Family History Research

Newberry Library Class – Tools for Digging Deeper, Probate & Inquest Records

Saturday I took a class at the Newberry Library, taught by Grace DuMelle, author of Finding Your Chicago Ancestors. It was one in a series of classes called 60 Minutes to Better Genealogy:Tools to Dig Deeper – Probate and Inquest Records.

I have not really looked into Probate records yet because I thought my families were so poor they would not have made a will but Grace gave me information to indicate that they might still have made a will to provide for the children. She gave many examples of records in Cook County related to Probate such as Guardianship records, Wills, Estate documents, she discussed heirship and show many examples of documents. She also told the class how to search the indexes and locate the documents in Cook County. This is now on my to-do list for summer! Get into the Cook County office and look up the case files I need to request, then request and wait for them so I can return to view them. Most records are stored off site so it can take several business days before the cases one wants to view arrive.

Grave also discussed Inquest records. I have a few death certificates that say Inquest or Coroner’s Death Certificate on them, but the Chicago Coroner’s Inquest Records online end before my ancestors died. Grace explained the records from that point on are held at the Cook County Medical Examiners office but because they are so loaded with current cases, you cannot expect a timely response. She suggested if you really want a file, to be in their face about it. Write and call every couple of weeks so you stay in the front of their mind. Their records are held in an off-site warehouse as well and they apparently do not visit the site often to retrieve records.

The Chicago Homicide Index was also discussed, which I know well from my Fortunato Fratto’s murder. I sent a letter to the Chicago Police Department, Records Unit, asking about his case and if it is possible to get copies of his file. We will see what their response is.

Grace also mentioned the Hearst Newspapers in Chicago, which followed murders, fires, etc. I had not heard of them so need to investigate that further.

Many new areas to consider looking for records. Have you had success getting Inquest records from Cook County? What about Police Files?

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