How to Find Chicago Birth Certificates

Due to Chicago Fire losses, civil birth records for Chicago are not available before late 1871. Look for birth information in alternate sources like the ones listed below.

  • Baptismal records
  • County histories
  • Death certificates
  • Delayed birth certificates
  • Family records including bibles
  • Pension records
  • Probate records

This page offers a quick tutorial on how to find the Chicago births, 1871-1877, that are recorded in register books. For detailed information about these records, including additional search tips, please see Chicago Birth Registers, 1871-1915 on the right.

Search an Index

Begin your search for Chicago Birth Register entries using the free Illinois, Cook County Birth Registers, 1871-1915 index at FamilySearch. Be aware that many of the early entries do not include given name(s) for the child. If you don't find a match on your first try, search by parent names and/or mother's maiden name.

If you find a match, click on the name to view additional information. Note the name, birthdate, film number, and image number. Also copy the URL found in the citation so that you can get back to the index entry quickly, if needed. Then, follow the instructions under "Locate the Record" below.

If you don't find a match in the index, it's possible the birth of wasn't recorded. It's also possible that the name was missed or misspelled in the index. If you can narrow the birthdate to a month and year, it's possible to browse the digital copies of the register pages from a computer connected to a family history center network. It can also been helpful to browse the Chicago Delayed Birth Index (see information at right) or the birth indexes on FamilySearch that include delayed birth records. If a name appears there, it provides evidence that a birth record might not have been created at the time of event.

If you find index entries that cover 1878-1915, you should pursue the original birth certificate instead of the birth register pages (which have information copied from the original record by a clerk). Follow the instructions listed under the 1878-1922 tab.

Locate the Record

Locate the closest Family History Center or affiliate library and plan a visit. Call ahead to double-check the hours. Centers are staffed by volunteers and unexpected things sometimes come up.

At the center, log into your free FamilySearch account on a Family History Center computer or log in using your own computer connected to the Family History Center's wireless network.

Go to Search > Catalog > Film/Fiche Number and search the film number you wrote down earlier. This will return the record set title. Click on it. Once the page loads, locate the film number (it's easy to do using Control or Command F) and click on the camera to the right of it. (Note: The camera should not have a key over it if you are accessing the page using the Family History Center's network. If you're on your own computer, connected to the wireless, and still see the key, try rebooting your computer and opening the browser window again.)

When the page of images loads, type the image number that you wrote down into the box in the upper-left-hand corner. Double-click the highlighted image to expand it and search for the matching name, making sure to look at the full two-page entry.

The record images can be saved for future use. If you're using your own computer, you're set. If you're using a Family History Center computer, you'll want to take a USB drive. If you forget, an easy way to assure access to the records once you're home is to upload them to the Memories section of your FamilySearch account. From there, you can download and delete or attach them to people on your family tree.

It's also possible to use index information to locate the records on FamilySearch microfilm which can be found at the Wilmette Family History Center or the Family History Library in Salt Lake City.

Unless you need a certified copy of a birth record, there's usually no need to submit a request to the Cook County Clerk's Office. If you do, it's possible they would hand copy the register information onto a birth certificate form instead of providing photocopies of the register pages. This was their approach to requests for early death records a number of years ago.

This page offers a tutorial on how to find Chicago birth certificates, 1878-1922. It isn't a quick, easy read, but the details are important. For more information about the records, including search tips, please click on Chicago Birth Certificates, 1878-1922 on the right.

Search an Index

Begin your search for Chicago birth certificates, 1878-1922 using the free Illinois, Cook County, Birth Certificates, 1871-1940 index at FamilySearch. This index covers regular birth certificates up through 1922 (created at the time of the event) and delayed birth certificates for births up through 1940 (created long after the event).

If you find a match, click on the name to view more information.

If the birth is 1922 or earlier and there is an event date but no registration date, it refers to a regular birth certificate that was previously available on microfilm but is now available in digital format, as well. Write down the name, birth date, film number, and image number.

