Getting back down to business

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Good day and I have missed writing for you all!

Once public libraries and family history centers closed, most of our access to records was cut off along with most of what I write about in these columns. Let me explain.

Most Italian civil records 1809-1929 and Cook County vital records can be browsed on, but the web site only allows you to browse them if you are in a Family History Center or an affiliate library. (Not all public libraries are affiliate libraries.) Familysearch has to have a certain router address in order to permit computers on that router to access those record images. Why do they prevent us from seeing these records at home? Because they negotiated agreements with the keepers of the records. I am not part of the negotiating team, but I presume it has to do with data security as well as keeping people coming to family history centers. The good news is that as long as you’re in a family history center or affiliate library, you can use your own laptop or tablet and you will have access to the records the same way as if you were on the public computers there.

The “reopening” situation is changing quickly now, so I don’t know what will be open when this is published. Let’s use this column to get a grip on current and future restrictions while getting everyone up to speed on what’s new.

At the moment I’m writing this (late March 2021) family history centers remain closed, but some public libraries are open with a lot of restrictions. Most libraries near me will only permit you to use a computer in the library for one hour, and then you must leave. I’ll be honest here: an hour is not nearly enough time for me to get organized and get into a rhythm with what I am working on. So this limitation is extremely frustrating and has prevented me from getting a lot of work done during the pandemic. If you need to get anything from the restricted films at a public library, you need to be well prepared. Do your lookups at home whenever possible, and bring with you a list of film numbers and image numbers from those lookups, that way you can just jump to those records directly and not waste time. If you go to the library and fumble around trying to figure out what you’re looking for, you’ll be kicked off the computer before you finish.

Here is another point about using public library computers. First, there are fewer of them. They have removed many computers in order to enforce social distancing rules. So you might want to call ahead to reserve a computer if your library will reserve them for you. Second, you have to sign up for a computer at the desk. This will trigger the computer to allow you to use it for the hour. A timer will be running on the computer, and you’ll get warnings that your time is almost up. Finally. When your hour is up, the screen will reset and you will not be able to retrieve any records you downloaded from familysearch. So you should copy those records to a flash drive or upload them to your cloud account when you still have about ten minutes left. Otherwise, the pressure of that clock will cost you the chance to keep those copies and you’ll have to retrieve them again. These computers are set up to delete all downloaded files after each session, so you can’t just go back and get them later. In fact, the library will insist that you leave the building because you have been there for your hour and they have to sanitize the keyboard, mouse, chair, screen, table etc. If these rules sound over-restrictive, well, that’s the way it is. The library board etc doesn’t want to take the blame for a covid outbreak in their library, so they made the rules much more restrictive than most stores, bars or restaurants.

If you bring your own laptop or tablet to use at a public library, you will still have to log in through the library internet portal to get access to familysearch at the library. I presume that after an hour, it will kick you off. The images you save will be on your own hard drive so they will not be at risk. Check with your public library to see if A) they will allow you to use your own laptop, and B) if they are an affiliate library. You can find the list of affiliate libraries on familysearch, at

I need to mention a major change to familysearch and its connection to Cook County vital records. Cook County decided to shut down its office to send copies of birth, marriage and death certificates some time ago. Up until then, familysearch had those records indexed, and when you found a record in the index, your only way to acquire that record was to link to Cook County’s web site and order a copy. When Cook County shut down, the web site was just taken down and familysearch’s links to it were just “web page not found” error messages.

I explained in a few columns that you could write the film/folder number and the image number, and then go to the catalog, find that “film” and go to the image to get a copy of the certificate. That method still works but it’s even easier now.

As of now, when you search for a cook county vital record and find it in the index, the image is right there and you can click to view it directly!! That is, if you’re at a family history center or affiliate library!

Another change for those of you with ancestry in Bari is that they have released 1930-1935 Marriages and Deaths for most towns in Bari, plus allegati for the marriages and even allegati for deaths. Allegati di Morti are records of people from that town who died in another town, another province, or even the US. Most of the time, these include a copy of the death certificate from the place they died. So if you need any of these new records (sorry there are no births!) you have to be (sigh) at a family history center or affiliate library. (Don’t I sound like a scratched 45 record?)

Let’s hope the family history centers reopen and you’ll be able to do a lot more work on your family history!!


About Dan Niemiec

Dan Niemiec has been the genealogy columnist for Fra Noi since 2004. For the past 25 years, he has researched his genealogy back 17 generations, plus tracing descendants of his ancestors, yielding 74,000 relatives. His major focus is on civil and church records in Italy, Chicago vital records, Chicago Catholic records and most major genealogy web sites. He has given dozens of presentations to many local and some national genealogy societies on topics such as cemetery research, Catholic records, Italian records, Ellis Island and newspaper research, among others.

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