Sunday, April 28, 2019

Cook County's Genealogy Online: Change in Ordering Process

Cook County Clerk, Genealogy Online (
So, big news. First the Cook County Clerk's Genealogy Online website moved to a new URL ( and now it's been changed in a significant way.

It used to be that researchers could log into the website to search for births, marriages, and deaths. If a good match was found, the corresponding record could be purchased online and downloaded immediately. If not, it was possible to dig around the site to locate a hard-to-find pdf order form that could be mailed in to request a manual search.

The new website simply provides a multi-screen form that visitors can fill out to request a vital records search.

I'm ambivalent about the loss of the old search feature because, frankly, I almost never used it. I found it much more productive to search indexes on FamilySearch and/or Ancestry for the records I needed. If I found a match, I'd check to see if the record was available from FamilySearch for free by visiting a Family History Center. If not, I'd check the Cook County site to see if I could get the record there. But, the collection wasn't complete, so filling out a form and mailing in a search request was sometimes the only option.

I'm not bothered by the need to put a search in the hands of a clerk. The few times I visited in person to ask for records, the vital records employees who helped me did their best to search their computers for digital copies of the records I needed. I'd like to think they work hard to fulfill requests even when someone isn't watching.

With the new system, there will be times, of course, when researchers receive records that aren't a good match for the ones they've requested. And how do I know that? Because I did vital records retrieval from FamilySearch microfilm for ten years and there were a few times when, for example, I located the correct record, copied the wrong record, and sent it out to a client without noticing. I was careful and, frankly, good at what I was doing, but there were days when I was overtired, working long hours to get records out quickly to satisfy clients, and sometimes I made mistakes. When I discovered them, I corrected them immediately. I'd like to think the Clerk's Office, when approached with patience and understanding, would do the same.

To me, the main downside to the website change is that later records--the ones that aren't available on FamilySearch for free--are no longer available immediately. I like instant gratification when I'm on a research roll, but I can live with that. If I needed something in a hurry--which is rarely the case--I'd just hire a Chicago researcher to visit a vital records office to retrieve it in person. I'm guessing that option is still available?

The upside is that we've gained is an easy way to request records from the Cook County Clerk's Office online. And, I really like the screen that warns researchers to request "legal certified copies" for a variety of purposes including dual citizenship and lineage society application documentation. It seems like they're trying to help people have a good experience.

I went through the process without ordering and learned that a death certificate request requires, at a minimum, a name and a death year. All other fields are optional and there's a space for added information. The form provides a field for file numbers which makes me think that the website creators think that researchers will check indexes elsewhere before visiting the new page.

What about that required death year? If the death year is unknown, I'm thinking a best guess with a note that gives a range would be acceptable. If a name can't be found in an index, it's generally possible to narrow down a death date using census records, city directories, and the like and, really, we should do our best to do that in a precise sort of way before ordering anyway.

The one thing I think could be improved is the stated turnaround time. The website suggests it might take 10-21 business days to receive a record. I have no idea how many requests are received each day but I know how long it takes for one efficient person to retrieve records from microfilm and I know how quickly digitized records can be retrieved from FamilySearch. I think turnaround times could--and should--be improved for straightforward retrieval requests. It would make researchers happy (great PR, right?) and it seems like it would relieve stress. If there really is a backlog, it's got to weigh on people.

There are some search tools that I miss -- like the old HeritageQuest options for searching census records -- but I don't think the search feature that was on the old Genealogy Online website is going to be one of them.

Thursday, April 25, 2019

Close Look at Mount Carmel Registers

I'm a firm believer in taking the time to figure out a record set before diving in. Recently, I've been exploring the Mount Carmel Cemetery registers that are available on FamilySearch under the catalog title Interment Registers and Burial Logs, 1900-1955. This blog post will summarize what I've learned and suggest possible ways that the registers might be used.

The Four Types of Registers

Interment Registers: Chronological list of burials providing date, name of deceased, burial location, age, date of death, residence address, cause of death, clergy name, and remarks.

Burial Logs: Arranged chronologically with one page per day. Early registers list time, name, lot, location, box, and undertaker. Beginning in 1940, registers are titled "Funeral Order Register" and list time, deceased, description (lot, block, section), location, box, and notes. Name in "deceased" column may be lot owner. Relationship of deceased to lot owner may be indicated.

Lot Registers: Chronological list of purchasers arranged in alphabetical sections by first letter of surname.