If the birth has an event date and a registration date, it refers to a delayed birth certificate that was digitized from original records at the Cook County Clerk's Office. Write down the name, birth date, digital folder number, and image number.

Scroll down to "Locating the Records" for guidance on how to find the certificates.

If you don't find a match, try checking the Illinois, Cook County Birth Registers, 1871-1915 index. If you find a match, follow the directions under the 1871-1877 tab to locate the actual record, note the certificate number at the beginning of the entry, use it to choose the correct certificate film, and then use the certifiate number to find the right record. Check the Chicago Birth Registers, 1871-1915 link to the right for additional information and search ideas.

If you're looking for a birth before 1916, have an approximate birth month and year, and can't find the name in an online birth index, check the Chicago Birth Registers, 1871-1915 before concluding there's no record to be found. The birth register entries are arranged in a way that makes it easy to skim for births beginning with the first letter of a surname for a particular month and year. Doing this is a good way to rule out the possiblity of a name misspelling or a missing index entry.

If you're looking for a birth after 1915, try searching the Cook County, Illinois Birth Index, 1916-1935 at Ancestry.com or the index at Cook County Genealogy. If you find a 1916-1922 match, note the name and file number as this information can be used to choosse a digitized microfilm and retrive a copy of the record online at FamilySearch.

If you can't find a match, ask the Cook County Clerk's Office to search for you. Print the Genealogical Request Form and mail it along with the specified fee to the address on the form. It's important to understand, though, that a large number of births went unreported and there may not be a certificate to be found.

Locate the Record

If you have a film number for a birth record up through 1922, the certificate should be available online for viewing and downloading by visiting a family history center or an affilliate library.

Locate the closest Family History Center or affiliate library and plan a visit. Call ahead to double-check the hours. Centers are staffed by volunteers and unexpected things sometimes come up.

If you have a folder number only, the record may or may not be available online. Check availability before making a trip to a family history center. To do that, follow the steps below for finding the records at a family history center. If you get to a point where there is a camera with a key next to the difital folder number, the record will be available on FamilySearch. If there is only a magnifying glass or no icon at all, it will not be available on FamilySearch and you will need to get the matching record from the Cook County Clerk's Office.)

At the center, log into your free FamilySearch account on a Family History Center computer or log in using your own computer connected to the Family History Center's wireless network.

Go to Search > Catalog > Film/Fiche Number and search the film number or digital folder number you wrote down earlier. This will return the record set title. Click on it. Once the page loads, locate the film number or digital folder number. (Use Control or Command F to find the number; the entries sort by title which can make it difficult to locate a number manually.)

If you've confirmed availability ahead of time, there should be a camera icon next to the film number. If so, click the film number. If not, read the note at the bottom of this section.

When the page of images loads, type the image number that you wrote down into the box in the upper-left-hand corner. Double-click the highlighted image to expand it and search for the matching name, making sure to look at the full two-page entry.

The record images can be saved for future use. If you're using your own computer, you're set. If you're using a family history center computer, you'll want to take a USB drive. If you forget, an easy way to assure access to them once you're home is to upload them to the Memories section of your FamilySearch account. From there, you can download and delete or attach them to people on your family tree.

(Note: For birth certificates up through 1922, the camera icon should not have a key over it if you are accessing the page through a Family History Center's network. If you're on your own computer, connected to the wireless, and still see the key, try rebooting your computer and opening the browser window again.

If there is a magnifying glass icon next to the film or folder number, but no other icon, the record is indexed, but isn't available through FamilySearch. This should not be the case with birth certificates through 1922, but may be the case with the delayed birth certificates. If so, you will need to obtain a copy of the record from the Cook County Clerk's Office.

In the past, researchers retrieved the death certificates through 1922 from FamilySearch microfilm. It's still possible to do that at the Wilmette Family History Center or the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, but there's no obvious advantage to taking that approach.

