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It’s a good thing when I get to start yet another column with the above headline. I have some new tips for those of you who may be frustrated a little with how it works.

First of all, familysearch has released a lot of new Cook County births in the past few weeks. They have most of the births indexed from 1878-1933 so far, and they plan to extend that to 1940. There are some suburban Cook County births already indexed up to 1938 (Evanston, Oak Park, Melrose Park etc.) but almost no Chicago from 1933-1940 as of now.

Please keep in mind that the index of these births does NOT let us see the actual certificate, because the Cook County lawyers want us to pay $17 for each one. However, you can gather quite a bit of information from the index itself. (The main thing that is not indexed is the cause of death!)

If your birth record in the index shows a film number with seven digits, then this is a microfilm that you can still order and you can see the actual certificate. You can also visit Wilmette Family History Center and you might be able to see and copy the certificate without ordering the film.

If your birth record in the index shows a “Digital folder number” with a lot of digits, then the record in the index is not available on microfilm via familysearch. You should record the digital folder number and the image number and the certificate (or reference) number in your family tree anyway, just in case these are someday released to the public. But basically you will not be able to see the actual certificates.

“But Dan, I found my grand-aunt in the index with a birth certificate from 1911, and yet it is not on film. Why?” Well, take a look at the “registration date” in the index. You may find a birth certificate that was registered many years after the birth. These are called “Delayed births.” (My mother thinks I am a delayed birth. “I was in labor for 19 years!”) Actually, these are birth certificates that were filed when people realized that their parents (or the midwife) never filed a birth certificate, and so they had to go in and file one for themselves as an adult. However, keep in mind that the original birth certificates for 1911, for example, are filed separately from the delayed birth certificates for other people also born in 1911, which is why the delayed ones are not filmed. The good news is that many of them now appear in the index. And the person who filed the information is usually older and can confirm the details that the old midwife would not have known. They probably spoke better English as well!

There are no “delayed deaths” or “delayed marriages,” so what you see in the index is what you get. But I need to tell you about my experience searching for certificates for the past couple of months.

To search the index, they allow you to search the following fields:

First name: Should I search for Giovanni or John?

Last name

Location: I put “Illinois” here

Range of years: from 1911 to 1913, for example.

Father’s first name

Father’s last name: redundant — same as the Last name above.

Mother’s first name

Mother’s surname.

I limit the results to “Birth records” so I only check the box for “Birth.”

So I would look for the people in my file that I know were born in Chicago who I do not have a birth certificate for. I was finding very few successful results. In many cases, I had the correct birth date and parents’ names from other sources. The birth date might have come from the gravestone, and the parents’ names were already in my data file. So why can’t I find anything?

We have to remember that for many of our Chicago-born ancestors, quite often the parents were not English speakers, and the midwife who would frequently report the birth had to be more fluent in dialects than in English. So we end up with a lot of names being spelled incorrectly.

So when I failed to find someone, I would restrict the search to only the parents’ names. Find me everyone born to these parents from 1911-1913. No luck.

Ok how about only the last names of the parents. No luck.

Ok let’s look in all years. Now I find siblings of the one I need. I already found these before. Still looking for the older sibling.

Now I try no first name, no last name, no range of years, location Illinois, father first name only, mother first name only. If I’m lucky, I find a record that could possibly be the right one.

Now when I search for everyone who was ever born in Illinois to Vito and Anna, with no last names, obviously I could end up with quite a few false hits. Now I put the year range back in. Search for anyone born to Vito and Anna in Illinois between 1911 and 1913. When I would do this kind of search, I would typically get 20-30 hits and I can read the results and see which ones are the exact date and which have names that could possibly be right.

Another example: I had to find the birth certificate of the first of twenty children in a family. She was Theresa Latoria, born Jan 1 1909 in Chicago, to Michael Latoria and Rosa Scavo. I found her birth certificate under the name Viatricio Lotaro, born Jan 1, 1908 (they had a brain cramp and put the year on the paper as 1908 when it was really 1909), father was Micaligio Lotaro, mother was Rosina Scaro. So except for the first name, last name, date, father’s name and mother’s name, it was correct!!






(Notice the GS film number. This is the film you can order and look at this certificate. If there is no GS film number, you will only see the Digital Folder number, which means there is no film.)

The lesson to take from this is to try any combination of birth name and parent names until you find one that just might be it. And if you think you know the birth year, say 1909, go a year on either side (1908-1910) to be sure you have it. The delayed births sometimes are inaccurate because sometimes people have “adjusted” their birth year to accommodate other events (they lied to their draft board etc.) and now they have to live with it, so they change their birth date on their own delayed birth certificate to match with what they have already said. Sometimes, it’s just a mistake. You also cannot always trust the birth year on the grave stone either.

And after all this, don’t forget that some people just simply never bothered to get a birth certificate.

I’ll keep you posted as more data ends up on familysearch . We are eagerly awaiting marriages from the 1920s which are not indexed anywhere.

Happy hunting!

If you have any questions, send me an e-mail at and please put “Fra Noi” in the subject line. Have fun!


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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One comment

  1. Luisa De Marino

    I am searching for an Italian genealogist who specializes in Naples Italy. Can you help me find one?

    Thank You.


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