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Finding Your Chicago Ancestors: A beginner’s guide to family history in the City and Cook County by Grace DuMelle  (Chicago, IL: Lake Claremont Press, 2005)  329 pp., $16.95, is reviewed by Lisa Thaler.

Inspired by Newberry Library patrons’ queries (and their roadblocks), family history assistant Grace DuMelle has written a primer on search strategies and local sources. Although addressed to the beginner, Finding Your Chicago Ancestors is valuable also for the experienced genealogist.

Most intriguing is DuMelle’s focus on overcoming limitations via hidden sources and alternate routes. For instance, a birth certificate filing was required in Illinois only as of 1916, and remains confidential for 75 years. A “workaround” is the Board of Education Proceedings (1933/34-1971/72), which list elementary school graduates’ birth dates. Annual volumes are available at the Harold Washington Library Center and University of Illinois at Chicago. 

DuMelle’s specialty is house histories and the chapter on finding residences is particularly insightful. The Chicago History Museum (formerly known as the Chicago Historical Society) offers online conversion tables of renamed and renumbered (residential 1909, business 1911) city streets, as well as a reverse city directory (1928-1929). Suburban Cook Country street name changes are recorded at the local historical society and public library, and in fire insurance maps.

United States population censuses, vital records, newspapers, and top web sites are discussed. Nine local research facilities, including The Newberry Library, are described and photographed. The Skokie Public Library offers the HeritageQuest database of family and local history documents and U.S. census data, and an online obituary index (1960-present) culled from three newspapers.

DuMelle’s approach is methodical and her discussion is thorough. Finding Your Chicago Ancestors helps genealogists formulate the question, broadens the list of possible sources and also may shorten the queue at the reference desk. To order, contact Lake Claremont Press.

© LISA THALER, 2009 ALL RIGHTS RESERVED    Go to

This review was adapted from its original publication in Morasha 21, no. 2 (summer 2005): 10.

Lisa Thaler is a Chicago-based family historian and author, with a special interest in émigré artists of the World War II era. Her biography Look Up: The life and art of Sacha Kolin was published by Midmarch Arts Press in 2008. For further information, visit <www.sachakolin.com>.

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