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So where were they married?

Even though I have mountains of genealogy work to do, I am often sidetracked by other projects. These projects start out with a simple question, and then my Problem Solver takes over. If you haven’t met Problem Solver, he’s 9 feet tall, lifts weights and gets his way no matter the cost!

So I am looking at marriage licenses for Cook County. The top two-thirds of the page lists the groom, the bride, the date of the license and the signature of the Cook County Clerk. (For a few years, the County Clerk was the future Mayor Richard J. Daley!) The bottom third of the page is the testimony that the marriage was performed by either a Justice of the Peace, or by a clergyman.

Many of the marriage licenses basically say “I, the undersigned Catholic Priest, did hereby marry Rocco Losacco and Frances Ferrick on such and such date, signed Rev. Gambera.” So I asked the innocuous question. “What church were they married in?”

Problem Solver woke from his nap. …”Grrrr (yawn) Huh? Did you just ask an innocuous question?”

I foolishly engaged him. “Of course I did! The marriage license doesn’t say the address or the name of the parish. How do I find out which parish Rev. Gambera was at in 1909?”

Problem Solver flexed his large biceps. “I got this….”

Those are dangerous words!….

“That’s easy! All you need is a list of every priest and what parish they were at for every year. Then you can just look it up! Simple!”

“And where is this list?”, I asked.

“Oh…..didn’t think of that! I guess you need to make the list yourself!”

“But I already have a mountain of genealogy to do and…(sigh)…so when do we start?”

Mr. Problem Solver has an uncanny way of scheduling my time for me. So how do I create this list? I need to be able to look up any year that there is a marriage license available. So I don’t really need anything before the Chicago Fire of 1871. I don’t really need anything later than fifty years old either, since those marriage licenses can’t be public by law.

In reviewing the marriage licenses I have in my files, some list only the priest’s name, some list the address of the church but not the name of the church, and some list the address of the rectory but not the church building itself. Some list addresses where there is no Catholic parish today, yet they were married by a Catholic Priest. How does THAT work?

So I need to be able to find the parish using the priest name, or using the address, and I need to use the year of the marriage. All of this is critical due to the number of parishes with the same name in various parts of the city.

For the years 1871-1969, I need to know which parishes were in existence, where they were located, and who were the resident priests. Problem Solver says “Sounds easy to me! Now get to work before I lose interest!!”

“Yes sir!”

I tried first using the Chicago city directories, but there are too many years that do not exist, and the names of the priests are not always listed. The best way to get a year by year list of parishes, address and priests is the Catholic Directory. Remember the World Almanac, the big thick paperback book they sold in Walgreens and grocery stores, right next to the Ben Franklin Farmers Almanac?? The Catholic Directory is the annual World Almanac of Catholicism. The Catholic Directory has been released annually since 1822 to the present year. The books vary in the content, but are similar. There are a lot of pages about Saints days, papal decrees, a list of Popes, the then-current College of Cardinals etc. Then there are a series of pages for each Archdiocese and Diocese in the USA. The series lists the current Archbishop or Bishop, current Auxiliary Bishops if there are any, former Bishops who have died or moved on to other cities, and other important figures in the then-current diocesan offices. Then comes the 7-15 pages I am looking for, which are the alphabetical list of parishes in the diocese. (So you could look up the diocese of Tampa or Galveston if you want.) Each parish lists the address, the ethnic designation of the parish, if there is one, the priests that are resident there, the school, the number of religious and lay teachers, the number of pupils, etc. Then after the list of parishes, there are more pages with lists of Catholic hospitals, monasteries, novitiates and other institutions run by the church within that diocese.

In some of the older volumes, in the mid 1800s, there are areas listed that have no resident priest. Strange entries like “Glenview. Rev. Fitzpatrick 2nd and 4th Sunday” Where was the Mass said? Who knows? Could have been at the local tavern for all I know.

“Are you done yet???”

“Not yet, Mr. Problem Solver….I need to find out where to find these many books.” (He’s so impatient.)

I searched on-line and was pleasantly surprised to find a number of editions of the Catholic Directory posted on-line and able to download pages or the entire book! The editions prior to 1922 are no longer in copyright, so they have been scanned by various universities and posted on-line. I usually downloaded just the pages that covered the Chicago parish list from each edition. After I was done with this laborious process, there were a number of older editions missing. And I can’t download from the 1923-2019 editions that are under copyright and are not on-line.

I have to plug www.worldcat.org as an important website for finding libraries that contain various books, magazines, microfilm and digital items. It is by no means a comprehensive database of every published item in the world, but it’s the best site out there. It saves you from having to find every library and search each one individually. If you find something you need and it’s in a university library in Fiji, then you probably have to contact someone within driving distance of UF to copy the pages for you. Fortunately for me, I live only five miles from the St. Mary of the Lake Seminary in Mundelein. The catalog showed that they have the complete set of Catholic Directories from 1833 (the founding of the first Catholic Church in Chicago) through the present. At first, I was not sure that I would be allowed to research there because it is a private library for the Seminary, but they were very gracious and helpful. They are open mostly during work hours but they have some evening and weekend hours. The current hours can be found at https://usml.edu/library/ They don’t have genealogy records from open or closed parishes but for Catholic books or publications, they might be the best library in Chicago.

So I spent an evening there and took 600 photos of the pages of the editions I needed and finally ran out of stamina at 1963. So despite being urged on by Problem Solver, I finished up and resolved to continue from 1964-2019 on another day. All I can do is gather the data I need and put together a book or web site that lets us search by church name, street or priest.

My Problem Solver wants me to stop writing this column and get back to work. He is such a taskmaster! When I have something to report on this project, I’ll let you all know.

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.