in Springfield (the cost of a photocopy if you have local access to the films; $7.50 if you need to order a film from the FamilySearch catalog and have it sent to your local Family History Center; $6.00 + a $.50 handling fee if you get them from me through Genlighten).
  • get records from 1948-1958 from the county or state ($17 + a handling fee if you buy the records online at www.cookcountygenealogy.com)
  • get records from 1959-1994 for free through FamilySearch's Photoduplication Services. (You can also get the records from 1878-1947 through this service if you don't have another way to access them.)

Illinois, Cook County Death Certificates, 1878-1922, 1959-1994 (FamilySearch)

Quick advice: If you're going to get records from microfilm, use this index for searches up through 1915; it will give you the film number. Use the Pre-1916 Illinois Statewide Death Index to find certificate numbers. If you don't find a match, search the Pre-1916 Illinois Statewide Death Index. If you still can't find a match, email me through chicagogenealogy.com. I can check an alternate index on film and sometimes that helps. If you're searching for records 1916-1922, use the Illinois Deaths and Stillbirths, 1916-1947 first. It's mentioned below. Use the extracted information in this index to determine matches for records 1959 forward.

Strengths:
  • includes extracted information like birth date, birth place, occupation and place of burial and, after 1907, parent, spouse, and/or informant name
  • allows multi-field searching on fields such as parent and spouse
  • provides Family History Library film numbers
  • can be attached as a source to a FamilySearch tree
  • an be used to distinguish between people who have the same name using the extracted information
  • provides access to death information from 1959 forward before purchasing the actual record
  • images of these records can be obtained for free from FamilySearch's Photoduplication Services
Limitations: 
  • doesn't include the certificate numbers needed to quickly find records on Family History Library films; you'll have to scroll or find the number in an alternate index
  • doesn't index coroner's death certificates up through 1911
  • when name are spelled in unexpected ways or transcribed wrong, it can be tough to find them
  • certificate numbers usually appear in the index as "cn 00000" listed under "Reference ID" but early certificates can have two or three numbers on top; if indexers choose the non-sequential number it can't be used to find the record in microfilm (but there are ways around that)
  • unless you've bookmarked the search page, it takes time to click through to find it
Something You Should Know:

From 1908-1915 there are two sets of Chicago records included in the microfilmed series and this index includes both. It's common to find two entries for the same person with two different film numbers leading to two different records. The information should be the same but one record will likely be an original and one will likely be a handwritten copy. I will share more about this in another blog post.

Quick advice: If you're going to get records from microfilm up through 1915, use this index first. If you can't find the name you're looking for, try any of the other indexes that cover the same years. If you can't find a name from 1916-1933 in any online index, email me through chicagogenealogy.com. I can check an alternate index on film and sometimes that helps. 

Strengths:
  • can be searched using parent and spouse names
  • can be searched using birth place and a span of birth years
  • often includes extracted information such as birth place, birth date, parent names, spouse name, occupation, cemetery name
  • provides film number that can be used to find the record
  • can be attached as a source to a FamilySearch tree
  • because it has extracted information, it can be used to distinguish between people who have the same name
  • includes deaths from all Illinois counties
  • includes stillbirths
Limitations:
  • when name are spelled in unexpected ways or transcribed wrong, it can be tough to find them
  • sometimes the certificate numbers aren't the ones that lead to the records on film, but in those cases the correct numbers can be found using another index
  • unless you've bookmarked the search page, it takes time to click through to find it


Illinois Statewide Death Index, Pre-1916 (Illinois Secretary of State)

Quick advice: This was the go-to index for years and it's still good. If you can't find a name here, try other indexes or try accessing it with Stephen Morse's One Step search page. If you're planning to get the matching records from microfilm, copy the entire index entry. You'll need the full death date and place ("Chicago" is different from "Cook County." If you're going to order film through a Family History Center, don't use the catalog to find the film number. Without going into a complex explanation, let me just say that in many cases it won't work. Use the FamilySearch death index (linked above) instead.

Strengths:
  • includes names not found in the FamilySearch index, including individuals who had coroner's death certificates
  • if the certificate is hard to read, the name is more likely to be spelled correctly in this index than in the index at FamilySearch
  • certificate numbers are accurate
Limitations:
  • can only be searched by name unless you access it with Stephen Morse's One Step search page
  • unless you use a key like the one I created for Wilmette Family History Center patrons, choosing a film from the Family History Library catalog is a guessing game and it's easy to get it wrong


Illinois Statewide Death Index, 1916-1947 (Illinois Secretary of State)

Strengths: 
  • index entries can be used to easily find records on film
  • includes deaths from all Illinois counties
Limitations:


Cook County, Illinois Death Index, 1908-1988 (Ancestry.com)

Quick advice: If you want to pull up a list of deaths that happened on a certain day or if you're looking for death records from 1948-1988, this is the index to use. If you find records before 1948 and you don't need instant access, get them from film; it's much less expensive. For records after that, just click through to www.cookcountygenealogy.com, pay the fee, and do the download.

Strengths:
  • allows you to search by date of death with or without a name
  • provides certificate number that can be used to find the record on microfilm
  • index entry can be attached to Ancestry.com trees
  • a "Purchase from Cook County" link will take you to a page where you can purchase record images online for immediate download
Limitations:
  • index information limited to name, death date, and certificate number
  • it's a subscription site (but you should be able to get free access through a library or FamilyHistory Center)
Something you should know: 

The rollover text for the "Purchase from Cook County" link says "images and original certificates are only available through the Cook County Clerk's office and clicking will take you to www.cookcountygenealogy.com where they can be purchased for download for $17 + a $1.75  cart handling fee. For records from 1948 forward, this is true, but records up through 1947 can be printed from microfilm available through FamilySearch or the Illinois State Archives in Springfield for the cost of a photocopy.


Cook County Genealogy, Certificates 20 Years or Older (Cook County Clerk)

Quick advice: Start here if you need records from 1948 forward. If you find index matches, click through and purchase the records online. If you don't, check the index at Ancestry.com. If you can't find the record for download here, you can mail in a search request to the county clerk or you can ask Genlighten's provider mollykennedy for help. She has access to later Illinois death certificates in Springfield and she will do her absolute best, even submitting multiple requests, to have the clerks find what you need.

Strengths:
  • matching records can be purchased and downloaded immediately
Limitations:
  • can only be searched using exact name spellings and a year range
  • only provides name, death date, and certificate number










Comments

Juli said…
This is such helpful information for those of us with Chicago area connections. Thank you!
rxmom58 said…
The Cook County Clerk database has not been updated since it went online. The death index only goes up to 1988.
Cynthia,

I want to let you know that your blog post is listed in today's Fab Finds post at http://janasgenealogyandfamilyhistory.blogspot.com/2013/10/follow-friday-fab-finds-for-october-25.html

Have a great weekend!

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