It's also possible to get these records from the Cook County Clerk's Office, but unless a certified copy is needed, there's usually no reason to do so.

Working on updating this page!
Should be finished soon! (28 Dec 2018)

If you need a certificate for a birth after 1922, you may need to obtain it from the Cook County Clerk's Office. Many of their records are available for online purchasing and download and all of these indexes provide a link for purchasing:

Genealogy Online (County Clerk)

Illinois, Cook County, Birth Certificates, 1871-1940 (FamilySearch)

Cook County, Illinois Birth Index, 1916-1935 (Ancestry)

If you can't find a record in the online index at that site, you can use the Cook County Genealogy Record Request Form to mail in a request for a manual search.

In a Nutshell

For 1871-1877, look for birth register pages and be aware, when searching the indexes, that many entries do not include given names. For 1878-1922, get certificates from FamilySearch microfilm. For 1923 forward, get certificates from the Cook County Clerk's office or website. Many births before 1916 went unreported. If you can't find a record created at the time of birth and the person lived into the 1940s, look for a delayed birth certificate.

Birth Records Available through FamilySearch

Chicago Birth Registers, 1871-1915

About these records
The birth registers created by clerks copying information from birth certificates ("returns of birth") onto pre-numbered lines in large register books. This method provided a systematic way of assigning certificate numbers and created an easy-to-skim list of reported births. The certificates are original records, filled out by a person in attendance at the birth, usually a physician or midwife; the registers are derivative. Although the information should be the same in both, the potential for copying errors or shortened entries (a country, for example, rather than a town and country, for a parent's place of birth), means researchers should always seek out the original certificates. They are available from 1878 forward.

Indexing
A free index to these records is available at FamilySearch. Another index Cook County Birth Index, 1871-1915 is available on microfiche. However, if you don't find an entry in the birth index, it is possible, and worthwhile, to search the birth registers directly. Doing this can help you find births that were recorded under an unexpected spelling or births that were registered but missed by the index (rare, but possible).

Format
54 microfilm reels

Arrangement
The arrangement varies depending on the time period. Entries were probably made in the order that the returns were received and they are not alphabetical by surname or chronological by birth day.

In the early registers, most of the entries for a particular month are together, but entries for other months will be intermingled. For example, if a January birth was reported in March, it would appear with the March births. This does not seem to be the case with the later volumes. The later volumes have alphabetic sections for a particular time span (often six months). In other words, a volume might begin with all of the "A" surname births January, followed by a blank page or two, followed by all of the "A" surname births for February, etc. In these volumes, late returns are entered at the end of the proper month/surname letter section and stillbirths are often recorded there as well.

FHL Catalog
View Entry

Information generally found on these records

  • register number
  • child's name
  • child's sex
  • no. of child of this mother
  • race or color
  • place of birth (street address)
  • father's nativity and age
  • mother's nativity and age
  • father's name
  • mother's name (maiden name is generally provided)
  • mother's residence if other than place of confinement
  • father's occupation
  • name of party attending and making return

Tips for searching the birth registers

(1) Each birth register film may include two or three different register volumes. When you look up the film number, make a note of which film item you will be looking at. Scroll through to the right item, locate the surname letter group and the correct month, and then use the register number to find the correct entry.

(2) Information written on the binding side of the register book pages is sometimes clipped off on the films and the mother's age, given name, and/or maiden name may be missing or only partially visible.

(3) A parent's place of nativity may not be recorded as specifically in the birth registers as it was on the birth certificate.

(4) In some of the later registers, stillbirths are recorded at the end of each surname letter section.

(5) A few delayed birth registrations are recorded at the end of some surname letter sections.

(6) It is possible to search the birth registers without having a register number from the microfiche index. If you approach your search in this way, it is important to remember that in the early registers, births may not have been recorded in the month that they occurred.

(7) In some instances, there may be a birth register entry when no birth certificate seems to be available.

(8) In the earliest birth registers all of the births for a particular month aren't grouped together. For example, it is possible to find a January births recorded on pages which have mostly February births, etc.

(9) If you are searching for a surname that begins with a common first letter, be careful to make sure that the section doesn't continue in an unexpected place in the register or you may miss a name. For example, you might find "J" entries between the "B" and "C" entries, if that was where the clerk found a blank page to record the "overflow." Similarly, if you find that "B" is followed by "J," scroll forward and you're likely to see that the register picks up with "C" after a few pages.

(10) When searching the indexes, be aware that many of the early entries do not include a given name for the child. If you don't find a match on your first try, search by parent names.

Chicago Birth Certificates, 1878-1922

About these records
The Chicago birth certificates, sometimes titled "Return of a Birth," were filled out by someone who attended the birth, usually a physician or midwife, and returned to the county clerk. Some certificates mention a penalty fee for not filing a birth report, but even so, many early Chicago and Cook County births weren't registered. In many cases there may not be a birth certificate to be found.

Indexing
These birth certificates are indexed on microfiche Cook County Birth Index, 1871-1916 and in three places online: FamilySearch as Illinois, Cook County Birth Certificates, 1878-1922, Ancestry.com as Cook County, Illinois Birth Index, 1916-1935, and at the Cook County Clerk's Genealogy Online site.

Format
906 microfilm reels

Arrangement
Certificates are arranged numerically by a certificate number that can be found in the Cook County Birth Index or the Chicago Birth Registers.

FHL Catalog
View Entry

Information generally found on these records

  • register number
  • child's name
  • child's sex
  • no. of child of this mother
  • race or color
  • place of birth (street address)
  • father's nativity and age (may have more specific birthplace than the birth register entry)
  • mother's nativity and age (may have more specific birthplace than the birth register entry)
  • father's name
  • mother's name (maiden name is generally provided)
  • mother's residence, if other than place of confinement
  • father's occupation
  • name of party attending and making return

Search tips
There may be two or more repeating sets of certificate numbers within a single year. When this is the case, it's likely that the first group is for Jan-Jun and that the second group is for Jul-Dec (or Jan-Apr, May-Aug, Sep-Dec, if there are three divisions), however this rule doesn't always hold true. During the teens, for example, December birth certificates are sometimes found in the first group of films for the following year and when this happens, all of the months may shift, meaning that an April certificate might fall into the second group of certificate numbers rather than into the first.

There are a number of reasons why you might not be able to easily find a Chicago birth certificate:

1) The birth might not have been reported when the child was born. A January 1912 article in the Chicago Tribune, for example, suggests that as few as 50% of infants born might have actually been registered at that time. If the individual lived into the 1940s, consider checking the Chicago Delayed Birth Index.

2) The surname might be spelled in an unexpected way. If you have a birth month and year (from the 1900 census, for example) and you think the surname might be spelled incorrectly in the index, try searching entries in the Chicago Birth Registers, 1871-1915. These pages can serve as an alternate index and they are available on microfilm and online at FamilySearch.

If you can't find a birth certificate, look for alternate sources of birth information.

  • Newspaper Notices (though very few births seem to have been mentioned in the Chicago papers)

  • Baptismal records

  • School records (check Chicago Board of Education proceedings at the Harold Washington Library)

  • World War I draft registration cards (available at Ancestry.com)

  • Passenger lists for United States citizens returning from abroad (available at Ancestry.com)

  • Passport applications (available on FHL microfilm, at Ancestry.com, and at Fold3.com)

Chicago and Cook County Birth Indexes

Chicago and Cook County births are indexed in a number of places online (see tabs to the left) and those indexes should be checked before going to this microfiche index.

The Cook County Birth Index, 1871-1916 is a microfiche index to some, but not all, births that occurred in Chicago and Cook County during those years. It doesn't include every birth that happened in Chicago or Cook County between those years because many births weren't reported.

Format
83 microfiche

Arrangement
Alphabetical

FHL Catalog
View Entry

Why search this index?
If you find an entry in the Cook County Birth Index, you can use the identification number to locate a birth register entry or a birth certificate.

Information included in the index

  •  child's last name
  •  child's first name and possibly middle initial OR first initial of father/given name of mother with "&" in the column for middle initial, if the child hadn't been given a name when the report was made
  •  date of birth
  •  place of birth, Chicago or Cook County (outside Chicago)
  •  identification number

Search tips

(1) Children who weren't named when the report was made appear in the index under their father's initial and their mother's given name with "&" in the initial column. A child born to James and Helen Bielby might appear as "J Helen &." This type of entry is very common for births from the 1870s.

(2) If you find an entry in the index and want to search for a birth register entry or a birth certificate, it is important to distinguish between "Chicago" and "Cook County" as the records were filmed separately.

(3) If the identification number is prefixed with "DS or ODS" it means that the record is a delayed birth certificate. In other words, the birth was reported much later than it took place, probably in the 1940s. Except for Birth corrections and delayed births, 1916-1918, delayed registration certificates are not available through the Family History Library system. Check with the Cook County Clerk's office to see if the delayed certificate that you need is available.

(4) Children sometimes appear under unexpected given names. A child known as "Mae Townsend," might actually have been registered as "Louisa Mae Townsend."

(5) Surnames may not be spelled in the way that you expect. Lena Hanson might be in the index under "Hansen" or even "Hauson."

(6) Juniors appear at the end of the surnames. Look for Adam Smith, Jr. after Zachariah Smith.

(7) If the certificate number is preceded by "A," "B," "C," "D," or "E," those letters refer to early birth register books and the numbers refer to a page and line number.

(8) If a name doesn't appear in the index, it doesn't mean that the individual wasn't born in Cook County; many early births weren't registered.

(9) If you don't find a name in the birth index and you have a month and year of birth, check the birth registers. It's a good way to check for unexpected spellings because births beginning with the same first letter of surname are grouped together by month and year.

(10) Other options for finding evidence of a Chicago or Cook County birth include checking the Chicago Delayed Birth Index or searching church records for baptisms.

(9) Although the title of this index says "1916," it appears that very few births from 1916 are included and with a few exceptons, it may actually end with 1915.

Chicago Delayed Birth Index, 1871-1948

Delayed birth registration provided a way for births that weren't reported at the time of the event to be registered. Many people obtained delayed birth certificates to prove citizenship or to apply for Social Security or Railroad Retirement benefits.

If you are able to locate a copy of a delayed birth certificate, it may include notes on what documents were used to prove the birth. These notes may provide the name of a physician or midwife, the name of a church where a baptism took place, and/or the names of friends or relatives.

About this index
The Chicago Delayed Birth Index, 1871-1948 is an alphabetical-by-surname (but not alphabetical-by-given-name) index to Chicago births, most of which occurred in the late 1800s and early 1900s but weren't registered until the 1940s. It is available on seven microfilms which can be requested through any Family History Center.

Format
7 microfilm reels

Arrangement
Alphabetical by surname, but not by given name. In some cases, names with similar spellings, e.g., Simons and Simon, are intermixed.

FHL Catalog
View Entry

Information included in the delayed birth index
name of individual
date of birth
date birth was registered
delayed birth certificate number

Why search this index?
If you aren't able to find a name in the regular birth certificate index at FamilySearch, you might be able to find an entry in the Chicago Delayed Birth Index which will provide a birth date and evidence that the birth occurred in Chicago.

How to find copies of delayed birth certificates
Delayed birth certificates can be obtained through the Cook County Clerk's Office for a fee.

Birth Corrections and Delayed Births, 1916-1918 appear to be the only records of this type for Chicago available through the Family History Library system and there doesn't appear to be any index to them available for public searching.

Search tips
Because the index isn't strictly alphabetical, be sure to look just before and after the surname you are searching to catch entries in unexpected places.

Chicago Lying-in Hospital Records, 1896-1933

For information about these records, please see this blog post.