The Chicago Genealogical Society Advocacy Committee has been working with legislators relating to excessive research related fees in Illinois coroner offices which impact researchers greatly.
Since 1979 Illinois has been taxing the dead. Counties charge fees for coroner reports. These documents contain verdicts and transcripts, and the fees to obtain copies of them are mandated by Illinois statute. The fees as they stand are excessive, ranging upward from $5.00 per page. For historians, researchers, genealogists doing primary research, or anyone who likes their public information more - not less – public, the fees run counter to the ideals of open records and free access to information.
This new House Bill 4210 (HB 4210) of the Illinois 101st General Assembly recently introduced by La Shawn Ford, represents working together with the coroners' association and their lobbyist Brian Duffy over the past year where we have found common ground. The new language of HB 4210 provides for a $15 flat rate for research documents over 20 years (modeled after the Vital Records Act) and gives the coroner the right to waive the fees.
Your help is needed because HB 4210 is scheduled for a hearing this Thursday Feb 20th. Illinois residents are needed to support this bill in the form of witness slips.
Your support as an Illinois resident is needed. HB 4210 is scheduled for a committee hearing this week on February 20th. Following is a link to the bill status and bill text as well as a link to the witness slips. We are asking everyone possible to file a witness slip in favor of HB 4210. Check as a Proponent and at the end of the witness slip, you can check "Record of Appearance Only." THIS MUST BE DONE BY FEBRUARY 20th
Additionally, please contact your state representative to support the HB 4210.
The research related coroner fees are relatively recent; the fee language was added to the law in 1979, instituting fees for copies in the coroner’s office. The legislative debates on SB 1157 1979 provide little insight as to why these fees were added. SB 1157 passed the Senate with one no vote and the House placed the bill on the consent calendar where it passed 127-1-27. What began at $2.00 per page, eventually with subsequent legislation, became a whopping $5.00 per page. This coroner fee structure became an exception to the Illinois’ Freedom of Information Act which provides that an agency can charge fees reasonably calculated to reimburse its actual cost for reproducing, that the first 50 pages of a public record have no fees charged, and that fees when charged not exceed 15 cents per page.
For example, in the course of researching a historic 1956 Chicago murder, a researcher became acquainted with the family of the victims. He learned that they had never received a copy of the coroner’s inquest records. After the family was given a daunting and unnecessary runaround from the Cook County Medical Examiner’s Office concerning the availability of the documents, they sought to obtain copies. Upon being told they would have to pay $1,200 for a copy of the inquest transcript concerning their own family members, they asked for an explanation. The staff indicated that there was nothing they could do and that the family should hold a fundraiser. Similar experiences abound. Another researcher requested a photocopy of an inquest transcript related to a 1918 murder. He received a reply stating that the record consisted of 161 pages and that the total charge would be $805, an amount not typically in the budget for the average researcher or family member.
The coroner transcript for the investigation of the sinking of the Eastland in 1915 is available at the Chicago Public Library and can be scanned at no cost, but the 157- page document would cost $785 at the current rate mandated by Illinois statute.
These are public records, not the private stash of a public office or office holder.
Too many government agencies and archives have long treated historians, genealogists and other researchers as if we were asking them for a favor when we ask to see their records — our records — rather than recognizing their responsibilities to the public under the law. Having excessive fees in place taxes the dead and is a deterrent to public access and open records. HB 4210 will address this problem and bring the fees to a reasonable level.
For years the Archdiocese of Chicago Cemeteries has been a user-friendly place for people visiting a grave. They have computer kiosks in the cemetery office lobbies where visitors can look up a grave location and print out a map to help them find the grave. The office staff is always happy to produce the same printout, if that is desirable.
The best thing about their printout, though, is the inclusion of a Quick Response Code (QR Code) in the lower right corner, which provides the exact GPS coordinates to the grave. This feature has been in place for years, but was often considered not worth the effort required to find, install and then learn how to use an app to read the QR Code on a smartphone. Recently, though, both Android and Apple have incorporated a QR Code reader directly into the phone's Camera function in the most recent versions of their operating systems, and made it as close to automatic as possible. So, if you have purchased a phone in the past year or two, or updated the operating system software to the latest versions, this will work for you.
What follows will show exactly how to use this feature using an Android phone running Android version 9. The procedures for an iPhone are similar.
The image below is an example of the printout from the cemetery computer kiosk. Note the QR Code in the lower right corner.
Initiate the phone's camera and aim it in the general direction of the QR Code. As shown below, the phone recognizes a QR Code is present with the yellow QR icon, highlighted by the red arrow.
By tapping the yellow QR icon on the phone, above, the phone displays the URL to the web page associated with the QR Code.
By tapping on the URL, above, the phone will automatically connect to Google Maps and open the map showing the location of the grave with a red drop marker, as shown below.
Of course, the map view can be changed to Satellite View and zoomed in as below.
If you are not familiar with the cemetery layout, and unsure how to get from the office to the grave, you can tap the blue Directions button on the bottom portion of the phone screen and it will generate a route from the office to the road location nearest the grave you want to visit. As in this case, below:
Once you have followed the route to your parking spot, the phone will even show the (in this case) 161 foot walk to the grave.
