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Planning a research trip to Chicago? Here are some suggestions.


I am occasionally asked about doing research on Chicago ancestors and how to go about finding records about them. There are various types of records that are available for Chicago research with libraries and archives that are easy to access. Researching your Chicago ancestors has become easier recently with the advancement of the Internet which will help guide you to where you need to go. In fact, records that were previously only available onsite at these various archives and libraries and now being digitized and showing up online. There are new records showing up online everyday which will help you in getting information on those ancestors who lived in the Windy City especially back in the late 19th and early 20th century.

First, if you have an opportunity to take a 2 or 3 day trip to Chicago and conduct some firsthand research, DO IT! One of the first places I would begin my research is the Newberry Library. This independent research library should be the starting point for any genealogy research anywhere in the Midwest in addition to Chicago.

The library, which is located on the city's near north side, has a vast collection of county histories, city directories from a number of cities in addition to several years of Chicago directories and newspapers in print and microfilm from…well…pretty much everywhere! You can start by checking out the library's website and their historical website The second site will help you discover Chicago's past and pinpoint locations that might be of interest in your research. If you know where your ancestor lived, this site has an interactive map that you can search by address. This will allow you to see other places close by to your ancestor's house or apartment such as churches and synagogues. You can also find some city directories online.

The library is located at 60 W. Walton St. The library is closed on Sunday. The reading room and the book store is also closed on Monday although you can still visit the exhibition gallery during normal business hours. When you arrive, you will need to check your coats and other items into secured lockers which are located on the main floor. Be sure to bring identification which will be needed to register for a reading room card. Keep in mind that there are specific hours for ordering a particular book or manuscript from the archives so make sure you allow yourself plenty of time for accessing the materials and research time. The staff is very helpful so don't be afraid to ask a question.

The city of Chicago resides within Cook County. The County's Genealogy Unit of the County Clerk's Bureau of Vital Records, maintains a website that is also of interest to the genealogist researching Chicago ancestors. Cook County Genealogy Online contains a great index for searching vital records. This website allows you to view the index for free. The site also allows you to purchase and download a non-certified genealogy only version of a birth, marriage or death record. This website can be found at

The Cook County Clerk of the Circuit Court Archives also has a website that allows you to search, among other items, the naturalization declarations of intent in its collection. Again, searching the index is free. You can also find other holdings in its collection including a database on famous county case files. The archives collections for these declarations of intent to naturalize range from 1906-1929. The Circuit Court Archives which is located at the Richard J. Daley Center, also has naturalizations from 1871-1929. Unfortunately, all records prior to 1871 were destroyed in the great Chicago fire. You can find out how to order these records on the website. More information can be found at

If you strike out finding any Naturalization records at the Circuit Court Archives, be sure to check the holdings at the National Archives. The National Archives has a large collection of records that are of great interest to the family historian, First, check the NARA website at to see what holdings are at the archives. The National Archives also has a Chicago center where you can search in their microfilm research room and at their archival research room. This particular center holds records for Illinois, Minnesota, Iowa, Wisconsin, Indiana, Michigan and Ohio. The National Archives at Chicago is located at 7358 South Pulaski in Chicago and the website can give you specific hours and directions to the center.

For those searching cemetery records especially Catholic cemeteries, the Archdiocese of Chicago does not archive many of its cemetery records at a central facility so most records from individual cemeteries are held at that cemetery. However, The Family History Library does have a collection of Catholic cemetery records from 1864 through 1989. Much of this collection is digitized and can be found on the Family Search website along with an index. Family Search also has a large collection of Chicago church records from various religions. Information on these records are available on the website.

The Joseph Cardinal Bernardin Archives and Records Center will research parish records prior to 1926 under certain conditions. There is a fee for the staff to search parish/school records. You can get more information from the Archives website

For those searching Jewish records, there is that has a Chicago obituary database of over 8,000 obituaries from the 1990s. also has records in its US database not only for Chicago but records from all across the U.S. The Jewish Genealogical Society of Illinois also has a Chicago Resources page on its website for those searching in the Chicagoland area. will lead you to other resources including a link to the Guide to Jewish Genealogy in Chicagoland by Mike Karsen. This site also discusses residence records, arrival records and "Life in Jewish Chicago."

Chicago records are also available on a state level through the Illinois State Archives and the Illinois State Library. Both facilities are located in Springfield. The CyberdriveIllinois website has a link to some of its holdings and information on where you can find other genealogical records. This website includes an index to its Statewide death certificate database from 1916-1950.

The State of Illinois also has several regional libraries that are part of the Illinois Regional Archives Depository (IRAD). The IRAD library for Chicago is in the Ronald Williams Library at Northeastern Illinois University which is located at 5500 North St. Louis Avenue in Chicago. More information on this library can be found at

Another website of interest is the Atlas of Historical County Boundaries which contains interactive maps that shows the history and evolution of specific counties within various states throughout the years.

I would recommend doing a bit of homework before heading out on your research trip. The more information you have before starting your Chicago adventure, the greater chances you'll have for success. Chicago has a great deal of history and much to offer so enjoy looking for those Chicago ancestors!

Thanks to Alex Teller from the Newberry Library for passing along some information for this blog.

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