Sunday, January 6, 2013

Mistaken Pedigree leads to Discovery of Digitized Chicago Church Records



I recently discovered a pedigree chart on Ancestry.com which listed a son for my wife’s great –grandparents that I had not seen before. It caused me to go back and review what I knew about this family. The parents had migrated to Chicago from Germany in the late 19th century. The children that I knew about were born in Chicago in the 1880s and 1890s. Could there have been a son born earlier? After all he was living in a near north neighborhood of Chicago in the adjoining parish to that of his alleged parents.

I went back to the 1900 census and found that the mother claimed she had given birth to 8 children of whom 6 were still living. The record for her household listed 6 children none of whom were the son listed in the pedigree chart. As I reviewed more records, I became more and more convinced that Joseph PAPKE was not the granduncle of my wife.  However, I became increasingly intrigued by the names I was seeing in census, pedigree charts and other documents on Ancestry.

When I had originally researched this part of my wife’s tree, I found Catholic Church parish records were invaluable in reconstructing the history of her mother’s family. I discovered these records on microfilm while researching at the Family History Library in Salt Lake City. These records were so valuable for showing christening, confirmation, marriage and death records for all members of families. In addition, information about the origins of the parents and the names of sponsors and godparents was also instructive. I soon ordered the microfilm and renewed it twice so that it became a permanent loan to the Family History Center near my home in California. There it was available to be consulted as my research unfolded. However, a year ago Denise and I moved 2,100 miles east of the Central Coast where the microfilm is housed.

With these newly discovered possible distant family members, I wanted to consult these records again. I am planning to be in Salt Lake City in March to attend RootsTech and to spend a few days in the Family History Library. Looking forward to that trip I consulted the library online catalog to plan which rolls of microfilm I would need to consult. When I did I got a very nice surprise. These parish records have been digitized and can be consulted online! The records are a gold mine that often has much information not included in civil records for the same events. Priests often made interesting marginal comments.  Approximately 300 rolls of microfilm images of Chicago church records are now available. Most of them are Catholic parish records covering events in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. If I had not found the mistaken pedigree, I would not have discovered that these records had been digitized. I plan to use them extensively.

I’ll leave you with one other tip for those of you researching early 20th century Chicago ancestors. At the turn of the 20th century Chicago streets and numbers were a ragtag unorganized mess. In 1909 and 1911, most street addresses in Chicago were changed to create the logical grid of addresses the city now enjoys.  In the process street numbers could have been changed by what would appear to be many blocks even if the occupants never moved at all. In some cases even the street names changed. You can access a resource digitized by the Newbury Library which explains these changes and gives a very thorough translation chart from old address to new address or vice versa. This and other Chicago research tools are available at under the “Tools” tab of Chicago Ancestors.org

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