- 1 History
- 2 Community Areas
- 3 Resources
- 3.1 Archives, Libraries, and Museums
- 3.2 Biographies
- 3.3 Cemeteries
- 3.4 Census
- 3.5 Churches and Synagogues
- 3.6 Directories
- 3.7 Courts
- 3.8 Gazetteers of Places/Localities
- 3.9 History
- 3.10 Land and Property
- 3.11 Maps
- 3.12 Military History and Records
- 3.13 Newspapers
- 3.14 Probate Records
- 3.15 Taxation
- 3.16 Vital Records
- 4 Ethnic Research
- 5 Websites
- 6 References
- Incorporated as a city in 1837 after being founded in 1833 at the site of a portage between the Great Lakes and the Mississippi River watershed
- 1871 Great Chicago Fire - Wikipedia
- 1893 World's Columbian Exposition (Harold Washington Library Center Special Collections)
- 1933 World's Fair: Century of Progress (Chicago Public Library Special Collections finding aid)
- 1871 The Great Fire of Chicago and the Web of Memory (Chicago Historical Society with Northwestern University)
Original marriage licenses for Cook County were destroyed by the Great Fire of Chicago on October 8–10, 1871. Marriages in the Illinois Statewide Marriage Index for Cook County prior to the fire were found in the Sam Fink Index. A copy of the Sam Fink Index is available on microfilm at the Illinois Regional Archives Depository (IRAD) at Northeastern Illinois University in Chicago. The only additional information that this depository can provide is the name of the newspaper in which the marriage appeared. FHL film 1321939 A microfilmed copy of the Index to Chicago and Cook County Marriages and Deaths Reported in Chicago Newspapers 1834–1889, compiled by Sam Fink, is also available at the Newberry Library (microfilm 608, general collections, 2nd floor.)
Community AreasThere are 77 individual community areas, as designated by the University of Chicago Social Science Research Committee. More than 200 neighborhoods are represented in the community areas. Community areas may have unique records available, or in some instances, their own newspapers. The Archival Collections at the Harold Washington Library Center, Chicago Public Library include holdings for many Chicago community areas and ethnic groups.
The city is partitioned into four main sections: Downtown (containing the Loop), the North Side, the South Side, and the West Side.
- Far North side: Rogers Park . West Ridge . Uptown . Lincoln Square . Edison Park . Norwood Park . Jefferson Park . Forest Glen . North Park . Albany Park . O'Hare . Edgewater
- North side: North Center . Lakeview . Lincoln Park . Avondale . Logan Square
- Northwest side: Portage Park . Irving Park . Dunning . Montclare . Belmont Cragin . Hermosa
- Central, Near North, and Near South side: Near North Side . The Loop . Near South Side
- West and Near West side: Humboldt Park . West Town . Austin . West Garfield Park . East Garfield Park . Near West Side . North Lawndale . South Lawndale . Lower West Side
- Southwest side: Garfield Ridge . Archer Heights . Brighton Park . McKinley Park . New City . West Elsdon . Gage Park . Clearing . West Lawn . Chicago Lawn . West Englewood . Englewood
- South side: Armour Square . Douglas . Oakland . Fuller Park . Grand Boulevard . Kenwood . Washington Park . Hyde Park . Woodlawn . South Shore . Bridgeport . Greater Grand Crossing
- Far Southwest side: Ashburn . Auburn Gresham . Beverly . Washington Heights . Mount Greenwood . Morgan Park
- Far Southeast side: Chatham . Avalon Park . South Chicago . Burnside . Calumet Heights . Roseland . Pullman . South Deering . East Side . West Pullman . Riverdale . Hegewisch
Street Numbering System
Before 1909, the river was the north-south dividing line. In 1909, the city was divided into four sections. 
Prior to 1909
Prior to 1909, the river was the north-south dividing line for streets which crossed it. North Clark Street would be that part of the street north of the river. On the west side, Randolph Street was the dividing line as far as Union Park (whose western boundary was Ashland). Beyond that, Lake Street was the dividing line. The Chicago River divided the city into three parts. North Division was from the North Branch east to the Lake; South Division was from the South Branch east to the Lake, and West Division was everything west of the river's branches. In 1879, the South Division adopted the even-odd numbering system in present use.
1909 - present
In 1909, the city was divided into four sections with the corner of State and Madison as the dividing point. Madison, running east and west, divides streets running north and south. State Street, running north and south, divides streets running east and west. One hundred numbers equal a full block and eight hundred numbers equal a mile. So 800 N. State would be one mile north of Madison. 800 W. Madison would be one mile west of State. Streets that run at an angle may be numbered either way.
All numbered streets such as 18th, 31st, etc., are on the south side. 600 E. 40th St. is six full blocks or 3/4 of a mile east of State and 40 full blocks, or five miles, south of Madison. Chicago has a small east side, mostly south, because of the angle of Lake Michigan. The term "East Side" refers to the area on the far southeast side near Indiana.
