Friday, October 27, 2017

Celebrating Digital Access: Cook County Out-of-town Death Certificates

Today's post focuses on Out of Town Deaths, 1909-1915, a unique set of Cook County death records that are available on FamilySearch from a Family History Center or an affiliate library.

Here is an example of an out-of-town death certificate for Flora Smith who died in Kansas City, Missouri. Notice that it's neatly written on a City of Chicago death certificate form. And notice that it only includes basic information: name, sex, color, age, death date, place of death, place of burial, undertaker, cause of death, and a physician’s name and address.

"Out of town deaths, 1909-1915," FamilySearch ( : accessed 22 October 2017) > series 4, nos. 1-1490, Jan.-Sept. 1912, microfilm 1298897 > digital folder 004005117 > image 51, Flora Smith, no. 45 (11 January 1912).

Now compare the death certificate that was created for Flora in Missouri. The information on this record was recorded in two or more hands and it is more extensive, including an occupation, birth place, parent names, what looks to be the signature of the physician, and the name of an informant who lived in Okla[homa].

"Missouri Death Certificates, 1910-1966," Missouri Digital Heritage : accessed 21 October 2017) > Missouri Digital Heritage > Quick Links > Missouri Birth > Death Records Database, Pre-1910 > Missouri Death Certificates, 1910 - 1966 > entry for Flora Smith, file no. 1241 (11 January 1912).

I don’t know how the Chicago record was created but my guess is that the information was copied from the Missouri death certificate, a burial permit, and/or a transport document. Compare the physician’s signatures, though. Clearly, the Chicago certificate is a derivative record.

I’m not sure why the Chicago record was created, but because it has minimal information, my sense is that it was intended to document the burial.

Notice how the two records work together to tell the story of Flora’s life, death, and burial. The Missouri death certificate tells us her occupation, lists her parents, provides an exact place of death, indicates the coroner was called, and gives her place of burial or removal as “Chicago Ill.” The Chicago record leaves off many of those details, but it adds an important piece of information—the cemetery name.

How to Locate the Out-of-town Death Certificates

The approach to locating these certificates depends on what you know.


If you have a death certificate from somewhere other than Chicago for a death that occurred between 1909 and August 1915, then you can go directly to the FamilySearch catalog entry for Out of Town Deaths, 1909-1915 and pick the correct film based on the death date. The records are grouped by death date and it shouldn't be too hard to browse the images to see if there's a matching record there.

Locate the Certificate Number
A more direct way to access these records is to locate the matching entry in the Chicago Death Index, 1871-1933 that I discussed in a previous blog post. (The images are available online at FamilySearch if you visit a Family History Center or affiliate library.) These certificates are listed in this index as "OT" (for out-of-town) and the register number matches the records on the films.

Here is the entry for Flora. Note the register number, "45" in the next-to-last column, is the same as the number on the top right corner of her Chicago certificate. The records are arranged in numerical order on the film (or the images created from the film) and this can save time in finding the correct record.

"Indexes to deaths in the city of Chicago during the years 1871 to 1933 : showing name, address and date of death," FamilySearch ( : accessed 22 October 2017) > Deaths, Sik-Ste 1871-1933, microfilm 1295974 > digital folder 004261177 > image 51, Flora Smith (11 January 1912).

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Celebrating Digital Access: Coroners' Inquest Records, 1872-1911

Yesterday I wrote about coroners' death certificates. Today I'll focus on a related source—the Cook County, Illinois coroners' inquest records, Dec. 1872-Nov. 1911.


As I mentioned in the coroners' death certificate post, a coroner was called to investigate deaths that occurred under unusual circumstances. A jury was assembled, witnesses were interviewed, and, together, they tried to determine the cause of death. The findings were recorded as inquest records—short entries in bound volumes—and as the verdict on the coroners' death certificates.

To see a list of situations where today's medical examiner would be called in (Cook County changed from coroner to medical examiner in 1976), visit the Medical Examiner page on the Cook County Government website.

What Information Do the Inquest Records Include?

