The book is titled Researcher’s Guide to the Pre-Fire Records of Chicago and Cook County, Revised Edition. The author of the book is W. Wesley Johnston. The call number of the book is ILLINOIS COLL 929.3 JOHNSTON, W. It will be available on the 2nd floor of our library on the circulating shelves within the Illinois Collection. Right now as of this post, it is on the “New Non-Fiction” shelves near the “Ask Us” desk on the 2nd floor until it migrates to the Illinois Collection.
It is a small paperback book consisting of 140 pages of listings of resources that survived the great Chicago fire of 1871. While not being the usual resources genealogists would gravitate to such as birth, marriage and death records, these records might be able to shed some light on your own Chicago ancestors prior to the fire of 1871.
Here is a small write-up description on the back cover of the book:
The Great Chicago Fire of 1871 destroyed the courthouse and city hall and most of the records. But many records survived or were later able to be legally proven. In 1938, the Work Projects Administration’s Historical Records Survey inventoried Cook County and Chicago records. But the inventory went unpublished when the WPA ended, and the records languished in the Illinois State Archives. Wesley Johnston spent 2 years going through the records and 4 more to publish them in 1982. Now he has updated his 1982 book.
Some of the examples of the kind of records you can research are:
- Cook County Taxation Records
- Cook County Recorder Records
- Clerk of the Superior Court Records
- Chicago City Clerk Records
- Chicago City Collector Records
- Chicago Commissioner of Public Works Records
The above small list only scratches the surface on the multitude variety of Cook County and City of Chicago records that exist. The book provides page after page of a variety of infrequently used records that genealogists do not generally research. But they are there. Everything did not burn. There may only be smatterings of the full amount of the records, but there are records that might pertain to your pre-fire Chicago ancestors.
For each item included in the book the author has identified as to where those records can be found using an acronym table of abbreviation near the beginning of the book. The author also noted that these records are not contained within the FamilySearch catalog. They are not available as microfilms through FamilySearch.
It appears that any research on the vast majority of these records will be done in the “old-fashioned” research method of just looking through the material. These are not contained in any online databases (at this time). They are generally not indexed for quick research to get you to the area of interest. So be prepared to work at it with no certainty of making any discoveries.
The fact the author created this book with a listing of these resources is wonderful. Life for many of us that grew up in Chicago almost always hear and are told that Chicago’s records start after 1871. For many of us with Chicago ancestors pre-1871 that may be enough for us to stop any research prior to 1871. But the listing of the many resources available prior to 1871 for Chicago and Cook County proves that many kinds of records survived the fire of 1871. It just boils down to how hard you want to work on making new discoveries of your pre-1871 Chicago ancestors.
This book will soon be on our Illinois Collection circulating shelves on the 2nd floor of our library. Right now it is identified as “NEW” and is on the special section of shelves for “New” non-fiction books near the 2nd floor “Ask Us” desk.
It is at least worth a “browse through” to satisfy your own curiosity on what might exist to help you uncover more about your own pre-fire Chicago ancestors record trail they may have left within what survived.
Schaumburg Township District Library