You can do the research yourself

If you have visited this page before and have gone through all the steps and understand the process, click here for the weblinks and tools provided. It’s a short-cut.


There are generally two items of information people are interested in:

  1. Information about the building: who built it, when it was built and the architect who designed it;
  2. Information about who owned the property over the years.

Permit Information

Let’s first discuss how to find information about the building. The process is somewhat involved but it is not “rocket science.”

Some general observations:

In Edgewater, as a general rule, the larger the building the later it was built. The first residences were frame single family homes, followed by two- and three-flats and six-flats (generally brick) though not in strict chronological sequence. There was overlapping. Most single family homes were built by 1910 and most two and three flat buildings were built by 1918. The first court-yard building was built in 1911; the last in 1929. Most were built in the 1920s. All common-corridor buildings were built in the 1920s; there was almost no residential construction in the 1930s and 1940s. The 4+1 apartment buildings were built in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

While some developers such as J. L. Cochran and W. H. Cairnduff, and the Weber-Kransz Co built homes for resale, most of Edgewater’s single family homes were built by individuals for their own use.

Most people are interested in their single family home or small flat building.

First Step

We’ve showcased over 150 buildings in sponsoring our 25 years of home tours, mostly single family homes.  It’s a longshot, but we may have showcased your building, in which case we researched the permit information and that information is on our website. Alternately, we might have written an article about your building for our newsletter. We have also done research on over 25 buildings for individual owners and we have posted the results on our website (minus the names of the owners). To do a quick check, enter the current address number of your building in the search feature at the top right of the home page.  Don’t enter the street name too, e.g. "6242 Wayne."  Instead, enter just "6242."  You might get a reference to 6242 Magnolia, but if you are searching for 6242 Wayne and the building was on one of our home tours, or we’ve otherwise written about it, you will find it by entering just the number.  If you enter "6242 Wayne" you might not find it.

Second Step:  If you were unsuccessful in searching our website, you might want to visit the Cook County’s Assessor’s web site (www.cookcountyassessor.com) to get an approximate age of the building.  Go to property search and then search by address. You will then get information about the property, including the PIN (Permanent Index Number). Write this number down as you will need it when you go to the Cook County Recorder of Deeds. One of the items of information is the approximate age. While it needs to be confirmed, it can be accurate within a year or two. Just subtract the age in years from the current year and you will get the year it was built – at least according to the records in the Assessor’s database, e.g. 2012-104=1908. This data is not always reliable, however.

The third step is to determine whether the building existed in 1905 or 1909. And you can do that right here on this website using the guide we’ve prepared. (Note: this is not a required step, but it is a helpful one that will save you time and effort.)

First some background:

In 1909, most of the City (and all of Edgewater) converted its building numbers to those we have today. In approximately September 1909, the City produced a conversion table showing what new number replaced the old number. For north-south streets the differences between the old and new numbers are quite pronounced so that one is not likely to be confused as to which is the old number and which is the new. Not so for east west streets. For these, the numbers may be very close, and they more than likely overlap. To add to the confusion is the fact that while under today’s numbering system all east-west street numbers west of Madison Street increase as one proceeds from east to west, just the opposite was the case under the old system. Often the numbers would start at a point somewhere west (a different point for each street) and then increase as one proceeded east. Thus it is not possible to know just by looking at a number for these east-west streets whether it is an old or new number.

We have produced that conversion table for Edgewater addresses here. We’ve also annotated that table to show whether a structure that existed in July 1909 was also on the 1905 Sanborn fire-insurance map. If the building was on the 1905 map, the “sheet” number for that map is shown in the column at the far right. (For information on fire-insurance maps, click here.)

It’s a simple process. First find your street. (The north-south streets are separate from the east-west streets.) When you click on your street, you will get a list of addresses for which a structure existed in July 1909. Look for your current address. If you find it, note the corresponding old number. Write it down as you will need it to find permit information. Also look to see if the building you are interested in was shown on the 1905 Sanborn fire-insurance map [1905? column]. If so, also write down the map “sheet” number in the last column, in case you want to look at the map itself.  Also, if your street had a different name than the current number (most Edgewater streets did not,  but a few did), write down the former, original name.

