Friday, May 6, 2011

Advice for Illinois researchers

The other day I needed a Cook County death certificate from the 1940s. It appeared in the online database of Illinois death certificates 1916-1950, but not in the online database of death certificates in Cook County at the County Clerk's genealogy site.

I thought I had only three options: pay the Clerk $15 to look for it, pay the Illinois Department of Public Health $10 to look for it, or visit the Illinois State Archives in person.

I paid the clerk and waited 6 weeks, when I received a form letter to "valued customer" referring me to public health without explaining why they couldn't find a death certificate in their own jurisdiction. When I called to ask, I was referred to another number which rang 20 times without being answered.

The state Department of Public Health asserts (as if it were an ontological truth rather than an irrational quirk of state law) that death certificates are "not public records" and hence are available only to a few. It does acknowledge that it will make "genealogy" death certificates available for deaths more than 20 years ago -- and then offers only application forms that exclude the genealogy possibility.

The state archives are many hours away by car in a direction I rarely have occasion to travel.

The best option? None of the above. I logged on to, looked for lookups in Springfield, Illinois, hired Molly Kennedy for less than any of the above figures, and received the desired death certificate within 1 (that's one) business day. What ever possessed me to do anything else in the first place?


Jen said...

I asked Molly to locate a few death certificates for me last fall and she was wonderful. I would absolutely use her again if I could not get to Springfield to get death certificates.

Cheryl Rothwell said...

Molly is great. She does IRAD and other things too. But I haven't had issues with Cook County certificates either.

Jennifer said...

I absolutely agree about hiring someone. Sometimes it is the shortest direction to goal, obviating a lot of frustration and time AND money!

Sheryl Trudgian Jones said...

Thanks for the warning....I have had trouble in the past with IL vital records, but since it has always been on one of my wandering into a minor surname that it has happened I just moved on. I will be more aware next time!

Julie Cahill Tarr said...

Molly is great and turns things around pretty quick. Might I also suggest using the service offered by Illinois State Genealogical Society? They will provide copies of certificates from 1916-1947 (microfilms of these years are currently housed in the Illinois State Archives for the entire state). It's $6/cert for members; $10/cert for non-members and benefits the society and its members. You can order online or by mail following the instructions here: