By Kimberly Brown, Family Historian
Ernest Hemingway, deep-dish pizza, Wrigley Field, Frank Lloyd Wright...just a sample of all that Chicago has to offer. Chicago's population has been more than a million since 1890, and today it is the third-largest city in the United States. Thus many people find themselves conducting genealogical research in Chicago.
Historically, Chicago has been a city heavily populated by people of Irish descent, so Catholic parish records are indispensable when it comes to finding your Chicago ancestors. Fortunately, the Family History Library in Salt Lake City has microfilmed all of the parish records for the Archdiocese of Chicago up to 1915. You can borrow these microfilms at your local Family History Center. At ChicagoAncestors.com, which is a division of the Newberry Library, you can enter your ancestors' address (from a census record or city directory) to learn which Catholic parish was the closest to their home. Then you'll know which parish records to search for them.
Chicago is located in Cook County, so you can use county vital records to research your ancestors. Keep in mind, however, that most of them were destroyed in the Great Fire of 1871. Thus finding your ancestors before 1871 can be difficult. Post-1871 vital records, however, can easily be accessed online. You can find an index to Cook County Deaths, 1878-1922 on pilot.familysearch.org. On beta.familysearch.org, you can find Cook County records collections with digitized images! The collections include: Birth Certificates, 1787-1922; Birth Registers, 1871-1915; and Marriages, 1871-1920. All collections are available for free. Just go to the beta site, click on "All Collections," and scroll down until you see the listings for "Illinois, Cook County."
Another great resource is the Chicago Delayed Birth Index, 1871-1948. Many people registered their own births in the 1940s to qualify for social security benefits; thus the index, created in the 1940s, includes births from as early as 1871. This index is on microfilm at the Family History Library, so you can view it at your local Family History Center. The index has only limited information: name, date of birth, and certificate number. To get the actual delayed birth certificate that was registered, you'll have to order it (for a fee) from the Cook County Clerk's Office. The Illinois Statewide Marriage Index, 1763-1900, is an ongoing project of the Illinois State Archives and the Illinois State Genealogical Society. You can search it online through the Illinois State Archives. You can search by groom's name, by bride's name, or both. The project also includes instructions on obtaining original marriage records.