As genealogists and family historians, you may want to add your family's graves to Find A Grave, and you can use the same GPS coordinates from the kiosk printout to enter the exact grave location. Here is the link to the Find A Grave memorial for the example we have just covered:
Note the “Show Map” link on the memorial, which will open the same map as above.
And, finally, here is an image of the QR Code we have used. If you are viewing this on something other than your smartphone, and you have a recent operating system on your phone, you can aim your phone's camera at this QR Code and give it a try.
Registration is now open for our Upcoming Tours:
March 20 (Friday) - Chicago & North Western Historical Society Archives Tour
Tour Guide - Craig Pfannkuche
Location – C&NWHS Archives, Clarence Ave and Stanley Ave, Berwyn, at 9:30am. Free for members. Registration required.
The tour of the C&NWHS archives includes viewing the types of maps available for research, seeing photo files including many communities in the upper Midwest, viewing community railroad related maps, obituary filled company magazines, many different types of correspondence concerning the development of Chicago, old Chicago deeds, and a new personnel file among other things.
CGS will be given a special tour of the archives. Online registration on the CGS website will be required, under events https://chicagogenealogy.org/event-3727259 . Registration opens February 1, 2020. Free for CGS members. Group size is limited to 10, waitlist option is available. If we have a big waitlist, we will schedule an additional tour for another day. Note - the Archives is in a warehouse so dress based on the weather outside.
Car – Park on the streets around the Archives.
Train – Metra BNSF line, from Chicago Union Station to Berwyn stop arrives 9:09am. Return train inbound back to Union Station leaves Berwyn 11:21am. The Archives is on the north side of the tracks and three blocks east of Oak Park Ave.
May 2 - Behind-the-Scenes Tour of the Pritzker Military Museum & Library
Location - Pritzker Military Museum & Library, 104 S. Michigan Ave. 2nd Floor, Chicago, at 10:15am. Free for members. Fee for non-members. Registration required.
The Pritzker Military Museum & Library is a center where citizens and service members come together to learn about military history and affairs. The Museum & Library features an extensive collection of books, programs, artifacts, and rotating exhibits which cover many eras and branches of the military. The tour will focus on military history and research. More information at http://www.pritzkermilitary.org/
CGS will be given a special in-depth 90-minute tour of the museum and library. Online registration on the CGS website will be required, under events https://chicagogenealogy.org/event-3561749. Registration opens February 1, 2020. Free for CGS members and $11.00 for non-members. Registration closes 4/27/20 and no refunds after 4/27/20. Group size is limited, waitlist option is available.
We will meet at the Pritzker Military Museum & Library, 104 S. Michigan Ave. 2nd Floor, Chicago, at 10:15am.
The Chicago Genealogical Society Quarterly has been published since 1969 and the issues are loaded with genealogy gems. One such gem is the W.A. Haggard’s Undertaker Records 1895-1916.
Helen Sclair, known as the “Chicago Cemetery Lady,” submitted to the CGS Quarterly a transcription of W. A. Haggard’s Undertaker Records for publication in 1990.
The description she provided:
These names, addresses, dates and cemeteries are from the records of W.A. Haggard, Undertaker, 136 S. Western Ave., Chicago, Illinois (later in Oak Park, Illinois also). Every attempt has been made to decipher the handwriting and spelling of the bookkeepers. Note that the addresses are city-wide. Frequently street names and numbers have been changed since the records were compiled. There are also out-of-town addresses. Sometimes the names are of the deceased and often the names seem to be of those arranging the funerals. The omission of a cemetery name was on the part of the bookkeeper. When “depot” is listed that is all the information available.
Helen transcribed: Name, Address, Date and Cemetery
The Chicago Genealogical Society published four alphabetical listings:
Part 1 – 1895-1900 (Vol. 22, No. 4, Summer 1990)
Part 2 – 1901-1903 (Vol. 23, No. 2, Winter 1990-1991)
Part 3 – 1904-1908 (Vol. 23, No. 2, Winter 1990-1991)
Part 4 – 1909-1916 (Vol. 23, No. 4, Summer 1991)
These issues are available through CARLI (Consortium of Academic and Research Libraries in Illinois) Digital Collections site.
Select “Browse all items in collection” and then look for volume and issue number.
The Latest Chicago Genealogist is Here!
See the online 2020 Winter Edition, Vol. 52, No. 2
To access the electronic version, go to the Chicago Genealogical Society’s website at www.chicagogenealogy.org. Sign into the website and select Members Only Section button on the upper right side. Select The Chicago Genealogist tab. Look for the newest version “Vol 52, No 2 2020” on the top row. Click on it and then you can read & enjoy the newest issue.
Direct link for members: https://chicagogenealogy.org/CGS-Quarterly-Index-and-Copies
Requested paper copies will be mailed once the printing is finished.