The format of the records changed over time. The first few volumes contain formulaic paragraph-style reports written in a blank ledger. Later volumes contained printed forms. However, the information included seems to be fairly consistent. Entries generally include the name of the deceased, the place of death, the verdict (cause of death), and the names of those who served on the jury. They may also include the names, addresses, and/or occupations of witnesses.

Most volumes are very readable, although the handwriting can be challenging. Some volumes are damaged and some images are of poor quality. For a quick overview of what's available, go to the catalog entry and navigate to > Coroners' inquest records, v. 1-2, case #s 753-3821, Dec. 1872-June 1878, film 2132248 > images 7-10. (Note: These guide sheets suggest the first two volumes are not indexed. It's true—there are no indexes in the books—but the names are included in the Cook County Coroner's Inquest Record Index, 1872-1911.)

The easiest way to get a feel for the inquest records is to read through example pages. I'll post an image below, but you can also view full-size examples by following these links: 1872 | 1890 | 1910

“Cook County, Illinois coroners' inquest records, Dec. 1872-Nov. 1911,” FamilySearch ( : accessed 19 October 2017) > Coroners' inquest records, v. 21-22, case #s 6536-7975, Nov. 1889-Oct. 1890 > film 2132256 > image 544.

How Can these Inquest Records Help in Your Research?

Here are two ideas and, of course, there are others:

First, note that the inquests date back to 1872. It's possible to get death information from 1871-1877 through the Cook County Clerk's Office (but that's a topic for another blog post), but, to the best of my knowledge, this information isn't available online or at an alternate repository. Easy access to an  inquest record can give you quick, inexpensive access to important information about a some early deaths.

And second, notice that some inquest records provide witness names, addresses, and occupations. These people may be family members, co-workers, friends and/or neighbors and the information may suggest productive follow-up research.

Obtaining Copies of Early Inquest Records

Digital copies of the early inquest records can be found on FamilySearch if you visit a Family History Center or an affiliate library and I will explain how to do that below. But, if you can't get to a Family History Center, you can get paper copies through the mail for $1.00 by calling the Illinois Regional Archives Depository (IRAD) at Northeastern Illinois University (NEIU).

How to Find the Inquest Records on FamilySearch

These records are easy to find. Here's how:

1) Search the Cook County Coroner's Inquest Record Index, 1872-1911.

2) Find the match and note the name, the volume, and the page. Let's say we're looking for Nikola Vojvodic, volume 86, page 27.

3. Go to the catalog entry for the Cook County, Illinois coroners' inquest records, Dec. 1872-Nov. 1911.

4) Select the correct film based on the volume number and note the icon at the right.

If it's a camera icon, like the one next to 2132288, click through to view the images. (You will need to be at a Family History Center or an affiliate library to do this. From a FHC, you will see the camera icons above; from home, you will see camera icon with keys above them.) If it's a film icon, the films hasn't been made available online in digital format yet. No worries! If you bump into that glitch—or if it isn't convenient for you to go to a Family History Center—just call IRAD at NEIU. (See the information at the top of the post.)

5) Browse to find the correct page. Just be careful. Notice how film 2132288 includes two volumes? Make sure you're in the right book before you begin looking for the correct page.

Where to Find Later Records

If you are in need of inquest records after November 1911, contact the Cook County Office of the Medical Examiner.

Note: I see both coroners' and coroner's used to refer to the inquest records and death certificates. I guess it just depends how one thinks about it. I've tried to be consistent in keeping whatever spellings I see in the various titles.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Celebrating Digital Access: Coroners' Death Certificates

Today's post focuses on Cook County coroner's death certificates, 1879-1904 which can be accessed for free on FamilySearch if you visit a Family History Center or an affiliate library.

What is a coroner's death certificate?

If a Cook County death occurs under unusual circumstances--homicide, suicide, or accident, for example--or if the cause of death is unknown, the coroner is called in to investigate. Between 1879 and August 1904, two records were created when that happened: a coroner's inquest record and a coroner's death certificate. The records are related, but they're not the same. (If a person died from natural causes, there was no inquest and a "regular" death certificate was created. And, after 1904, the results of the inquest were noted on the "regular" certificates.)

