There’s been a lot of excitement surrounding the release of Cook County Illinois vital records online last week. Leland Meitzler tried the site and initially found the images to be of poor quality, but quickly discovered that when downloaded and brought into Photoshop they were quite clear. A firestorm of comments have appeared on Dick Eastman‘s blog, most complaining about the index, the cost, the site functionality, or all three (and that’s not to mention the usual conspiracy theories.) I thought I’d offer a somewhat different perspective.
For the last four years or so, my wife has been providing lookups of Cook County vital records from the FHL microfilm copies available at our local Family History Center. The FHL microfilmed records don’t cover the full range of years offered by the new Cook County site. But they are of similar image quality. Here’s a side-by-side (or top and bottom) comparison of the same death certificate from two sources. The first image is the one downloaded by Leland (which I screengrabbed from his blog) and the second one is an image that my wife scanned from the corresponding FHL microfilm.
Superficially, as you’d expect, the images are quite similar. Both contain the same information. Both are quite legible. But there are some subtle differences. The FHL image has a smudge in the lower left (present on the film). More interesting, however, is the additional handwritten “9/a” in the upper right-hand corner of the FHL version. Does this imply that there were multiple sets of paper records, and that different versions were microfilmed by the two projects? Or is there some alternate explanation? Please feel free to speculate in the comments. [I have no idea myself.]
As for alternative sources to check if you can’t find the record you want at the Cook County vital records site, I’ll suggest four. [There are several others, as have been pointed out in the comments to Dick's post and elsewhere.]
- Check the indexes at the Illinois Secretary of State’s office and proceed to order the appropriate Chicago or Cook County films from the FHL. (This is not always a straightforward process — Chicago and Cook County records are on separate sets of films.)
- Visit either Molly Kennedy’s site or www.chicagogenealogy.com and follow the instructions given at these respective sites. [Note: if you use chicagogenealogy.com, I will benefit financially.]
- For 1916-1947 Cook County death certificates, you can try the Illinois State Genealogical Society’s service.
- For marriage licenses up to 1900 and Cook County Death Certificates (outside the City of Chicago) 1878-1909, contact the Illinois Research Archives Depository (IRAD) at Northeastern Illinois University (NEIU): 773-442-4506.
None of these options is free, though all will cost you less than the $15 charged by Cook County. What these options won’t do is give you the “instant gratification” that the new Cook County site can potentially deliver. For all the complaints I’ve read about their new service, I think it’s important to remember a few key points:
- This is the first week the site has been up and running officially. No website is ever perfect right away. [Counter-examples welcome.] Please consider cutting the county some slack here!
- As of a week ago, you would have had to wait 2-3 weeks for these records. You can now receive them immediately, at the same cost as before. That’s a big improvement if you’re in a hurry!
- At a time when many government agencies have chosen to make access to vital records less convenient (or more costly, or both), Cook County has headed in a genealogy-friendly direction. To me that merits more kudos than complaints.