Thursday, November 10, 2016

Day Late, Document Short

Just when we've made our trip to Chicago and returned home again, what should pop up but a notice from genealogist Amy Johnson Crow's Twitter account—birdlike—tweeting the message that there is a new collection on the Archdiocese of Chicago cemetery records.

On the face of it, this is good news. While I do have some old records photocopied from visits to Chicago decades ago, sometimes those were obtained before I was savvy enough to know which questions were the right ones to ask—name of owner of plot, for instance, or who else was buried in that family plot. Besides that, I've since discovered more names connected to our various Chicago roots, names which need more verification than can sometimes be gleaned from those wonderful, volunteer-supplied entries on Find A Grave.

So I thought I'd take this newly-posted collection out for a spin.

My first test drive was on behalf of the very Kelly family from Lafayette, Indiana, about which I was struggling to get connections right. Some of James and Mary Kelly's children and grandchildren, like many young adults coming of age in an agricultural community, found Chicago to be just the close-by job magnet that one might have presumed. Some, unfortunately, may have found their early demise while living among those urban threats—everything from occupational hazards to tuberculosis. Some of them had their remains shipped back home to Indiana, where they were buried at Saint Mary's Cemetery in Lafayette. Others? Well...that question hasn't been answered entirely.

In my first attempt at seeing whether the missing pieces to that Kelly puzzle might be found in this collection, I didn't locate the Kellys I wanted, but I did see some promising details. In trying to figure out what happened to two of the sons of James' son Thomas—John and Thomas—along with their brother James, whom I knew died in Cook County, Illinois, in 1924, I ran across an entry for the younger James which I thought might be promising.

When I clicked through to the entry, itself, I noticed a statement in the right column indicating there was an image which could be viewed in this collection if I signed in to my account there. Pulling it up, I found it turned out to be a digitized copy of a card not only indicating the burial date for this James Kelly, but including name and date of another Kelly burial and providing the name of the plot's owner (a third Kelly whose name, coincidentally, happened to be John).

While I'm fairly certain these are not my Kellys, seeing that card prompted me to go through the collection and see what could be found for every other Chicago family member, both in this Kelly family and in all the other lines which fit within the date range for this collection (1864-1989).

Despite the promise of many results, as it turned out, not every family member whom I knew was buried in a Chicago Catholic cemetery had an entry in this collection. For that, I was quite disappointed. Here I thought I had found my digitized gold mine of Chicago burial documentation.

For instance, William Flanagan—bachelor uncle to my husband's great-grandmother and Irish renegade who, but for the discontinuation of the British punitive measure of transportation, would have found himself banished to Australia—had absolutely no mention of his monumental burial marker at Mount Olivet, despite its magnificent presence also being the very source of our discovery that he was from "Parish Ballygran, County Limerick." For this, I was disappointed, for I hoped to discover something more on the one other Flanagan burial in his plot which had me puzzled.

Several other family members also failed to appear in that collection, despite being loyal Catholics who died and were buried in Chicago.

Since we had managed to visit one family grave site during our trip to Chicago last month, I looked that one up in the collection. This was for John Tully and several of his family members, buried in Evanston at Calvary Cemetery. John's grave no longer has any marker, though we recall from another visit there nearly twenty years ago a badly-crumbling headstone indicating the place of his 1907 burial. Now, all that remains is a curious and sentimental cement cast marker for "Daisy," John and Catherine Tully's seven year old daughter. As for any information on this collection at FamilySearch, the card only showed John Tully's date of death, date of burial, age, and location of the plot. Makes me wish I could flip the card over and see if anything was noted on the back. And Daisy? No record, either under her nickname or for her legal name.

Surprised that what seemed to be such a promising resource for our Chicago-based family was turning out to miss so many individuals in their records, I turned to the FamilySearch wiki for this specific collection to see what notes were included. Sometimes, a collection at FamilySearch can have a promising title, but turn out to include a very limited set of records. That was not the case here, it turns out. Notes on the collection did provide a statement that the records were limited to Cook and Lake counties in Illinois, but that is exactly what I was seeking. Obviously, they were also limited to Catholic burials—once again applying to my search parameters.

Who knows why some online collections—especially those precisely fitting the details I'm seeking—don't include certain records. Perhaps more records will be added to this collection in the future. If not, I guess it's not really a loss to have to revert to the same search methods researchers have used for ages: connecting with the source of the records and finding a way to obtain a copy of the details we are seeking.


  1. Jacqi, I know in Boston some Catholic cemeteries are owned by the Archdiocese and others are owned by a separate entity The Catholic Cemetery Association, which holds the open records, may be the answer is something like that? TV ex look PB

    1. Sounds like a reasonable explanation to me, Kat. Thanks for the input.

  2. I wonder how many cemeteries have "perfect" records. A hundred years and more is a long time - even for the so-called "perpetual".

    1. I am learning one thing: it won't be perpetual if there wasn't an endowment for ongoing care.


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