When you are researching your Chicago ancestors, you think of birth/marriage/death records, census records (Federal and State) and city directories to name a few. But what about the property your ancestors lived in? When was it built? What style was it? What type of construction?
Researching a Chicago property is not an easy task. The Commission on Chicago Landmarks provides a step-by-step guide to researching a property, “Your House has a History.” The guide includes architectural styles information, how to research building permits, an annexation map and neighborhood history sources. Plus, it has a good detailed resource center list.
You can find this guide on the City of Chicago website:
Also, take a look at the City of Chicago Landmarks webpage. Search the Chicago Historic Resources Survey Database. 17,371 Chicago properties are in the database (only some are landmarks). You may get lucky and find your ancestor’s property listed.
You have all likely seen some mention of an outrageous proposed fee increase by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS). Essentially what they are proposing for fees are: raising the search fee 269% from $65 to $240 and the cost of the actual file 481% from $65 to $385.
If you had relatives who immigrated to the United States in the 20th century, USCIS is the place to order the above records.
USCIS has provided an opportunity for the genealogical community to comment on this proposed Rule that dramatically impacts the USCIS Genealogy Records Program. In coordination with the leadership of other organizations in our community, we want to encourage our members to make their voices heard and express your concern with this outrageous proposal.
Chicago Genealogical Society is recommending everyone to send a letter outlining some of the objections. Your help is needed!
If you would like to read the proposed rule, see:
The Genealogy section is Section N which starts on page 62315-62316.
See Section 103.40 for Genealogical Research Requests on page 62359.
The Washington Post had an article on the proposed fee increases last Thursday which may be read at:
Additional background may also be found at https://www.recordsnotrevenue.com
We strongly urge you to get behind this process and let USCIS and your local representatives know that you object to this unsupportable, exorbitant charge for access to value genealogical documentation. You can contact your Senators or Representatives via www.senate.gov and www.house.gov, respectively.
Join us on December 7th for our next program:
Mayflower and other Lineage Societies: What are they? Why would I join one? How do I join?
Everything you ever wanted to know about lineage societies but were afraid to ask – the who, what, when, where and how of joining groups like the Daughters of the American Revolution, Colonial Dames and Mayflower Society are discussed.
Our speaker, Kimberly Ormsby Nagy MD PLCGS, is a retired trauma surgeon with a lifelong passion for genealogy. She is nationally known for her work with lineage societies, and has served on national boards of several. She has 40 years of experience preparing lineage society applications, and has first-hand knowledge of what is necessary to have an application approved. She has extensive lecturing experience, first as a medical educator, now as a genealogical lecturer. She is excited to speak on one of her favorite topics - "Lineage Societies"
All Programs are at the Newberry Library at 1:30pm and free unless noted
News From the Library of Congress:
Now available online at the Library of Congress website FREE a collection of Chicago Telephone Books. Why are these so important for your ancestor research? Because they include years beyond the available City Directory years! 1930’s, 1940’s, 1950’s, 1960’s and 1970’s.
The direct link to the Chicago Collection:
Looking for information on Union Ridge Cemetery? The history of the cemetery? Do you have an ancestor buried in the cemetery?
Union Ridge Cemetery is located on the north side of Chicago at 6700 West Higgins Road, in Norwood Park Township. In 1838, the farmers living in this small community recognized the need for a cemetery and Henry Smith donated a small corner of his land for that purpose. Initially the cemetery did not have a name, it was just “the Cemetery” and on the 19th century maps its location was known as “Smith’s Ridge.” Section “O” is the original cemetery. Following the Civil War and the interment of about 67 veterans, the cemetery came to be known as Union Ridge Cemetery.
In 1991 and 1992, a group of Chicago Genealogical Society members volunteered to do a full cemetery reading of the Union Ridge Cemetery. The primary reason for doing the reading was because the cemetery association had no records prior to 1890. A rechecking of the stones was done in the summer of 1994. A book was compiled to preserve this data and published in 1995. Some of the contents of this book include:
- Early History of Norwood Park
- History of Union Ridge
- 1941 Map of Union Ridge area
- The Reading
- Some Early Settlers in Cook County
- Civil War Burials in Union Ridge
FindAGrave website currently reports the cemetery has been 72% photographed. Maybe you are lucky your ancestor has been photographed. But can you read the gravestone? This cemetery reading was done 25 years ago. That is 25 Chicago winters the gravestones have weathered since the reading. It is worth checking out the discoveries from years ago. If you ancestor’s gravestone has not been photographed, you could discover the gravestone’s section and information appearing on it. Keep in mind the reading recorded only existing stones and what could be read at the time.
Where can you find the Chicago Genealogical Society Union Ridge Cemetery Book? On CGS’s website www.chicagogenealogy.org in the members only section. Thank you CGS volunteers for completing this project 25+ years ago.
1 Chicago Genealogical Society, Union Ridge Cemetery, Chicago, Illinois (Chicago : Chicago Genealogical Society, 1995), p. vii.
Chicago Genealogical Society is a 501(c)6 non-profit organization. Address: PO Box 1160, Chicago, IL 60690-1160