Here's an example of a coroner's death certificate.

Example of a Coroner's Death Certificate (1)

Notice it lists the "verdict of the jurors" rather than a "cause of death." The other information is similar to what would be found on a regular death certificate, but it's not as extensive. The undertaker and cemetery names are written in the margin and the death certificate number is written at the bottom. This is typical of these records.

When to Look for a Coroner's Death Certificate

There are two times you would search for a coroner's death certificate:

1) When you have a newspaper article mentioning an accident, homicide, etc.

2) When you look for a "regular" certificate on a FamilySearch film (or the digitized equivalent) and find a gap in certificate numbers or a "Missing" note where the record should be.

How to Look for a Coroner's Death Certificate

If you have a name and a death date, you can go straight to the coroner's death certificate images but I highly recommend taking the time to quickly search the name in the Cook County Coroner's Inquest Index, 1872-1911. If the name is there (for deaths that happened up through August 1904), you can be certain the record you're after is a coroner's certificate, not a regular certificate, and that certainty is important. Why? Because some of the coroner's death certificates are badly out of order on the films (or digitized equivalents) and it's good to know you're searching for something that should exist.

Once you've confirmed you should be looking for a coroner's death certificate, here's what to do:

1) Note the name, death month, and year from an index or newspaper article. If you're using an index, note the certificate number as well.

2) Go to the Family History Library catalog entry for the  Cook County coroner's death certificates, 1879-1904 and select the correct film based on the death date. Click on the camera icon to view the digital images. (You will need to be at a Family History Center or an affiliate library to gain access.)

3) Use the high/low number game to locate the section of records that matches the month, year, and first letter of the surname you're looking for. The images may be in reverse chronological order.

4) Once you've found the right section, use the certificate number from the Illinois Statewide Death Index, Pre-1915 to zero in on the right record or browse the images moving forward and/or back to locate the match.

How to Handle Tough Searches

The four steps mentioned above describe the ideal situation but, unfortunately, it's not always that easy. If you browsed through the records on some films, start to finish, you'd notice that clumps of records are out of order--almost like someone dropped a filing drawer and didn't quite put things back in correctly. And you would notice that some individual records are so far out of a logical sequence, they would be nearly impossible to find.

If you bump into a difficult film, you may need to go through the images systematically, perhaps jumping forward 5-10 records at a time, to find records for the correct month, year, and first letter of surname.

What if You Just Can't Find the Matching Record?

With effort, it's likely you'll find the record you're after, but if you can't, try searching the Illinois, Cook County Deaths, 1878-1994 index at FamilySearch. This index includes entries for individuals who had coroner's death certificates and it includes extracted information. Something--even if it's a derivative record--is better than nothing.

Here's the matching entry for Frank whose certificate is shown above.

Note there is no film number--just a digital folder number and an image number which do not match the digital folder number and image number where the example certificate was found (see below).

I suspect the information in the index was extracted from recently-created images of the original records, not from images scanned from film and I was not able to use the digital folder number from the index to locate the actual records in the FamilySearch catalog. (If you are able to find that folder number in the catalog, please let me know.)

Getting at the Certificates from the FamilySearch Index

So, let's say you searched the Illinois, Cook County Deaths, 1878-1994 index, found Frank's name, and wanted to get his death certificate. The digital folder number provided doesn't lead to a catalog entry. There's no film number provided. And, there's no indication that it's a coroner's death certificate. How would you proceed?

1) The death is before August 1904, so quickly check for his name in the Cook County Coroner's Inquest Index, 1872-1911 index.

2) If there's a match (and in this case there will be), go to the Cook County coroner's death certificates, 1879-1904 entry in the FamilySearch catalog and follow the four steps listed under "How to Look for a Coroner's Death Certificate" above.

3) If there isn't a match, you will need to look for a "regular" certificate. Here's how:

a. Find the match in the Illinois Statewide Death Index, Pre-1916. If it says the death happened in Chicago, read on. If it says the death happened in Cook County, email me and I'll give you further guidance.

b. Go to the Wilmette Family History Center's key to pre-1916 Chicago death certificate films and use the death date and certificate number to choose the correct film.

c. Locate the correct film in the FamilySearch catalog (search for the number, click through to the record series, and locate the film number in the film list) and click through to the images. (Again, you will need to be at a Family History Center or an affiliate library.)

d. If you have an image number, use it to go to the right record. If not, browse using the certificate number.

Final Thoughts

Finding Chicago death records isn't hard, but it is complex. If you have questions, feel free to email me through my website. I'm always happy to help.


(1) Cook County, Illinois, Coroner's Death Certificates, Frank Cunningham, certificate no. 3257, 17 June 1895; digital image, FamilySearch ( : accessed 17 October 2017), image 1065 of 1908.

Sunday, October 01, 2017

Celebrating Digital Access: 1937 Lurie Index (Chicago Voters)

Example card from the Lurie Index of People in Chicago in 1937 as well as All of the Voters' Registration for Chicago

Today's post focuses on the Lurie index of people in Chicago in 1937 as well as all of the voters' registration for Chicago.

As the title states, this alphabetical card file appears to list registered voters living in Chicago in 1937 and it's important for a number of reasons:

1) It serves as a substitute city directory, filling in the gap between census years. (The last of the early Chicago city directories was published in 1928/1929.)

2) It lists people of the same surname living in the same house and can suggest family groupings.

3) It provides addresses.

These records can be accessed online from a family history center or FamilySearch affiliate library by folowing this path: FamilySearch > Search > Search by Title ("lurie") > Select correct title

Once the catalog entry loads, use the guide names to select the correct film and then click the camera icon on the right to open the digital folder and load the card file images.

At this point, there's something important you need to know.

On the original microfilms, the alphabetized cards run down one side of the film and then continue back up the other side upside down. When the films were digitized, cards from both sides were intermixed in a systematic way.

If the beginning or end of a film had a single row of cards, the digital folder images at the beginning or end of the group will likely be in easy-to-use alphabetical order. But, if you browse through the bulk of the images, you will see a progression that looks something like this:

Smith, Helen
Sullivan, George
Smith, Hope
Sullivan, Inez

I've found that it's helpful to quickly create a film key before I dive in to search for a specific card.

Let's say I'm looking for Eloise Smith.

I select the "Simmons, Dave - Stanford, Hamilton" film and see that there are 21295 images.

I type in an image number from the middle of the group, say 10000, view the image, and jot down the number and the surname.

10000 Spencer

Then, I click the arrow to move one image to the right and record that surname, too.

10000/01 Spencer Skul

Next, moving forward or back, I split the difference in half again, and do the same. Then I repeat.

See how a pattern is developing? Notice how the last two names don't fit it?

10000/01 Spencer Skul
15000/01 Sorock Sluzas
17000/01 Somers Smith, A
19000/01 Smola Sojka

Switch the entries so they do.

10000/01 Spencer Skul
15000/01 Sorock Sluzas
17000/01 Somers Smith, A
19000/01 Sojka Smola

The cards seem to begin with Skul and move down through Smola and then back up through Sojka and Spencer. Eloise Smith should appear between A. Smith and Smola, images 17000-19000. I would look at images 18000/01 and, depending on the name there, I would move on to 17500/01 or 18500/01. And, of course, when I got close, I would begin to go through the images one by one.

Unfortunately, the alphabetical organization is only useful in finding the first names on the cards. If Eloise doesn't appear in that position, and if I don't have a good idea of whose household she might have been living in, I will have to look at every Smith card to know if she appears in the index.

Note the numbers that appear after the address on the card at the top. Every card has a hyphenated pair and I'm thinking they might refer to voter registration district or similar but I haven't explored it. If you have other ideas or know for certain what they are and what use they might be, please share in the comments.

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