Thursday, March 21, 2019

Error in Naming the 1912-1942 Marriage Index

Screenshot from Ancestry's "Cook County, Illinois Marriage Indexes, 1912-1942
I am updating my website to reflect changes in record availability and, let me tell you, with Chicago research, knowing what's what is NEVER easy.

Ancestry offers a database titled Cook County, Illinois Marriage Indexes, 1912-1942.

I did a quick study, searching for exact years from 1912-1925, and noted the number of matches below. It's likely this index only covers 1914-1923 in a reliable way.

Some of the outlying entries may be correct. I find Thomas Kelly and Geneveve Carter listed in this index and in FamilySearch's Illinois, Cook County Marriages, 1871-1920 with the same year (1913) and license number.

But some are due to error. Max Stone and Mabel Freed come up under 1912, but the printed index page that's linked from the index entry says 1917 and it's corroborated by the FamilySearch index. The fiche was scratched, making the date hard to read.

I need to get to a Family History Center so I can do a bit more detective work, and I never say never, but a few words of advice:

1) If you're searching for a record through1920, use the FamilySearch index linked above.

2) If you're going to use this index to search for records outside of the 1914-1923 range, be cautious not to jump to the wrong conclusion if no matching entry can be found.

I'll try to address indexes for 1925 forward in another post.

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Have a Horrible Copy of a Chicago Vital Record from Microfilm? Try Again Online!

Back in the day, before many Chicago vital records were made available in digital format on FamilySearch,  I retrieved hundreds--maybe even thousands--of Chicago birth, marriage, and death records from microfilm.

Here's one of the records I printed long ago. I was really good at tweaking the settings and, I promise you, this is absolutely the best I could do.

Chicago, Cook County, Illinois, death certificate no. 17017 (21 March 1908), Charles B. Smith; FHL microfilm 1239777; Wilmette Family History Center, Wilmette, Illinois.

I don't remember why, but not too long ago I decided to look for the same record on FamilySearch and this is the image that I found:

Chicago, Cook County, Illinois, death certificate no. 17087 (21 March 1908), Charles B. Smith; digital image, "Chicago death certificates, 1878-1915," FamilySearch ( : accessed 12 March 2019) > microfilm 1239777, digital folder 4004622 > image 841.

Comparing both images, it appears that they are of the same certificate. I'm thinking three things:

1) The online certificate image was created from the original, not from the microfilm. I talked with the FamilySearch folks who were digitizing records in the Cook County Clerk's office some years back and I remember them telling me they were working with some records that had already been microfilmed.

2) Just because a film number appears in the FamilySearch index entry doesn't mean the published image came from the film.

3) This is probably something that's unique to Chicago records and very few others.

So, for what it's worth, if, by chance, you have a hard-to-read printout or digital image that was made from FamilySearch microfilm, it might be worth checking online to see if you can now get a better copy.

Thursday, March 07, 2019

Newly Available: Chicago Death Registers, 1871-1879

I woke up thinking it would be a good day to work on updating I ate a pink-frosting-covered sugar cookie that I got on sale at the grocery store yesterday, went to work on the tutorial page for finding death records, and was like, "Wow. Wow! WOW!"

I don't know when it happened, and maybe this is old news, but Chicago death registers, 8 October 1871 to 29 February 1879, are now available for viewing on FamilySearch under the title Illinois, Cook County, Chicago, death registers, 1871-1879.

For years, I've been saying "they must have death registers" but I'd never seen one. I'd just seen evidence of their existence.

Remember the Indexes to deaths in the city of Chicago during the years 1871 to 1933 : showing name, address and date of death? Here’s the index entry for James A. Smith who died in 1875. The “D” refers to a death register, the “120” is the page number, and the “13” is the line number.

Indexes to deaths in the city of Chicago during the years 1871 to 1933 : showing name, address and date of death,” digital image,FamilySearch ( : accessed 6 March 2019) 
digital folder 4261177 > image 263, entry for James A. Smith, 1875.
Up until now, the only way to get the matching record was to write the Cook County Clerk’s Office. I did that some years ago and this is the document I received:

Chicago, Cook County, Illinois, death registration no. D-120-13 (1875), James A. Smith; Cook County Clerk’s Office, Chicago.

It was great to have the information but it was clearly a derivative record. I knew it had to have been copied from a death register–that was the only logical explanation–and I longed to see the record the information was copied from.

Well, this morning, that dream came true. I discovered the record images are now online and knowing that I could only access them from a Family History Center or an affiliate library, I took a quick shower, dropped my husband at work, and headed to the Orange County FamilySearch Library.

Here’s the matching register entry:

Chicago, Cook County, Illinois, “Deaths 4, Jan. 1, 1875 to May 31, 1876,” p. 120, line 13, James A. Smith (1875); digital image, FamilySearch ( : accessed 7 March 2019).
I believe this is actually a derivative record, too–it was likely created by copying information from certificates into the book as that’s the way the Chicago birth registers were created–but it’s one generation closer to the original.

And why is this so exciting? Because it means researchers can now access information about early post-Fire Chicago deaths without needing to rely on the Clerk’s office for help.

If you can’t get to a Family History Center to access the index and the register pages, I can search for you. Just send me a project request through my profile on

And, please post a comment to let me know if this post was of help to you in your research. I'd love to hear from  you.

Using the Family History Library Record Lookup Service

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