At the Library: Finding your Chicago Ancestors

I am a future librarian who is also a family historian. I am a heavy library user, especially for genealogical purposes. Many libraries also host genealogy presentations and workshops, which can be very valuable, even to more experienced genealogists! This post highlights one of my many recent encounters with genealogy at the library.

I recently attended a genealogy presentation at the library called “Finding your Chicago Ancestors.” The presenter was Grace DuMelle, who has published a book by the same name. She hosts many presentations in the Chicago area, and shared some valuable research tips for finding my ancestors in Chicago! Her presentation (and her book) highlighted many resources in Chicago and online that allow you to dig deeper in your research. I’ve struggled to do research for my Chicago ancestors because they had fairly common names and it was hard to trace them by searching by name in the common resources (census, BMD records and such). The presentation was a real eye-opener to different strategies that I should be using in my research. The resources that she shared were specific to Chicago, but the strategies could also be applied to my other urban ancestors.

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I definitely recommend this book! Borrow a copy from your local library or buy it here!

For instance, I learned that I may not be finding my relatives because of several historical events that occurred in Chicago when my family lived there. First, the Chicago Fire in 1871 probably destroyed any records of their arrival and other essential records that I’m missing. I have also been trying to use the family’s address to confirm that I had the correct family. Chicago renumbered their house numbers in 1909 and often changed street names when towns surrounding the city were annexed into the city of Chicago. My ancestors lived in the same house for over 40 years, but the same house had three different addresses during that time!

I bought her award-winning book at the end of her presentation because I could tell that it will be a valuable resource. Each chapter focuses on one research question, such as, What occupation did my ancestor have? and provides specific sources and strategies that will help you answer those questions. Many of the sources are obviously Chicago-specific, but the strategies could easily be applied to other locations. There’s always more to learn!

I took a quick look at some of the resources that she talked about in her presentation, including ChicagoAncestors.org to see if it produced anything about my ancestors. Using the street guides, I figured out that the family had in fact lived in the same house for over 40 years, had three different addresses, and that the house is still there! (It’s a lovely house and is now an animal hospital.) What a treasure! Time to add all this new research opportunities to my never-ending genealogy to-do list!

The take-away: Attend genealogy workshops and presentations at the library. Take notes. Ask questions. Check out books from the library. Learn more about your ancestors!


(Note: I do not receive any kind of payment or commission if you buy her book using the links on this post. I wanted to share it anyway because it has already become a very important tool for me! Check it out from your library first, and then if it is useful to you, buy a copy for yourself!)

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