Saturday, April 22, 2006

Area Research Facility: Wilmette Family History Center

Nestled in a northern suburb of Chicago is a vital records treasure trove. The Family History Center (FHC) in Wilmette is located a short distance from the Edens expressway (I-94) at 2727 Lake Avenue near the intersection with Locust. The parking lot lies to the west of the building and is easy to miss at night. Don’t worry! Just turn right at Locust, right again at Orchard Lane, and a third right into their parking lot. This puts you right near the entrance of the FHC which is in the southwest corner of the building. Buzz the doorbell for entry.
Read More About the Wilmette FHC

Why make the trip? Cook County Vital records and lots of them. This is the oldest and largest of the Chicagoland Family History Centers. They’ve been actively collecting and holding Cook County films and fiche in their indefinite loan collection. Here’s a sampling:


Chicago Death Certificates 1878-1915. Nearly all of the 655 microfilm reels are on hand. The missing films are all between 1908 and 1915.

Chicago Death Certificates 1916-1945 and Chicago Death Certificates 1946-1947. 100% of films are on hand.

Coroner’s Death Records 1879-1904. All 27 reels are on hand.

County Death Certificates 1878-1909, 1914, 1906-1922 (outside Chicago). Nearly complete set.

Out of Town Deaths 1909-1915. They have 6 of the 11 total reels.

The two main indexes of death certificates are available online at the Illinois States Archives website. Visit and move down the page for the Illinois Statewide Death Index Pre-1916. This is an ongoing project so not all counties are covered for all years. A look at the county coverage page shows that Cook County is indexed from 1871-1915, which makes it as complete as it can be.

The second index is the Illinois Statewide Death Index 1916-1950. The FHC has the Chicago certificates up to 1947 on microfilm. Certificates from 1948-1950 have to be ordered from the Cook County Vital Records office.

This FHC has another index of death records of interest. The WPA created an index of deaths from 1871-1933. The source of the death information is widely believed to have been burial permits as there are many stillbirths (SB) and out-of-town deaths (OT) listed. This index includes the address of the place of death, so it’s a great way to find people with common names.


Marriage Licenses 1871-1920 with indexes up to 1916. They have nearly all the films covering 1871-1916 and some of the films 1916-1920. Be forewarned: many people never returned the certificate to the county after the wedding!

A partial index to marriage licenses is also online at the Illinois State Archives (above) as a part of the Illinois Statewide Marriage Index, 1763-1900. Cook County is complete from 1833-February 1899. Please keep in mind that most pre-1871 records were burned in the Great Chicago Fire of October 1871.


The FHC has the microfiche Birth Index from 1871-1916. They also have a Delayed Birth Index on microfilm. Be sure to note whether the place is listed as Chicago or Cook County as the certificates are filmed separately for these two areas – though there has been some intermingling.

They have all 54 reels covering the Chicago Birth Registers 1871-1915 and all reels for the County Birth Registers 1878-1894. They have all films for births at Northwestern Memorial Hospital between 1896 and 1933.

Chicago Birth Certificates 1878-1922. They have nearly half of the 906 total reels with most of the missing reels in the unindexed period from 1916-1922.

Cook County Birth Certificates 1878-1894. They have 13 of the 31 total reels.

Cook County Birth Certificates 1916-1922. They have 5 of the 34 reels.

There are other films and sources extracting records from newspapers or reconstructing pre-fire records as well. The collection is growing every day.

In addition, the Chicago Catholic Church records have been microfilmed. The Wilmette FHC has a complete set of Polish Catholic Church films thanks to the efforts of the Polish Genealogical Society of America. The FHC is are working to amass the rest of the Catholic films.

The microfilm cabinets are labeled as either “circulating” or “indefinite loan”. When someone orders a film pertaining to Cook County vital records or Cook County Church records, they are keeping the film – paying for the renewals until it is theirs to keep. Sometimes the individual will pay to keep it here. Others are paid for by generous donations and local professional researchers. These films will eventually move from the circulating drawers to the indefinite loan section. If you are visiting the library, be sure to look in both places for the films of interest.

The FHC is staffed by volunteers who are not necessarily genealogists. They are there to help visitors use the facilities and order films. They will not be able to look at films for you or make copies for you by mail. If there are only one or two films of interest to you, you may call the FHC during normal hours to inquire whether they have them on hand, but please understand that they won’t have time for lengthy conversations.

The Wilmette FHC is open 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday. Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Phone (847) 251-9818. If you go to Google and click on local, then type “family history center near Wilmette IL” without the quotes you will get a very good map. A click on “Hybrid” shows the satellite images with the streets labeled. The FHC is in the part of the building with the dark roof.


Blogger CCR said...

The Wilmette FHC has all of the Chicago death certificate films, 1878-1915, that are arranged by certificate number--all of the reels generally needed to find the Chicago records listed in the online Pre-1916 Illinois Statewide Death Index.

The films from 1908-1915 that are not yet in the collection are arranged by register number (which can be found in the Chicago Death Index, 1871-1933) and it's rare that a researcher will need to consult those films to find a certificate.

9:36 PM  
Blogger CCR said...

The Wilmette FHC has all of the Cook County marriage license films, 1871-1916.

9:40 PM  

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