Chicago Before the Inferno  

It used to be difficult to research Chicago/Cook County ancestors if you weren’t actually in Chicago (and it wasn’t that much easier if you were in Chicago).  Now, however, Ancestry Library Edition (Ancestry LE) provides you with access to more than 15 million records of Chicago/Cook County ancestors. That total includes the following record collections (and note, please, that I haven’t included the federal census or military record collections, where you can find even more records of Chicago ancestors):

Chicago, Illinois and Iowa Biographical Dictionary [723]
Chicago, Illinois, Voter Registration, 1888 [169,236]
Chicago, Illinois, Voter Registration, 1890 [168,461]
Chicago, Illinois, Voter Registration, 1892 [236,684]
Cook County, Illinois Birth Index, 1916-1935 [1,275,307]
Cook County, Illinois Death Index, 1908-1988 [2,746,806]
Cook County, Illinois History and Biography [1,568]
Cook County, Illinois Marriage Index, 1930-1960 [2,035,378]
Cook County, Illinois Marriage Indexes, 1912-1942 [674,692]
Cook County, Illinois, Birth Certificates Index, 1871-1922 [6,946,882]
Cook County, Illinois, Deaths Index, 1878-1922 [1,423,430]
Cook County, Illinois, Marriage and Death Indexes, 1833-1889 [182,100]
Cook County, Illinois, Marriages Index, 1871-1920 [1,730,670]
Illinois, Compiled Census and Census Substitutes Index, 1810-1890 [47,577]
Illinois, Compiled Marriages, 1790-1860 [163,917]
Illinois, Compiled Marriages, 1791-1850 [158,233]
Illinois, Compiled Marriages, 1851-1900 [659,028]
Illinois, Deaths and Stillbirths Index, 1916-1947 [2,881,376]
Illinois, Passenger and Crew List, 1943-1963 [273,301]
Illinois, Public Land Purchase Records, 1813-1909 [546,064]
Illinois, Select United Methodist Church Records, 1824-2009 [112,750]
Illinois, State Census Collection, 1825-1865 [690,833]
Wunders Cemetery, Chicago, Illinois [5,568]

Now, there is still a massive problem you will encounter while researching Chicago ancestors: the Great Chicago Fire (8-10 October 1871). What did the fire destroy? It would take a lot less time to list what it didn’t destroy. Unfortunately, the list of items burnt to cinders includes many records of genealogical value. But, some items of interest did survive…

If you check in the record collection called Cook County, Illinois Marriage and Death Indexes, 1833-1889, you’ll find that a record of some pre-fire events does exist. Try the following searches in this record collection:

DEATH—YEAR 1860 (Exact +/- 10 years)  9,339
MARRIAGE—YEAR 1860 (Exact +/- 10 years)  28,705

You can also locate numerous records of death in U.S., Find a Grave, 1600s-Current Results. This search reveals numerous deaths in the city of Chicago (and includes some persons who died in Chicago but are buried elsewhere):

DEATH—YEAR 1860 (Exact +/- 10 years)  LOCATION Chicago, Cook, Illinois, USA (Exact to this place) 7,217

If you amend the above search slightly, you get this result:

DEATH—YEAR 1860 (Exact +/- 10 years) LOCATION Cook County, Illinois, USA (Exact to this place) 10,078

You will also find records of interest in the Illinois, State Census Collection, 1825-1865. You’ll find some records for residents of various Cook County municipalities in the 1855 state census, and records for residents of Chicago and other Cook County municipalities in the 1865 state census.

You’ll find additional records for Chicago residents in U.S., City Directories, 1822-1995. There are in fact 13 directories for Chicago for various years between 1839 and 1871. Of special interest is the 1843 directory, which lists date of death, age at time of death, and place of death (sometimes not Chicago) for persons who passed on while the directory was being compiled.

You can use Ancestry LE at Central Library or any of our branches.

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