Note: if the building you are interested in is on a corner, the address may be shown on either street. If you don’t find it on one street you will need to look on the other. Also, if your street had a different name prior to its current name, that former name will be shown after the current name. Write down the former name as you will need it later. [Note also, if there is a ? in the exact match column, it means that there is uncertainty as to whether there is an exact match. There could have been a typo made in the original compilation of the address conversion table. If there is a ? in the 1905? column click here and then find your street to see if there is an explanation. The old# column to the right of the 1905? column is the address number that appears on the 1905 Sanborn map]

If you don’t find your building on the conversion table, there are two possibilities: (1) there was an error, either in the compilation of the original table or in our transcription of it (not very probable); (2) your building did not exist in July 1909 and was constructed later (much more probable).

Click here to consult the conversion table.

(Note if you are researching a Chicago property not in Edgewater, you can either skip this step or else go to the published conversion table that is available on-line at the Chicago History museum. Please note: it is a large PDF and may time some time to load. Click here for this table.)

The fourth step is to find the permit information.

Online via the Internet

You may be able to find permit information on-line if the permit was issued during the period 1898 through 1912. At least two weekly publications published permit information from the Chicago Building Department within seven days of the issuance of the permit. The Chicago History Museum created a database for permit information published by one of them – the American Contractor. (Click here to learn more about how this database was constructed and some of its limitations.)

Go to the website of the Chicago History Museum (www.chicagohs.org). From the home page find “Research Visit.” Click on it. Next find “Research Resources” and click on it. You will get a list of resources. Click on “Architectural & Building History.” Find “permit information” and then click on it. You will get a screen that offers you several options. Go to the last option which allows you to enter a street name and a year the magazine was published ("Combined Search: Street Name and American Contractor Issue Year"). (Click here for a direct link to the American Contractor database search page.)

If you previously found that the building you are interested in was on the 1905 Sanborn fire-insurance map, enter the street name and 1905 for the search. If your street had a previous name, enter that name rather than the current name. You will need the old address number to find your building. If you don’t find it as a result of the 1905 search, simply change the year to the preceding year. Continue doing this until you find it or until you get to 1898.

If your building was found on the 1909 conversion table but was NOT found on the 1905 Sanborn fire-insurance map, you have an easier task: Enter 1909 as the publication year. If not found for that year, do another search with the year 1908. If not found for that year, do additional searches back through 1904. You should find it.

If your building was not found on the 1909 conversion table, you still might find it using the on-line American Contractor database. (A permit could have been issued in late 1909 or in 1910, 1911 or 1912.) Follow the above instructions, but enter 1909 as the publication year (the permit could have been issued after the conversion table was compiled.) If you don’t find it as a result of the 1909 search, simply change the year to the next year. Continue doing this until you find it or until you get to 1912, the last year in the database.

Special circumstances: If the permit for your building was issued in the later part of 1909 (or even earlier) but the building was not substantially completed by the time the survey was done on the block for the compilation of the 1909 conversion table, the building will not appear in the conversion table.  You will thus not be able to find permit information for the building on-line.  You will instead have to consult the microfilm of permit information at either the Chicago History Museum or the Daley Library at the University of Illinois at Chicago.  See below.

 

Architects

Most often, if you find your building using the American Contractor database, the information provided will include the name of the architect. You can use this same database to learn of the other buildings he designed. The best way is to use the combined name of architect and year of publication option, just as you did the address and year of publication option. It is slower but more complete than using the name of architect only option. Entries are sequenced by street name under each individual version of the spelling of the architect’s name. There are variations in both spelling and manner of designation. For example, for Edgewater architect Niels Buck, entries have also been found for N. Buck, Nels Buck, Neils Buck, Nils Buck, Niles Buck, and N. Buck & Co. It is, therefore, better to use just the last name of the architect. You might get entries for other architects with the same last but different given names or architects whose last name includes your search name, but you won’t miss any entries for the architect. If the last name of your architect is a long name or is one that could be misspelled, you might want to use just the first few letters, e.g. Sch for Schmidt – at least after you have entered the full name.

