I am looking for information on my great-great-grandfather, and I am just trying to figure this out.

My great-grandfather was born in 1907 in Chicago to Polish immigrants, I have his baptismal certificate as proof. He has no government record, as per my understanding, it wasn't very common. My great-grandfather was baptized at St. John Cantius (Św. Jan Kanty) Catholic Church, and I presume they lived nearby.

I know they went back to Poland as my grandfather was born in Poland.

According to my grandfather, he does not remember ever seeing his grandfather (my great-great-grandfather). I assume he hasn't because he doesn't even remember his name (I later found the name).

I am assuming that my great-great-grandfather died in Chicago.

Now, onto my question:

Were deaths recorded in the government, or was it left for the church to handle?

  • Welcome to G&FH SE! With your great grandfather being born in 1907 (more than 100 years ago) you should feel free to mention his name and that of your 2nd great grandfather. However as you may already be aware, we have a privacy policy to be careful of for ancestors more recent than them (like your grandfather) in our help center. You do not have to include their names but it may be helpful to. There is an edit button beneath you question that let's you update it with more details at any time.
    – PolyGeo
    May 19 '15 at 2:31
  • @PolyGeo thank you, but I left their names out as I am just asking whether or not his death would most likely be recorded in the church or in the government. I am born here but English isn't always my best language, feel free to edit if it seems confusing
    – Anon123
    May 19 '15 at 2:37
  • No problem - and your English is plenty clear enough even to an Australian!
    – PolyGeo
    May 19 '15 at 2:41
  • Do you have any information about when your 2great-grandfather's parents came to the USA?
    – Jan Murphy
    May 20 '15 at 2:09
  • No, I do not. The only thing I have to link them being in the US at all is the baptism certificate.
    – Anon123
    May 20 '15 at 2:10

Assuming they did die in the state of Illinois, there is a fair chance that your grand father's death certificate is on file in the state of Illinois and it can be ordered rather cheaply for genealogical purposes through the State of Illinois itself.

If he died between 1907 and 1916 you will have to resort to pursuing it through the regional IRAD office or even with the Cook County Clerk's office itself.

If between 1916 and 1950 you can order it identify the details which would help completing the form pretty easy through Illinois's CyberDrive online system. It is located here: http://www.ilsos.gov/isavital/idphdeathsrch.jsp. It has all of the information required to fill out the form mentioned below, but is is only a small fraction of the ones actually on file (electronically, microfilm, or paper).. the ones in the database are the ones inventoried/cataloged but I am not sure how often it is updated as I have received some months ago that haven't yet showed up here yet that had to be found through Microfilm search.

I would also recommending searching Find a Grave to locate the county if the CyberDrive doesn't work to try to locate the county in which they died to narrow your search down. Assume in both cases the spelling may not be what you expect.

You can also order it through many of the automated clearing out houses which fees are substantially higher ($45 min vs. $15 min) even though the work is done by the same people.

The form itself is the "Application for Death Records Search" and I have used it many times and find the response to be very timely. They will only search the county you specify though, so if he died in a county other than Cook you may have to try a couple times if you don't find the information on the CyberDrive website.

To the root of your question as to whether yes government maintained records in Illinois, the answer is Yes, the government should have been consistently recording deaths after the year 1877 in the state of Illinois.

Photocopies of Death Records before 1916 Death records before 1916 were maintained exclusively by the county clerks. Most county clerks did not record deaths until 1877. Copies of death records filed before 1916 may be obtained from the Illinois Regional Archives Depository (IRAD) system if IRAD holds death records for that particular county or from the county clerk in the county where the death occurred. Search the IRAD Local Governmental Records Database for death records held by the IRAD system.

  • 1
    Caveat - The answer is valid IF the ancestor died in Illinois. However, that is not established. If the rest of the family returned to Poland, he may have returned too and died there or in WWI or made another trip to the U.S., possibly to another state. He may have died early or just been out of the picture if there was a divorce. Some of these possibilities have left their own records, and can be used to narrow down the estimated date range for a death record search.
    – bgwiehle
    May 19 '15 at 17:00
  • 2
    @bgwiehle On any answer there will always be caveats, and rather than covering an endlessly large scope and giving a lesson while challenging their theory. I answered the specific question being asked assuming they did die there.
    – CRSouser
    May 19 '15 at 20:22
  • Thanks for the answer @CRSouser. If he died in Chicago is speculation because my grandpa does not remember his grandpa (my great-great-grandfather), hence I assumed he might've died here. If he did, must've been before 1916. I am going to contact the IRAD at NEIU as they hold pre-1916 death records for Cook County.
    – Anon123
    May 19 '15 at 21:35

When searching for any records, I use the following checklist that I created for myself:

  1. Learn what records might have been created in a particular time and place.
  2. Research which of those records might still exist, and which records are accessible to the public.
  3. Research what repositories might hold those records.
  4. Research which online repositories might hold those records.

To see what governmental records might exist for this time period, see the FamilySearch Research Wiki's Article on Illinois Vital Records. It has an overview of what records are available, including a timeline of the introduction of statewide registration.

The section on Death Records gives several links for collections which can be searched online, and has a link to the article on Illinois counties if a search of the statewide records don't yield any results.

For example, Family Search has the name indexes Illinois, Cook County Deaths, 1878-1939, 1955-1994 and an index to Illinois Deaths and Stillbirths, 1916-1947 -- even though you are guessing your great-great-grandfather died before 1916, it would do no harm to search both indexes. Check the catalog entries for both databases, because they often contain notes about coverage issues that are not evident from the date range in the title of the database itself. There are also pages in the FamilySearch Research wiki for each collection, which have suggestions on what to do if you do not find any results in the collections:

For any collection at FamilySearch, these pages about the records can be accessed from the catalog entry by clicking the Learn more link, or by going to the Research Wiki and searching by topic or place.

It is tempting to leap directly to searching for a record that directly answers the question you want to know, but the difficulty with finding a death record is that people can die anywhere -- there's no guarantee that someone dies in or nearby the city where he lived most of his life, or that his body would be returned to be buried near other family members. Try to narrow the date bounds by working in small steps from the information you already have. One technique I use to narrow the date of death of a person is to gather the obituaries of all of their children and see if the parents are mentioned in the obituary as living or as having pre-deceased their children. If the deceased person has siblings, I do the same with the entire sibling set -- I try to establish the death order of all the siblings. Obituaries may not be accurate, but the residence clues for all the survivors gives you a pool of other localities to be searched; sometimes people died away from home while visiting relatives.

Newspapers are also a valuable source of information about when people are still living -- social news pages can list wedding anniversary parties, visits to relatives, and other everyday tidbits that demonstrate that the person you are looking for is still alive on that date.

  • 1
    I looked at both of the indexes and nothing seems to show up relating to my relative. On my great-grandfather's baptism certificate, it states his father as Joannis Olech, hence being John Olech (Jan Olech in Polish). I am not sure which name they would've used in the US.
    – Anon123
    May 20 '15 at 1:46
  • 1
    @Anon123 If you discover more information, feel free to add to your question, or ask new questions. Gathering more information about your family's life in the US may give you more clues. Searching name variants can help, too, since records can have mistakes or be mis-indexed. I've found some records that have the family's surname in the field where the first name is supposed to be.
    – Jan Murphy
    May 20 '15 at 2:00
  • 1
    My mom immigrated to the US in 1991, thanks to her grandfather being born here. His life in the US was short, so there isn't much I can find. I assume his uncle (also godfather) lived here since he is listed on the baptism certificate, unless the priest allowed his mother to name them without them being present at the baptism (which would be very uncommon during those times, in my opinion). I contacted someone I know at the Archdiocese of Chicago in their archives division, awaiting for their reply.
    – Anon123
    May 20 '15 at 2:05
  • @Anon123 I found one death date in my research by accident when I was searching for someone else in the newspaper. The person I was looking for was one of the survivors in an obituary. My direct search for that obituary had failed because the surname wasn't spelled the way I expected. So I'm a big fan of searching for all relatives, friends, neighbors, and associates. You never know where the clues will be until you find them. See overcome OCR errors when searching newspapers
    – Jan Murphy
    May 20 '15 at 2:15
  • Jan, I am not sure how anyone could butcher the last name "Olech"... "Olek", "Alech", "Aleh", "Oleh", I am just not sure what I should be looking for :(
    – Anon123
    May 20 '15 at 2:17

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