07 September 2007

Illinois: Cook County's 24 million records to go online

If you live far from Chicago and you're searching ancestors there, this announcement will make your quest much easier.

The Chicago Tribune reports that in January 2008, some 24 million Cook County records, dating back to 1871, will be searchable online from your home computer. To read the complete article online, readers must register (free).

Digitized online records will include birth certificates at least 75 years old, marriage certificates more than 50 years old and death certificates more than 20 years old. Certified copies will not be available online; social security numbers will not be on the online documents.

Cook County Clerk David Orr said "It's going to be a big boon for us and for the genealogy folks who have to go through us to get the records," Orr said. "It will allow them to go online to see if the records exist, to find relatives and purchase copies online."

Records date from 1871, following the Chicago Fire which wiped out older records. They've been stacked for decades in the basement of the county administration building at Clark and Randolph. Rats, floods, fires, bugs have played havoc, so digitization is a way to preserve valuable data.

The county has made efforts to save some records, including a "freeze-drying" process to restore water-damaged documents.

In June, record scanning and indexing were complete; about 1 million files per week are being uploaded. That should be completed at the end of 2007, when Cook County will one of the first US counties to have its materials stored online

The county is also planning a genealogy website which will offer a tutorial for those interested in researching family trees, permit users to search by name for relatives and, when found, pay a fee to download records and print them at home.

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