(Page updated 27 Jan 2023)
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.
From 1871-1877, Chicago birth records are found in register books. (There are no certificates available.) For detailed information about these records, including additional search tips, please see Chicago Birth Registers, 1871-1915 on the right.
Begin your search for Chicago Birth Register entries using the free Illinois, Cook County Birth Registers, 1871-1915 index at FamilySearch. Many early entries do not include children's given name(s). You may need to search using parent names, including the mother's maiden name.
If you find an index match, click on the name to view additional information.
If you are at a family history center or an affiliate library, you should see a link which will allow you to view/save the corresponding record image.
If you are at home, you will see an "Image Unavailable" message. You can visit a family history center or an affiliate library to access the record image or request a copy of the image using the Family History Library Record Lookup Service form.
If you don't find an index match it's possible the birth wasn't recorded. It's also possible the name was missed or misspelled in the index. To double-check, browse the Chicago Birth Register images at a family history center or an affiliate library. They are grouped by year, month, and first letter of surname. Also, try browsing the Chicago Delayed Birth Index and/or checking Illinois, Cook County, Birth Certificates, 1871-1949 Description which includes delayed birth records. If a delayed birth certificate was filed, it's evience tht a birth record might not have been created at the time of event.
If you find birth register index entries for births 1878-1915, look for the original birth certificate instead of the birth register pages (which were created by copying information from the original records). Follow the instructions listed under the 1878-1922 tab.
Unless you need a certified copy of a birth register entry, there's usually no need to submit a request to the Cook County Clerk's Office.
Cook County has birth certificates from 1878 forward and they are available for genealogical purposes if they are seventy-five years or older. Birth certificates through 1922 (previously available on microfilm) are available on FamilySearch. Some birth certificates after 1922, including delayed birth certificates, are also available there. Coverage dates change as new record images are added to the database, so check the website for current availability.
Begin your search using the free Illinois, Cook County, Birth Certificates, 1871-1949 index at FamilySearch.
If you find a match, click on the name to view additional information.
If you are at a family history center or an affiliate library, you may see a link which will allow you to view/save the corresponding record image. If so, good news!
If you are at home, you may see an "Image Unavailable" message. This means the image should be available if you visit a family history center or an affiliate library. If you're not able to make the trip, you can request a copy of the image using the Family History Library Record Lookup Service form.
If the FamilySearch index doesn't include an image link, you can request a copy of the record from the Cook County Clerk's Office for a fee. Use the Cook County Genealogical Request Form.
If you don't find a match for a pre-1916 birth, 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 record. 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 don't find an index match for a birth after 1915, try searching the Cook County, Illinois Birth Index, 1916-1935 at Ancestry.com.
If your efforts to find an index match are unsuccessful and you want to make sure the search has been thorough, you can ask the Cook County Clerk's Office to check for the record by mailing in the Cook County Genealogical Request Form with the appropriate fee. Just be aware that many early births went unreported; there may not be a certificate to find.
Note: Online ordering for genealogical records is temporarily suspended but requests are being handled by mail (current as of 15 January 2023). For more information see Cook County Clerk FAQ.
For 1871-1877, birth register pages are available on FamilySearch. For 1878-1922, birth certificates are available on FamilySearch but you must visit a family history center or an affiliate library to access them. (If you can't visit, try requesting indexed records through the Family History Library Record Lookup Service.) For 1923 forward, birth records may be available on FamilySearch. If not, order from the Cook County Clerk's office. 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.
Chicago vital records research should be straightforward, but sometimes it's not. If you have a question, just ask.
While it's no longer necessary to use the microfilms, this information below is still relevant to the many records digitized from those reels.
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).
54 microfilm reels
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.
Information generally found on these records
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.
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.
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, and on Ancestry.com as Cook County, Illinois Birth Index, 1916-1935.
906 microfilm reels
Certificates are arranged numerically by a certificate number that can be found in the Cook County Birth Index or the Chicago Birth Registers.
Information generally found on these records
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.
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.
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
(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. If relevant, try searching FamilySearch's Birth corrections and delayed births, 1916-1918. Also check FamilySearch's Illinois, Cook County, Birth Certificates, 1871-1949." If nothing is available online, 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.
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.
7 microfilm reels
Alphabetical by surname, but not by given name. In some cases, names with similar spellings, e.g., Simons and Simon, are intermixed.
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.
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.
For information about these records, please see this blog post.
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