- In a street address, even numbers are on the west and north sides of a street; odd numbers are on the south and east sides. 817 W. 18th St. is on the south side of 18th, which is 18 blocks south of Madison (2-1/4 miles) and 8 blocks (one mile) west of State.
- Not every block shown on the map is a full block numerically. For example, Madison Street from State to Dearborn is only a half a block numerically. Dearborn is 50 west. Clark Street, the street after Dearborn, is 100 West. (Numbers may extend to 100 but most street numbers go up to 60 or so)."
- A Look at Chicago has ward and enumeration districts (ED) maps for Cook County for the 1870 through 1930 censuses. It also has ward descriptions.
Archives, Libraries, and Museums
Illinois Regional Archives Depository
Ronald Williams Library
University of Illinois at Chicago
Daley Library Special Collections and University Archives
University of Chicago Library
Special Collections Research Center
Contact the library before visiting. See Library Access and Policies.
Reuben T. Durrett Collection on Kentucky and the Ohio River Valley: published and documentary materials on the settlement of Kentucky and the Ohio River Valley.
World War 1 Service Records: 3X5 cards recording war service of University of Chicago students, including dates of enlistment and discharge, ranks and assignments, and war service credit given by the University, 1917-1919. (digitized)
Archdiocese of Chicago
Cardinal Bernardin Archives & Records Center
Assistant Research Archivist: 312-831-0711, ext. 728
Appointments are recommended.
The archival materials in the Archives & Records Center are housed in closed stacks. Unprocessed collections are restricted. Materials less than 25 years old are generally closed. The vice chancellor can waive restrictions.
Sacramental Records: Research for genealogical purposes is confined to records prior to 31 December 31 1915. Pre-1916 records are available for research on microfilm. Only records of closed parishes (complete list available upon request) are held by the Archives. All open parishes keep their own records. The only exceptions are Old St. Mary’s and St. Elizabeth’s, whose earliest books are now at the Archives.
Carter G. Woodson Regional Library
Vivian G. Harsh Research Collection of Afro-American History & Literature
Manuscript holdings, plus 70,000 books (many of them rare), 500 periodical titles, and about 5,000 reels of microfilmed primary source materials from other black studies research collections across the country.
Harold Washington Library
Collections include microfilmed copies of man Chicago city directories from 1839, and telephone directories from 1878. (Some of these directories are available digitally on Fold3.com and ChicagoAncestors.org.)
The Newberry Library
Genealogy and Local History
The Newberry houses rich a collection of family histories; local histories; censuses, probate, deed, court, tax, and cemetery records; military rosters; periodicals; genealogical guides; and reference works. See Collection Guides and Research Tools
Chicago History Museum
1601 N. Clark St.
Chicago, IL 60614
- Biographical Dictionary of Chicago, part of the Encyclopedia of Chicago at Chicago History Museum Research Center.
- Photo index of portraits taken by early Chicago photographers - tens of thousands of images from early photographers E.L. Brand and C.D. Mosher, among others, indexed by the name of the person in the photograph, as well as by photographer and studio. Their collection can be searched at the Chicago Historical Society Research Center.
- A History of the City of Chicago: Its Men and Institutions. Biographical Sketches of Leading Citizens (Google eBook)
Graveyards.com - This list of Chicago-area cemeteries provides location information, including geographic coordinates, and a link to a page with additional cemetery information, including photos, when available.
Catholic Cemeteries Chicago - This free site helps with finding the location of graves within Catholic cemeteries in the Chicago area.
Churches and Synagogues
The Newberry Library's "Guide to Chicago Church and Synagogue Records" provides information on how to find records from Chicago's churches and synagogues. It can be sorted by denomination, name, or ethnicity.
Chicago-City Catholic Churches - This list of Chicago Catholic churches includes the address, coordinates, years open, community (neighborhood), and ethnicity. Family History Library catalog entries are linked to church names. There is also a search function to help you figure out which church your ancestors attended.
A wiki article describing an online collection is found at:
Archives of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
Covers Illinois, Iowa, Wisconsin, Upper Michigan.
Chicago city directories were published in 1846, 1851, 1853–54, annually after 1855 until 1917, 1923, and 1928-29. With a few exceptions, they generally include heads of household (including widows) and individuals who were working. Front matter generally includes lists of government offices, churches, and civic organizations, and back matter includes business listings.
Chicago city directories can be found online at Fold3.com and the Newberry Library's ChicagoAncestors.org, under the "Tools" tab. They can also be found on Family History Library microfilm and at many research facilities in the Chicago area.
- Chicago City Directory and Business Advertiser, 1855, Fergus, May Supplement, is available as a free Google eBook at Google Books. The text is searchable by address, as well as surname.