Lot Owners Registers: Arranged by section and lot with chronological entries for lot owners showing interment dates; does not include names of deceased. There is some duplication (portions of Section O are repeated in two volumes, for example) and the dates given in the FamilySearch catalog aren’t particularly relevant.

I'm working on creating a key for my own use that might be helpful to others. It breaks down the catalog entries into register books and includes some information as to coverage to make it quicker to select the right volumes. It also includes direct links. The current version can be accessed here: Mount Carmel Cemetery Register Guide

Using the Registers for Research

So, how can we use these to answer research questions? Here are a few ideas:

Learn Burial Location: If we have a burial date, say from information found on a death record or in an obituary, we can check the interment register to learn where in the cemetery a person is buried. Knowing that Bruns Vidone was interred on 23 June 1924 makes it easy to find his name in an interment register. From the entry, we learn that he is buried in in Section 23, Block 6, Lot 23.

"Cemetery interment registers and burial logs, 1900-1955," digital images, FamilySearch ( : accessed 23 April 2019), path: 1924-1935, DGS 4372656 > image 811 of 833, Mount Carmel Cemetery (Hillside, Illinois) interment register, 1919-1924, p. 382.

Learn Who is Buried in a Lot: Now that we have Bruno's burial location, we can use the section, block, and lot to consult a lot owners register to see if anyone else is buried with him. These volumes are arranged by section, block, and lot numbers and there appears to be some overlap. We can check the key that I've been working on, make an educated guess, and then take a look to see if we've picked the right volume. If so, great. If not, we'll try again.

In the case of Bruno, we're looking for Section 23, Block 6. I'm going to guess it's in the volume that begins with Section 21, Block 1 because the next volume begins with Section 25, Block 1. From the image below, we see that his grave is owned by Alfred Vidone and that only one burial has been recorded for the lot and the date matches information for Bruno. It's unlikely he is buried with family members, but it is very likely he is connected to Alfred. If we don't know what their relationship is, that might be a starting point for further research.

"Cemetery interment registers and burial logs, 1900-1955," digital images, FamilySearch ( : accessed 23 April 2019), path: Vol. 10 ca. 1926-1954, DGS 4371547 > image 541 of 812, Mount Carmel Cemetery (Hillside, Illinois) lot owners register beginning Section 21, Block 1, 221.
On the next page of the volume, Lot 28 belonging to Otto Westphal is shown with two burials.

"Cemetery interment registers and burial logs, 1900-1955," digital images, FamilySearch ( : accessed 23 April 2019), path: Vol. 10 ca. 1926-1954, DGS 4371547 > image 542 of 812, Mount Carmel Cemetery (Hillside, Illinois) lot owners register beginning Section 21, Block 1, 222.

To find out who was buried in the lot, we locate the dates noted in the lot owners register in the interment registers. For example, William O. Westphal, age 1 year, 11 months, 21 days, was buried in Section 23, Block 6, Lot 28 on 7 July 1924. 

"Cemetery interment registers and burial logs, 1900-1955," digital images, FamilySearch ( : accessed 23 April 2019), path: 1914-1924, DGS 4372655 > image 811 of 833, Mount Carmel Cemetery (Hillside, Illinois) interment register, 1919-1924, p. 384.

Go the Extra Mile: Another avenue for research is to use the lot registers--a chronological list of purchasers divided up by first letter of surname--to look to see if a family member purchased grave(s) during a particular time period. For example, I am searching for death information for an older Italian woman who was living with her daughter in 1920 in Chicago and then disappears. The most likely scenario is that she died before 1930 in Chicago but no amount of creative searching has turned up a death certificate. Her husband was buried at Mount Carmel and it seems like this woman would have been interred there, too. 

We could look through the interment registers to see if her name is there, but looking through the lot registers to see if a family member purchased a grave during the decade is also a possibility. Her husband is buried in a single grave purchased at the time of his death by a son, so it's possible this woman would also be in a single grave purchased when she died.

Now, I hear what you're saying. Why not just check Mount Carmel Cemetery, Hillside, Illinois interment records, 1900-1987, the handy-dandy card index that's also available on FamilySearch? Been there, done that. With no luck. So, in this case, where I'm having absolutely no luck, I want to turn over every stone available in Chicago before I start to brainstorm other death and burial places.

Exploring these registers has been an education--one that I should be able to put to good use as other projects point me to Chicago Catholic cemeteries.

If you use these registers for your own research, add a comment. I'd love to hear about your experiences using the records.

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