I don't often drool when I see records. I have almost made an exception. The Chicago Voter Registrations (covering 1888, 1890, and 1892) are a wonderful source for genealogists with Cook County, Illinois, ancestors. While not a complete substitute for the 1890 census, these registrations are a wonderful source and do provide some details not obtained in census records. It is too bad that women had not yet been given the right to vote at the time these records were created. Then twice as many names would be listed!
For each registrant, several pieces of information are listed. The person's name and residence are given. Additionally, the individual's country or state of nativity along with color, are included. Registrants answered three questions relative to their "term of residence" in the area. These questions asked how long the registrant had lived in the state of Illinois, how long the registrant had lived in Cook County, and how long the registrant had lived in the precinct in which they were registering to vote. Additionally, foreign-born registrants provided their naturalization status. Those who were naturalized also gave their "date of papers" and the name of the court where the naturalization took place. Given that during this time period any court could naturalize an alien resident, the name of the court is particularly helpful.
The three terms of residence are especially helpful. For some this may allow the researcher to estimate an immigration date. In other cases, it may confirm that the individual moved frequently or did not originally settle in Cook County, Illinois. THe sample images (see below) even indicate two individuals of the same surname living at the same address (the Carpenters at 2529 Prairie Ave.). The relationship is not stated and this clue should be followed up by utilizing other records. Based upon the years of residence given for the two individuals, they had spent some time apart before living at the same address in 1888. H.A. apparently arrived in Illinois several years before Charles C., based upon the years listed in the terms of residence columns.
While these records contain the address of the registrant, it should be noted that Chicago street addresses changed after these records were created and that the house numbers listed in the registration lists will not correspond with modern street numbers. (Do not take the addresses and immediately plug them into MapQuest! It will not work in this case.)
Where Do I Go From Here?
There are a number of clues suggested by these records and the thorough researcher should follow as many of these clues as possible. Some ideas include:
CENSUS - The years of residence in specific areas suggest possible places where the person might be living in various census records. Of course the years of residence must be analyzed appropriately and one must consider that the years may not be 100 percent correct. Any year listed could easily be off by a year or two and in some cases perhaps even more.
For example, H. A. Carpenter indicates he has lived in Illinois for eighteen years, in Cook County for twelve years, and in his current precinct for two years. These years must not be analyzed separately. Assuming the years are correct (and keeping in mind that the registration list used was from 1888), the following timeline can be constructed:
ca. 1870 - ca. 1876 H. A. lived in Illinois, but not in Cook County
ca. 1876 - ca. 1886 H. A. lived in Cook County, Illinois, but not in his current precinct.
ca. 1886 - 1888 H.A. lived in his current precinct in Cook County, Illinois.
The date of papers and the name of the court where the naturalization took place are of great help in locating these records. While naturalization records during this period are not particularly detailed, the location of the court can help one-track ancestral movements and perhaps provide new clues as to previous areas of residence. While there are some finding aids to naturalization records in the Chicagoland area (particularly the Soundex Index to Naturalization Petitions for the United States District and Circuit Courts, Northern District of Illinois, and Immigration and Naturalization Service District 9, 1840-1950, www.nara.gov/genealogy/natural.html ), having the actual date and the name of the court is a tremendous help and may even document an ancestor's residence in a state other than Illinois.
Naturalization records of this era generally contain only the name of the individual, the date of naturalization, and to whom the individual formerly owed allegiance. Researchers used to the more detailed information found in post-1907 naturalizations will be disappointed. Despite the amount of minimal information, the researcher should still obtain the record. One naturalization I obtained from the 1870s listed (as is typical) two witnesses to the individual's character, one of whom was the individual's uncle. I was not aware this uncle had even immigrated until I located the document where he was a witness for his nephew.
Armed with a name and a street address locating the individual in city directories will be easier. Directories will provide some additional information not contained in the registration lists, most notably occupation. The clues regarding residence included in the registration lists may allow the user to explain an individual's appearance at or disappearance from a specific address in a certain year.
Unfortunately, there are no ages listed in this record. Everyone listed in the record was at least twenty-one years of age. That is the only conclusion regarding age that one can draw on everyone listed in the register. Of course, if someone is listed as having lived in Illinois for forty years, then they are obviously over twenty-one years of age.
How Will I Use These Records?
The images discussed were not available when these databases were first posted, but are available now. One of my "brick walls" was born in Chicago in 1888 of unknown parents. My next venture into these records at Ancestry.com will be to narrow down the list of possible fathers for this individual. Of course, I'm making the assumption that the individual really was born in Chicago, that his father was old enough to vote and that, if old enough, his father registered to vote, but I won't know until I try!
Left hand side of the registration page...
Right hand side of the registration page....
Ancestry currently offers the following Chicago Voter Registration databases:
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