Family History Research

City of Chicago Zoning Department Maps

I posted this last week on my Chicago Family History blog, but the process should be shared here as well.

I have been doing a lot of Property research lately in an attempt to learn more about my ancestors. Looking online for some maps of neighborhoods I came across the City of Chicago’s Department of Zoning Maps. There are many things that make this website’s zoning tool so useful. In no particular order, here they are:

  • I can type in 3145 S. Wentworth and a map will pop up showing a circle where that property is. Sadly it is now part of the Dan-Ryan Expressway so I cannot see what the house looks like.  If I type in 3154 S. Ridgeway Ave, a map pops up that has this house. Take a look. It shows the house plus additional buildings on the property.
  • A key on the right side of the screen allows you to select, or deselect, layers to view such as area schools, cemeteries, water sources, streets, metra stations and more.
  • If you click the Identify icon on the left column and then the property you are searching, up pops a window that gives you information including the PIN for the property. Identifying the PIN is the first step in property research in Cook County.  You are also able to access the Cook County Record of Deeds website, Cook County Assessor and CNT, from this popup screen. Very handy!
  • By clicking the Cook County Assessor’s link it will pull up that property on their website with assessed value and some neighborhood and home information. Click on the Recorder of Deeds link and it pulls up the Deeds searchable online for that property. Click on any of the document numbers and the legal description of the property appears. That is step two in obtaining property records.
  • I like that I can zoom out and view the surrounding streets and properties. It gives me a better visual as to where my families lived in relation to each other. That can provide clues on how they met as well.

Play around on this website when you have some time. If the home is still standing, or even if it is not, you can see where it is/was and obtain some valuable information on your family.

Want to know more? Check out my Genealogy Using Chicago Maps and Property Records Tip Sheet available on the Kindle and Nook. This guide will walk you through step by step on how to find and view Chicago property records. It provides many mapping resources to view the footprints of the homes in which your ancestors lived and the surrounding neighborhood. Real life research examples are also provided with additional resources.

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Tools for Digging Deeper – School Records

This morning I took another class at the Newberry Library. Grace DuMelle spoke on School Record sources. I picked up a few new tips such as if you are in the Chicago area and had Chicago Public School ancestor graduates, that CPS has lists online. You can go to CPS and register for a free account to access the records. Grace also suggested searching in ProQuest for the Chicago Tribune Historical files. She said the newspapers often printed graduation lists.

In addition, there are many online databases available through Chicago Public Library websites. These are accessible at the libraries and at home, if you have a CPL card. Grace told us if we do not have a CPL card and live in another library system, we can ask about a reciprocal card which then gives us access from home. This is something I will look into next time I am at the Harold Washington Library downtown. The CPL system offers a few databases my suburban library system does not.

After my class I went upstairs to research. I had my first taste of the Sanborn Fire Maps. It was very exciting to learn how to access these from the library and navigate through them. I discovered one of the addresses my Italian families gave, 372 S. Clark, Chicago, was in fact a store. I have a map key to figure out what all the symbols mean on the map I was able to print.  Now I need to find out who owned the store, what kind of store it was, and if it belonged to my family or if it was a contact point for immigrants.

All in all a fantastic day in the city not only for me, but my husband and boys. They were able to check out the Transformers 3 filming on Michigan Avenue. I think the highlight of that was seeing Bumblebee, at least for my four year old twins.

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Military Records class at the National Archives

A couple of months ago I took a Military Records class at the Great Lakes Branch of the National Archives. My reasons for registering were to gain more knowledge and hopefully find more records on my World War I and II ancestors, especially those from Chicago. I thought there might be Statement of Service records at the Great Lakes Branch.

The class was an hour and a half long and covered military history from World War I forward, then as time permitted near the end of the class, backwards to the Revolutionary War. Each participant received a folder full of information such as a booklets: NARA Reference Information Paper 109 Military Service Records at the National Archives; NARA Reference Information Paper 92 Records Relating to Personal Participation in World War II Military Awards and Decorations; and NARA Reference Information Paper 78 Records Relating to Personal Participation in World War II “The American Soldier” Surveys. These are fantastic resource booklets! We also received a Power Point handout of the lecture plus brochures on finding World War II records and Civil War records. The class also allowed participants to ask numerous questions as we moved along through the topics. It helped to hear what others have found, or not found, and what brick walls they face, which are similar to mine.

I was actually very surprised at the end of the class how much I already knew. In fact, there were very few points of interest that I needed to follow up on. I suppose this could be attributed to the dedication I have had for researching all options for records the last six months and the wealth of information and ease of use on the National Archives webpages. I have always been able to find what I need on their pages.

One thing I did want to learn more about is the Statement of Service Cards for World War I soldiers. Since most of the Army records burned at the National Personnel Records Center in 1973, finding service information on my soldiers has been difficult unless they were killed in the war.  I read about this Statement of Service Card in a couple of genealogy books and sent a letter to the Illinois State Archives asking if they had these records. The State Adjutant General should have had these records, if they existed. The ISA sent me to the National Archives Atlanta Branch to seek out the records. They in turn, sent me to the Great Lakes Branch. After many questions to the National Archives Archivist who taught the class, I learned these records do not exist for the State of Illinois. They exist for some states. The Archivist told me I could look through the Textual File at the archives and find information if my relatives were drafted. If they enlisted, as one did, I would have to contact Washington D.C.

Overall the class was great and I will absolutely take another one on a different topic in the future. If you have the opportunity to take a class with the National Archives, try to do it. The booklets and resources they give you are fantastic and while you can find the same information online, it is nice to have it all contained in one booklet you can hold and write in.

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Websites to Follow

I found a few great websites to share with you this week in an effort to provide more resources for finding the history of our homes and cities. I hope you find them useful!

Chicago Landmarks Tour 2010 This is a blog by a man who made a goal for 2010 to see all of the Chicago Landmarks. He takes readers on a tour of an area of Chicago and posts beautiful pictures of the area and architecture. I think I will have to visit some of the places he writes about this summer with my children.

City of Chicago Landmark List If you would like to see the entire list of Chicago Landmarks, check out this site. These are the places the above blogger is visiting.  To view a PDF file of this list go here.

Chicago Architecture Foundation And finally if you live in Chicago and want more information about the history of our great city’s buildings, visit the CAF.

Now, unrelated to the home and city history sites above, I was reading Dr. Bill’s blog this morning and he posted a Follow Friday blog post that fits very well with the articles I have been writing the last week.  If you have had problems finding family on Census records, please read Bayside Blog for a great article called Census Searching: Ancestor Not Home? Ask the Neighbors, on finding that elusive ancestor. If you haven’t started following or subscribing to Dr. Bill’s blog, you should! Thanks Dr. Bill for posting this article as a recommendation!


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