Original owner of your building

You might be interested to learn whether the original owner of your building – the person who had your building constructed – was a developer or at least built more than just your building – and if so where the other buildings were. You can do this too using the American Contractor database. Use the original owner search option at right. You probably don’t have to use the combined name and publication year option, just enter the last name of the owner.

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If you did not find your building on the American Contractor database, the permit for your building was probably issued either before 1898 or after 1912. Please note that if the building permit was issued before July 1889, you will not be able to find any permit information. The reason is that prior to this date Edgewater was part of the City of Lake View, not part of the City of Chicago. The permits for the City of Lake View were lost. Fortunately, in Edgewater very few structures west of Broadway had permits issued before July 1889. Generally, those that were are in the BARGE neighborhood area east of Clark and the WANT and WEAR neighborhood areas west of Clark, and they are very, very few.

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If a permit was issued for your building before 1898 but after July 1889, you might be able to find permit information for it by consulting the table we prepared.   We say might advisely because while the list is reasonably complete, an exact numerical address was not always given, particularly in the early years.  The table does not include properties east of Broadway unless they were still standing in 2013.  Also–and this is important–the table is sequenced by the street name as it was when the permit was issued. Click here for a list of Edgewater streets that had a different name than the one it has now.

Click here for the table of pre-1898 permit information.

Click here for abreviations used and explanations of data in the above table.

If you find your building on the table, you will note that the information does not include  the name of the architect.  To search for the name of the architect you will have to go to the Chicago History Museum.  And then it is a long-shot.  See the following section.

 

On Microfilm

To find permit information after 1912 (or under the special circumstances described above), you may need to go to the Chicago History Museum and use their research center.  However, you may find the information you seek on the table that we have prepared.  It was compiled by LeRoy Blommaert many years ago by reviewing the permit information published in the Economist magazine for permits issued for Edgewater addresses. 

Click here for this table of permit information after 1912. If you cannot find your property on this table, you will need to go to the Chicago History Museum. Go to the CHM website (www.chicagohs.org) and check the hours; they are more restrictive than the general museum hours. If you are not a CHM member, you will need to pay a fee to use the center. (As of 1/1/2013, the fee was $5.00 for a one time use and $15 for a one-year “pass”.) At the museum ticket desk, tell the person you just want to visit the research center and not the museum itself.

Once you get to the research center and check in (it’s on the 3rd floor), tell the person at the desk what you want to do. They are very helpful. It is a two step process. First you will be given a microfilm reel for your street (current name). More than one street will usually be on a reel. They will show you how to install the reel in the machine (it appears each microfilm reader operates differently). If possible, get a machine that advances the film using a motor rather than by hand, otherwise your arm will be sore at the end.

This first reel that you will be given is a microfilm of the ancient index card files that contain information needed to find the permit ledger. These index cards were probably created in the 1930s as a WPA project. They were filed in street address order by the current street number. However, just like the library index cards of old, they could be misfiled, or even missing. Once you find your building write down all the information you find on the card. You will need this for the next step. The information on the card includes the street name (old as well as current if the street name changed), address number (old as well as current, if the building existed in July 1909), the permit number and, perhaps, the page number of the ledger. If the card is marked “Sundry” it means a permit for some alternation rather than for the original construction. You will want to disregard such a card.

Unfortunately, not all the information is legible. The cards for permits issued before 1909 were generally typed and can be easily read. However, later some of the information was handwritten, and one of the most important pieces of information – the date – was stamped. Sometimes the year is very difficult to discern and you may have to make some educated guesses. Ask at the desk for a magnifying glass to help you try to make out the number. It the last digit could be, a 3 or an 8, write that down.

Note: If the month and day are clear but the year is not but it could be one of two or three years, there is a way to check each year, without going to the micofilm for each year.  The Chicago History Museum maintains on open shelves photocopies of the building information as published in two magazines, the Economist and the American Contractor.  Ask a staff person to show you were they are.  Keep in mind that there is a lag between the time a permit was issued by the building and the time it was published.  The lag is usually 7 days or less.  Thus if the permit date is March 6, you will want to check in the magazine photocopies for the first date after March 6 for each year.

Give the permit information you found to one of the staff at the front desk. They will look in a book to find the right reel/roll of permit ledgers that you need. They will do this based on the date of the permit. Generally, the permit ledgers are organized by section of the city, e.g Lake View, Hyde Park or later north side, south side, northwest side.

Unlike the first reel you were given, which is sequenced by street and then by address and is easy to find a particular address, finding the permit you want on the permit ledger is more complicated, as it is organized by section of the city and then within each section by permit number. Often, several sections of the city are on the same reel, so it is important to find the right section, which for Edgewater is either Lake View or North Side. For example, Reel number 12 includes three books: (1) Book L (January 1898 through December 1897 for the North and South sides); Book M (January 1895 through 1897 for the Northwest and Southwest sides); and Book N (January 1898 through July 1901, for the North and South sides). If the permit for your building was issued July 3, 1900, you will need to first find Book N on the reel and then the North side. Since the books are in order on the reel, you will need to fast forward on the microfilm reader until you are almost at the end of the reel to find the North side section and then within this section, the permit number. Finding the permit thus is not so straight forward. Unfortunately, the individual pages that were microfilmed do not contain the number of the book nor do they indicate the section of the city. Once you are reasonably sure that you have found the right book, a handy way to ensure that you are in the right section of the city is to look at the column for street addresses. If you see other north side streets, you are in the right section; if you see a street such as 55th Street, you are not.

Prior to 1912, the information for each permit is given in a row/column format, similar to what you would find on an excel or other spreadsheet. The columns are as follows, from left to right: for the left page: number of permit, date permit was issued, name of owner, number of stories, materials of building (e.g. frame, brick, stone), kind of building, feet front, feet deep, feet high; and for the right-hand page: part of lot, S lot, lot, block, addition to sub-division, street or avenue, no (street number), amount received for permit, remarks, and estimated cost. The information for each permit is shown on an individual row which extends across two pages. Because of this and because of peculiarities in the way the individual pages were microfilmed, it is important to be sure that the information on the left-hand page matches the information on the right-hand page. Sometimes the rows don’t exactly “line-up.” You can be sure that you continue on the correct row on the right hand page by checking the printed number on each row on the ledger page. For example, if the permit information you want is on row 30 at the very left of the row, check to see that the row you are looking at on the right-hand page is also numbered 30. Click here for an example of two related right and left hand pages.

Beginning in 1912, the format of the permit information changes rather drastically. Rather than a row/column format, the information is given on an almost square piece of paper that was microfilmed. At the top you will find; Water application number, permit number, date, and file number. On the left side you will find: name of owner, address of property, name of architect and name of contractor, and building dimensions. At the bottom you will find summaries of building inspections and constructions, including the final inspection. And finally, the estimated cost of construction (often understated to keep down the permit fee).

Approximately nine permit forms are found on a page. They are not always in the exact order you may think they should be; however, you have three pieces of information to use in finding the correct permit: the permit number, the file number, and the date, and perhaps also a fourth, the page number. Since this number is printed in either the upper left or right hand part of the page, looking for the page number first is often the easiest and fastest way to find the permit you are looking for.

Once you find the permit information you are looking for, write down all the information.

Finding the architect

Prior to 1912, the name of the architect was not shown on the permit ledgers. Thus, if a permit was issued for your building before 1898 (the first year of the American Contractor database), you will not find the name of the architect on the permit ledger. You may, however, be able to find the name of the architect using another source, the weekly publication called the Economist. The CHM call number is “HGI.E3 oversize.” This publication is available in both hard bound and microfilm. Ask for the hard bound version, as it is easier to read. You have the date the permit was issued, so ask for the volume that includes the permit date. A given year comes in two bound volumes, January 1 through June 31, and July 1 through December 31. If the permit date is in the later part of June or December order the next volume as well.

