July 14, 2008

Cook County Clerk's Office - Genealogy Online

After reading the most recent Genealogy Roots Blog that included information about on-line vital records in Chicago and Cook County in Ilinois, I signed up for a free account.

After entering a user name and password I was able to view a link to every Coffey/Coffee in the birth, marriage and death records the county has thus far made available.


Instead of a document appearing when I clicked on the first link, I received a request for payment.

The Cook County clerk wants $15 for each document you download!

If researchers have long family histories in Cook county the fee is going to be either a turn-off for them or, a windfall for Cook Co.

Later, after I had taken some time to consider the implication of this huge fee to download the files, I decided to drop an e-mail to the "genealogy" office:

While I admire your office's efforts to place genealogy records on-line, I believe that Cook Co. is going a bit overboard on the fee-side.

Other states and counties around the country are making great effort to provide actual birth, death and marriage records to researchers at no charge. One example is Texas, which offers free, on-line copies of the actual document. Another example is the state of Kentucky.

Some other counties that have chosen not to provide the actual document, have provided adequate indexes, including volume and page number as well as other vital information from their public records. One example of that is Caldwell Co. in North Carolina.

Cook Co. decision to charge $15 for the opportunity to order and wait for a document is a tad over the top.

Researchers with ancestors in the Cook Co. area will be loathe to pay such an outrageous fee, especially if they have a deep history in that county.

I hope that Cook Co. will reconsider their fee structure with a view towards making the service more useful.

Thank you,

Jack Coffee
St. Joseph, LA

 This was their reply:

Dear Jack,

Thank you for visiting Cook County Genealogy Online. We truly appreciate feedback from knowledgeable hobbyists and  genealogists like you. While we understand your frustration with some features of the Web site and the temptation to compare the site to others, please let me explain our goals as well as our limitations.

Our goal for Genealogy Online is to quickly provide the same services customers find in our offices and through the mail, but through the convenience of the Internet. Our online customers can complete transactions from the comfort of home and receive their desired documents immediately while saving travel time and the expense of a trip to our counter.

In addition, the site gives the freedom to explore as many names as the genealogist desires, allowing for a much wider and more convenient search than can be done through the mail or in person. Web-purchased documents are also easily stored in their electronic format and can be quickly shared with family members across Cook County, Illinois, and the globe.

While we still must scan in about 20 percent of our genealogical records before Genealogy Online is ‘fully stocked’, the new site is leaps and bounds ahead of the process available just weeks ago.

However, we must adhere to state and local laws that determine what information we can provide and how much we must charge per document.

Ø   The price for genealogical documents is set by State statute and
County code. Therefore, the Clerk is legally mandated to collect fees for all copies released to the public.
Ø   In addition, we can provide only limited information before a viewer
orders a document. The law mandates a charge for the document “search”—not merely the copy. Unfortunately, searches do not always obtain the desired document.

The Clerk's office has been at the forefront in providing access to a wealth of information to hobbyists and serious genealogists alike.  I invite you to visit our site often in the future and watch for a growing library of records, new features, and our continuing commitment to customer service.

Thank you,

Tim Dever
Director of the Bureau of Vital Records for Cook County Clerk David Orr

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