- PDF format files of the Chicago city directories are available at the Newberry Library's ChicagoAncestors.org for the following years: 1866, 1870, 1871, 1880, 1885, 1892, 1900 and 1910.
- The website DistantCousin.com has a transcription of the 1844 and 1855/56 Chicago city directories.
- 1928/29 Polk's Directory (by street address; PDF Chicago History Museum website; loads slowly)
- The Chicago Daily News Almanac and Yearbook, 1905 (pp. 446-454 "Old Residents of Chicago" arranged by year of arrival; at Google Books; searchable by address).
- The Newberry Library has these unique Chicago directories on microfilm only: Cook County, IL Business 1855–1856 Business (Call # Microfiche 283 #553 – 553.7) or (Call # Graff 1727 no. 1, Cook County, IL Republicans 1900 (see Chicago, IL; Cook Counties (Northern), IL Farmers 1918 (see DuPage County), and Cook County, IL Suburban & Rural 1929.
- Fold3.com ($) has Chicago City Directories 1843-1917, 1923 (only 3 years missing) available online.
- The spurring metropolis that is Chicago and the directories that came out during late 1800s and early 1900s can help you find ancestors who made a pitstop in those urban records or took up long-term residence. Social registers, blue books, and other directories might be what you need to fill that gap in your timeline between the missing 1880-1900 Federal Census and assist during the 1909 and 1911 Chicago city street renumbering. Most suburbs are listed in these publications and can also be considered Cook County resources.
- The Bon-Ton Directory of 1879 will help in locating the “most prominent and fashionable ladies” of Chicago and the surrounding suburbs.
- The Elite City and Club lists for 1883-84 (reversed), 1885-86 and 1888-89 are available to check whether your relatives were members of clubs such as the Amateur Musical Club or other social clubs of that area and era.
- The Social Register, for the years 1899-1907, 1908, 1912, and 1922, offers such sections as the names of married maidens.
- The Chicago Blue Book of Selected Names of Chicago and Suburban Towns, which has coverage from 1890-1915 on Archive.org. Using these with census records or Chicago city directories (available on Fold3.com) can establish address changes for 1909 and 1911 street renumbering. Have a missing ancestor? Using these directories to find neighbors might help in tracking down the missing ancestors in censuses. 1890, 1891, 1892, 1893, 1894, 1895, 1897,
1898, 1901, 1902, 1903, 1904, 1905, 1906, 1907, 1908, 1909, 1910,
1911, 1912, 1913, 1914, 1915
- A post-1930 census gem is The Selected Directory of Italians in Chicago for the years 1930 and 1933-34.
Gazetteers of Places/Localities
Land and Property
Many genealogy books describe how to find land records for rural America. For ancestors who lived in a city like Chicago, though, a very different set of resources is available. A number of online databases give information about historic residences in Chicago and Cook County. Armed with an address from a census, you may be able to flesh out details about an ancestor's life and get a glimpse of where they lived.
It is possible that your ancestors were responsible for the construction of the building that they lived or worked in. The Chicago Historical Society has an index to building permits issued between 1898 and 1912. The index is searchable by original owner's name, historical street name, architect, and the contractor issue date.
The historical street name field in this search hints at the fact that Chicago streets have undergone several name changes over time. The Newberry Library has three excellent documents detailing the changes. Specifically, there are PDF files for the 1909 and 1911 street renumberings and a general index to old and new street names.
With a current address for a historical property, it is easy to find and see the current structure at a location, for example by using Google Maps street view . To find out if the current structure is where an ancestor lived, a helpful tool is the Cook County Assessor's search. It is available through their webpage:. The basic search requires an identifying PIN for the property; however, an advanced search provides a more convenient search by address. In this search, be as general as possible in the street name for best results (for example, enter 59 instead of 59th Street). In addition to a description of the property, the results of this search provide a recent picture and the structure's age. This page will tell you if the building you see today is the same one that an ancestor lived or worked in many years ago.
- Chicago Neighborhood Maps
"Discover the past by address." Search this site by entering the address of an ancestor. Addresses may be identified in a census, voter registration, or city directory. The search function then allows the marking of significant locations.
For example, search for the parish churches closest to the residence of a Catholic ancestor. Click on the hyperlink for each church to identify the Family History Library microfilm number of the baptismal and marriage records with the corresponding years. Films can then be ordered through a local Family History Center. ChicagoAncestors.org is sponsored by the Newberry Library.
Military History and Records
The Harold Washington Library has several collections that may be helpful to researchers interested in Chicago during the Civil War:
- Bass, Henry Papers (1952–1975)
- Civil War. Army of the Potomac Collection (1863)
- Civil War Round Table Records (1945-1975)
- Daughters of Union Veterans of the Civil War Collection (1895–1964)
- Hambrecht, George F. Papers (1842–1928)
World War I
WWI draft registration cards are available as part of the United States, World War One Draft Registration Cards, 1917-1918 collection. Illinois draft registrations are not indexed as of August 2012.
Chicago had 86 registration districts. The Italian research society Pointers In Person has a Chicago Ward Map Registration District finding aid to help determine the draft registration district in Chicago where an ancestor may have registered.
- Illinois Newspaper Project Search this database to find what newspapers are available and where to find them.
- The Hyde Park Herald (1882–2008) has digitized, searchable newspapers - http://hpherald.com/archive/
- Dziennik Zwiazkowy Historical Newspapers. This resource has 10 years (1908-1917) of a Chicago Polish newspaper, available for download as a PDF. Please note that this is not the newspaper in the PGSA databases.
Cook County probate records, 1871-1975, are held by the Archives Department of the Clerk of the Circuit Court of Cook County. View archive holidings for more information about the records that are available.
- Illinois, Cook County Birth Certificates, 1878-1922 (FamilySearch Historical Records)
- Illinois, Cook County Birth Registers, 1871-1915 (FamilySearch Historical Records)
- FamilySearch has two overlapping collections of Illinois marriages:
- Illinois Statwide Marriage Index, 1763-1900 (Illinois State Archives) includes Chicago and Cook County marriages, as well as the Sam Fink index of marriages compiled from area newspapers. Copies of original Chicago and Cook County marriage records included in this index can be ordered by phone from the Illinois Regional Archives Depository (IRAD) at Northeastern Illinois University.
- Genealogy Online is the Cook County Clerk's website. Marriage records more than 50 years old can be ordered online for a fee. Over one million Cook County marriages are currently available through that website. Some records available at this site are also available for free at FamilySearch.org.
- Searchable Marriage Index for Polish parishes in Chicago through 1915 at the Polish Genealogical Society of America.
Northeastern Illinois Obituary and Death Notice Collection Free from GenealogyBuff.com. From various funeral homes in the suburbs of Chicago and Joliet areas.
The largest African American history and literature collection in the Midwest. It includes a large selection of books, periodicals, and microfilms relating to African American history in Illinois. The collection was established in the 1920’s by Vivian Harsh, the first black librarian in the Chicago Public Library system.
The Avondale Branch on Chicago's southeast side has an extensive collection of African American genealogy materials.
Black Ensemble Theater Collection
Part of the Chicago Theater Collection, which also houses the Black History Education Program archives. See Archdiocese of Chicago / Black History Educational Program Archives.
|Black Metropolis Research Consortium (BMRC) Survey||
An archival survey of more than 11,000 collections of African American primary-source research materials from libraries, universities, and other archival institutions in the Chicago area. The organization is dedicated to making their African American culture, history and politics collections widely available. Search for collections by keyword, or browse by collection title.
The Harold Washington Library Special Collections includes records of the Asian American Small Business Association from the 1990's.
Czech and Slovak
Czech & Slovak American Genealogy Society of Illinois (CSAGSI)
The Paul M Nemecek Research Library of the Czech & Slovak American Genealogy Society of Illinois (CSAGSI) offers an extensive ethnic collection, especially for Chicago and Cook County.
The Harold Washington Library Special Collections includes the Brennan, George A. Papers (1915–1934). Part of the Calumet Region Community Collections. Collection reflects Brennan's personal interest in the local history of the Calumet Region and the early Dutch community in Chicago. [George A. Brennan Papers Finding Aid]
University of Illinois at Chicago
German Aid Society of Chicago (Deutsche Gesellschaft) was established in 1854 to assist German-speaking immigrants in Chicago. The collection consists of correspondence, minutes, financial records, case histories, policy statements, and annual reports.
The Harold Washington Library Special Collections includes Italians in Chicago Project (1979–1981). Oral history transcripts from interviews with Italian Americans in Chicago; from a project at the University of Illinois at Chicago.
The Polish Genealogical Society of America
In addition to a wealth of historical information about Polish ancestry, culture and immigration, the PGSA has a number of free databases specific to Chicago research. (Membership entitles you to access to additional databases.)
- The Cook County ILGenWeb Project, an member of The ILGenWeb Project, an affiliate of The USGenWeb Project.
- The USGenWeb Archives Project for Cook County
- The Newberry Library Genealogy Collection and Links
- Chicago Genealogical Society, http://www.chicagogenealogy.org/aboutus.html
- Chicago Genealogy Resources Online - a handy guide.
- Chicagology The history of Chicago is brought to life through articles and photos covering everything from Chicago streets and sports to their gallery of images of the Chicago Fire and the 1893 World's Fair.
- Chicago Genealogy (Illinois Genealogy), links to online records for Chicago
- Finding Your Chicago Ancestor by Margaret O'Hara, 977.311 D27o 1982