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Family History

A guide to researching family history at the Chicago History Museum's Research Center

Archives of the Cook County Circuit Court Clerk

Archival holdings include divorce records, probate cases, and naturalization records.

Resources Outside CHM

Yearbook Collection

CHM has yearbooks from Chicago-area high schools and other secondary schools, post-secondary schools, and specialized schools such as nursing schools.

A finding aid for the collection is available online, as well as a guide to navigating this collection

Vital Records

What are vital records?

Vital records are "certificates or reports of birth, death, marriage, declaration of domestic partnership, dissolution of marriage or domestic partnership and data related thereto" (Oregon Laws legal dictionary). 

Vital records are handled out of the Cook County Clerk's Office.

For certified copies:

  • Birth certificates may only be requested by the person named or the parent.
  • Death certificates may only be requested by a relative or someone who can prove a financial interest.

For genealogical copies:

  • Birth certificates 75 years or older
  • Death certificates 20 years or older
  • Marriage certificates 50 years or older

Request the above via the Genealogy Unit of the Cook County Clerk's Bureau of Vital Records (note: this site requires users to create a free account).


Birth Certificates pre-1940

Birth certificates for the years below are available in full-text online:


Illinois Marriage Certificates

Illinois Statewide Marriage Index, 1763 -1900


For divorce, probate, and other court records, please contact Circuit Court of Cook County

For military, immigration and naturalization records, and census information, please contact National Archives and Records Administration-Great Lakes Region.

Death Certificates

Death certificates for the years below are available in full-text online:

Cook County Coroner

The Cook County Coroner's Inquest Record Index is available from 1872-1911.

Records after 1911 are in the Office of the Medical Examiner.

Naturalization Records

Cook County

The Cook County Clerk of the Circuit Court's Archives contain over 500,000 naturalization petitions from 1871-1929. A searchable database for the collection is also available.


Family Search has a Wiki on searching for Illinois Naturalization and Citizenship records. (This site is free but you may need to create an account. This is an external resource.)

We also have published, photographic, and archival material about immigration in Chicago. These materials include welcome books, papers of politicians, oral history projects, etc. 

Adoption Records

Adoption Research

The Newberry Library's Adoption Research Guide lists various resources from their collection as well as external links related to the adoption process for adoptees, adoptive parents, and birth relatives.

CHM Resources

Search by Subject Heading to find items in the research collection. (This list is not exhaustive).

  • Adoption--Illinois
  • Adoption--Illinois--Chicago
  • Adoption--Illinois--Cook County
  • Adoption--Illinois--Periodicals
  • Orphanages--Illinois--Chicago
Obtaining Adoption Records in Illinois.

Adoptees and adoptive parents of youth formerly in the care of the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services can learn more about the availability of their records by contacting the records administrator.