How to Find Chicago Property Records

If you have an ancestor's address, you might be curious to learn who owned the property and when it was purchased and sold.

The Cook County Recorder's Office has tract books that document property ownership from 1871-1985. To locate the correct page, follow the steps below.

1) Check to see if the street name and/or number has changed. Visit the Resources page on ChicagoAncestors.org to find street renaming and renumbering guides. If you can't determine the modern address, check with the Map Department to ask for help. There may be a fee for that service.

2) When you're satisfied you have the correct modern address, visit the Cook County Assessor's Property Search page to locate the corresponding Property Identification Number (PIN). You will need the PIN or the legal description when you visit the Recorder of Deeds Office.

3) Visit the Recorder of Deeds Office located at 118 North Clark Street, across from the Daley Center, and go downstairs to the Tract Department. The stairs are on the left after you enter the office and pass the help desk.

The process of locating the correct tract book page is rather complex. If you're making a one-time visit, it will be simpler and more efficient to give a clerk the PIN and ask for help to find the right page. If you plan to visit regularly, it's worth figuring out how to locate the page on your own. These two resources do a good job of explaining the process:

Researching Your Oak Park Home: A Citizen’s Guide
Some Tips on House Research at the Cook County Recorder of Deeds.

4) Once you have located the correct page, you can have a copy made for a small fee.

5) The tract book page will document the chain of ownership, showing names, dates, and document numbers that refer to various types of property records and even court records. If you want to view any of the property records, ask a clerk how to book and page the entries, and then take the information across the hall to request the microfiche records for viewing. If court records are mentioned, follow up with the Circuit Court Archives.

It's expensive to have property records copied. In most cases, it's best to view the records and take notes.

Occasionally you'll be given microfiche records that are wet, deteriorating, and emitting a strong vinegar-type odor. If you have sensitivities, avoid working with those records.

If the building you're researching has survived, there may be a modern-day photo of it in the Cook County Assessor's Property Search database.

The Chicago History Museun has a large collection of photographs. More information about their collection can be found here.

Sometimes searching online newspapers for addresses can be a productive way to learn more about a building's history and/or events that took place there. Articles may associate events such as crimes or accidents with specific addresses and classified advertisements can suggest when properties were sold or rented.

Fire insurance maps may give you an idea of the type of structure that was located at a specific address. For availability, check the Newberry Library's Fire Insurance Maps page.

In a Nutshell

Find addresses and convert them to the modern equivalents, if necessary. Check the Assessor's website to find the PIN. Take the PIN, and legal description, if you have it, to the Tract Department in the Recorder of Deeds office. Ask for help to locate the tract book page and have it copied. If there are any documents of interest listed, arrange to view them (they're on microfiche) and take notes; copying them is very expensive. If you can't do the research yourself, hire someone. The Recorder of Deeds office does not take research requests.

FAQ

How can I find addresses for my ancestor?

Look for records that asked for that inforation—census records, 1880-1940, city directories, birth and death records, draft registration cards, and newspapers, for example.

Are there building permits available?

How can I search for property records after 1985?

Visit the Cook County Recorder of Deeds website to use their online database. If you find records of interest, they can be downloaded for $2.50 each.

How can I search for property records before 1871?

The site author has corresponded with people who research early Chicago homes but moved from the area before having a chance to learn the process first-hand. Check with the Cook County Recorder of Deeds for advice.

Where can I learn more about the various kinds of transfer documents?

Check the list available on the Recorder of Deeds' FAQ page. (scroll down)