Once you get the volume or volumes you ordered, find the first issue AFTER the date the permit was issued. Go to the back of the issue. The listing of permits should be at the very end of the issue. Check to see if your permit is listed. It should be listed in the North Side section, but occasionally, is misclassified. Next go to a section that is a few pages before this listing. It is called “Building Information” and is listing of information provided by the architects of the day regarding their work either as press releases or as a result of inquiries by the Economist staff (we don’t know for sure how it was done.) You will need to read through the entire list. Generally, the information is organized alphabetically by the last name of the architect or architectural firm. A typical item will read: “Architect John Smith has designed for Mary Jones a 3 story house on Magnolia [or it could be just Edgewater]. It will be built of brick and stone and will cost $4,000.” From the permit ledger you will have the name of the owner for whom the house was built. You will need to search for the owner’s name. If you don’t find it in the issue where the permit information is published, go back one or two issues before and, if you still don’t find it, go to the next two issues after the issue where the permit information was published. Keep in mind that not all architects furnished information to the Economist staff and, in the case of major developers, the architect may be unknown. If you do find a citation for the owner of your building, copy the citation word for word and note the issue date and page.

[Note: Permit microfilm records are also found at the Daley Library of the University of Illinois at Chicago (2nd floor). Its hours of operation are greater and there is no charge for using the library; however, there is no one to assist you in finding what you are looking for.]

Architectural plans: People often ask where they can find the architect’s original plans for their home. The unfortunate answer is that there is no central place where they can be found – at least that is the case for permits issued before 1955. The city does not have them. The only way one can find architectural plans is if the original owner passed them down to successive owners, or if the architectural plans were given to the Art Institute by the architect or the architect’s descendents. This is very rare, however, and only applies to a few well-known architects.

Property Records

To find the names of all the people who owned the property on which your building sits, you will need to go to the Cook County Recorder of Deeds. The records you want are in the basement of the County side of the City/County building in Chicago’s loop at 118 N. Clark. The County side is the east side of the building. If you take the Red Line (and we would encourage you to do so, as loop parking is expensive), get off at Lake St. When you enter the building from Clark St., turn left and proceed toward the back and take the first set of stairs you see. They too will be on the left.

You want to see the tract books. They are all housed in a very large room. At the desk, give the Permanent Index Number (PIN) to one of the clerks. They are paid to help people find what they are looking for; it is their job. Tell them what you want to do.

Here is what a clerk will do for you: He or she will go to one of the computers and enter the PIN in the appropriate search field. A number of documents will pop up. The clerk will pull one up on the screen and find the legal description. The clerk will write down this information. With this information he or she will go to one of the big index books and will find the tract book number that corresponds to the legal description. The clerk will then go and find that tract book, open it to the correct subdivision and the specific block and lot number(s) for your property. The documents that traces all the legal transactions affecting the property are in date order. The documents are coded. The following are the most common.  If you want a complete list, click here.

D = Deed
QC = Quit Claim
R = Release
TD = Trust Deed (loan or mortgage)
WD = Warranty Deed

You want to record information for documents that have a code of “D” or “WD”

All the entries are handwritten. You will notice that the handwriting, while very neat and legible for the early years, deteriorates for later years.

Note: Often two or more parcels (combinations of lots) will be on the same page. You will want to be sure that you look only for your parcel. For example if your building sits on the South 1/2 of lot 23 and the north 1/2 of lot 22, you will want to record information only for this parcel and not the North 1/2 of lot 23 and the south 1/2 of lot 24. Lots 22, 23 and 24 could be on the same page.

To assist you in your search of records, we have prepared a document you can take with you to record the information you want. Ask the clerk to record the needed information on this document so you will have it for your records. Click here to view and print this document.

Each record on the page has a document number. If you want to see the document, you will need to write the number down and give it to the clerk. The clerk will go to one of several books to find another number. That number will be written down on a form to be given to another clerk who will find the microfiche sheet that contains the number. You will need to take the microfiche sheet to another room where there are microfiche readers. If you want a copy of the document you will need to pay a fee. Generally, it is not necessary, or even helpful, to consult the document.

