Forgotten Chicagoans Rediscovered

After all these years, you may be able to find who you’ve been looking for. Barry Fleig, a cemetery historian and member of the Chicago Genealogists Society, has spent the past 20 years sifting through documents to create a searchable database of the people buried at Cook County Cemetery.

Nearly 38,000 people are buried at the site, but only about 8,000 have been identified. Located near what is the now the intersection of Irving Park Road and Narragansett Avenue, the cemetery was the final resting place of many of Chicago’s forgotten citizens, the indigent and the mentally ill; people who tend to be forgotten even before they die.

The cemetery went through numerous name changes and management during the 60 years it was in operation, all the way up until the 1920s. It isn’t clear what happened to the cemetery after that. Over time, the cemetery faded from people’s memory and the grave markers slowly disappeared. In 1989, developers purchased the land and began installing sewer lines on the property where the cemetery was located. While excavating, human remains started showing up. The digging had to stop, but the wrangling was just beginning.

To learn more about the complicated story that followed and to search for people buried in the cemetery, visit Cook County Cemetery.

Here at CPL, we have other great tools to help you piece together your family tree. You can search for obituaries in the Chicago Tribune Historical Archive going as far back as 1849. Check out our complete list of genealogy online resources, or visit any CPL location to use Ancestry Library Edition.