Here is the process that the clerk will follow that will enable you to get the microfiche where the document you want is located.  You can do it too.  Most documents you may want to consult are six or more digits in length.  Let’s use the document number 721567 as an example.  Count five digits from right to left, then place a comma before the fifth digit, e.g. 7,21567.  The number to the left of the comma, in this case 7, is the number of the index page book you will need to consult.  These books are found to the right as you enter the room and to the right of the most right group of computer screens.  Each book has page numbers marked in the upper right hand corner.  Two sheets that open out may have the same number.  In this case you want to first find page 721.  When you find this page, you want to find the printed number 567.  Opposite 567 will be a book number and a page number hand written number to the right of it.  These are numbers that you want to write down on the form that you will give to the clerk to find the microfiche for you.

Note: The tract books include transactions only through 1984. For transactions, 1985 and later you will need to consult one of the many computer screens you see in the room. Here again, a clerk will be able to help you. By using the software you will be able to view the actual documents on the screen. This is on the plus side; on the minus side, you must consult each Warranty Deed or plain deed to find out the name of the new owner.

Finding more about the people who owned your building

There are three things you can do to find out more about the people who owned your building.

One is you can consult the City of Chicago Directories to find whether the person who owned your building actually lived in the building and what that person’s occupation was. The person who had your building built did not necessarily live in the building. A number of buildings were built as investments to be either rented or sold later. The city directories have been microfilmed and are available at the Newberry Library, 60 W. Walton (2nd floor). The best way to reach the library is to use the CTA red line, get off at Clark & Division (assuming you coming from the north) and walk south on Clark until you get to Walton. Check its website (www.newberry.org) before you go to find out the hours it is open. Several of the City Directories are available on-line. They are in PDF format and take sometime to load. Click here to access them.

Two, you can consult various census, draft and other records to learn more. These are best consulted through Ancestry.com. The Newberry Library has a subscription and the staff of the genealogy section is very helpful in assisting people in using it.

There is no fee to use the library, but you must register to use the facility. Once you register, you will be given a pass that is good for a full year. There is a locker where you can keep your outer coat, hat and other belongings you will not need to use the research center (and which the staff will not allow you to bring into the research area).

The third thing you can do is to search the Chicago Tribune archives to find any articles in which the building address is mentioned. You can do this on-line via the Chicago Public Library website (www.chipublib.org). However, you must have a valid, current library card number, which you can obtain at any branch library, if you don’t already have one. The entire issues of the Chicago Tribune from 1847 to 1985 have been digitized by the Proquest company. This company has also digitized in a separate database, the issues from 1985 to the present.

Here’s how you find the two Chicago Tribune databases:

On the home page, go to the center column (On Line Research) and click on “A-Z Research Databases,” You will get a row of Letters. Click on “C”. When the list of “C”s appears, click on “Chicago Tribune Historical Archive.” [You can come back to use the current database later.] When you do that, you will be asked to enter your library card and zip code. Once you enter both items of information, you will be able to proceed. Click on “advanced search” at the top of the page. The default method of sort is “relevance.” Change that to “oldest first.” Now you are in a position to use the search feature. Enter the number and street for your building, e.g. “1258 Glenlake”; below it change the AND to OR and then enter the same information again except add the street direction, e.g “1258 W. Glenlake”. Doing this will enable the search engine to pick up both ways of referencing the address.

You may get nothing from the search. On the other hand, you may find out some interesting things that happened at the address or else happened to someone who lived at the address. Frequently, obituaries list the home address of the deceased. In addition to the current address, you might also want to enter the old street number and street name, if your building had an old number or was on street that changed its name. And, of course, you can enter the name of the owner too as a separate search.

If you encounter any problems, send us an email and we will do our best to help you. Be sure to include your telephone number.  Also, if you research your home using this guide, we’d appreciate your telling us how helpful it was to you.

If it was helpful to you, we invite you to make a donation, which you can do here from our website.  Scroll up this page to near the top and you will find the donate button on the left.

(Prepared by LeRoy Blommaert, January, 2013)

(Conversion tables prepared by Tom Walsh in 2011 and 2012 and reformatted for the website)