Dziennik Chicagoski Index History, etc.

This is one of those historical explanations of how the Dziennik Chicagoski death index came to be and changes it has undergone.

In the 1980s, the first volume of the index for 1890-1899 was completed by Fred Hoffman for the Polish Genealogical Society of America (PGSA). To make research resources available, the mindset of people at that time focused on publishing books (personal computers were a new thing and very expensive). That first volume (about a half inch thick) contained a translated transcript of the names and family relationships stated in each notice. The data for that book was typed on an electric typewriter. For later volumes, Fred used a computer to compile the data. Because the number of notices increased in later decades, the index became a finding aid rather than a transcript. The volumes would have been too big and expensive to print had they included transcripts.

The indexing project was stopped after the 1920-1929 volumes were printed in the early 1990s. It was already evident (to some of us) that the books were overpriced considering most people just took the information they needed and had no further need for the books. I remember manning the book sales tables at a PGSA conference and people looking up their information and writing it down as they browsed-- and had no intention of buying. I proposed doing the index online so that the PGSA did not have an inventory of books that few bought but had to store.

The PGSA was not interested in sponsoring indexing beyond 1929 so I independently continued indexing the rest of the run of the newspaper. At the time, I worked at Loyola University of Chicago and was able to get the newspaper via interlibrary loan. I worked on indexing during my lunch break in the library. I did not include "other surnamed" people in my index, preferring to keep it simple. I also focused on notices enclosed in black boxes (unlike Fred who also included names from articles or from Notatki Reportera items). Another difference is that I regularly indexed any other death related notices in black boxes. These often had scant genealogical information which is why Fred may have skipped most of them. I used a Tandy 102 laptop computer for data collection which while primitive by today's standards, I still consider it to be a remarkable device.

I asked Fred for computer data files of the books. Remember, the 1890-1899 volume was typed on a typewriter so no computer file for it existed. While the 1900-1909 and 1910-1919 volumes had been prepared on a computer (Coleco Adam), the system used was obsolete by the time I asked for the files and they no longer existed. He was able to provide the files for 1920-1929. I adapted them for searching and display online. A former PGSA webmaster created computer files from book copies of the 1900-1909 and 1910-1919 volumes to add to the 1920-1929 data. I created the computer file for the 1890-1899 volume from a book copy. This wasn't ideal because typos and omissions occurred which affected the ability to find some notices in the newspaper. For the period 1910-1919, many names beginning with W were not present presumably because a whole page (or pages) was skipped during the computer file creation.

Because of typos and omissions, the index entries for 1890-1919 may have more errors than the original newspaper notices. While Fred was very accurate, creating computer files from the books added uncertainty. To address the typos/omissions issue, I began comparing the information in the data file against the entries in the newspaper itself for 1900-1929. As I did the comparison, I also entered relationship information in a condensed format and added it to the index. It is NOT a full transcript! One should always consult the original death notice for additional clues. My additions to the index do not include relationships for unnamed persons. I only listed NAMED persons and their relationships. So a notice may say the deceased had children but that fact would not be apparent in the index unless the children's names were stated in the notice. Many death notices list sons separately from daughters. I combined them into a single list of children (/chil.). Notices also often list brothers separately from sisters. I combined them into a single list of siblings (/sib.) A mother and/or father get lumped together as parents (/par.). Generally speaking, the / character is a separator of different bits of information and marks the start of that information. So, a list of children follows "/chil." versus coming before it (opposite of how it is presented in the newspaper). This index is provided to researchers "as is" and I am open to correcting errors I have made.

The book indexes had cross reference entries to death notices of the deceased but not to the date the notice was published. Using the cross references that Fred had already made, I checked them against the deceased's name and added the date of the notice. This added step allowed me to find and correct some orphaned entries that occurred when a name was misspelled. This was done for 1890-1909. I still have two orphaned records that I have not been able to resolve-- not bad for a span of 20 years of notices!

You can tell from the above discussion that indexing the death notices of the Dziennik Chicagoski was not a monolithic process but was done in sections, each with its own features/peculiarities. For example, from 1890-1929, women with adjectival surnames were indexed using the -ska ending and you would need to take that into account during a search. From 1930 to 1971, that type of surname was indexed with her father or husband's -ski ending. The entire run of the index uses Polish given names but sometimes there are different spellings-- for example Feliks and Felix. Another common spelling issue with given names is -ya, -ja, -ia interchangeability as in Marya, Marja, or Maria.

In the early years, it was rare for a death notice to run more than one day. I suppose that Fred Hoffman had used the date of publication of a notice as the date of death in the 1890-1899 section. As I worked with that section, I noticed that a person had a different date of death depending on the date of publication. For example, a notice on 11 Oct. 1897 listed the date of death as 11 Oct. 1897 but in the 12 Oct. 1897 edition, the death date was now 12 Oct. 1897! It may have been that the actual date of death was not explicitly stated so the date of publication was used instead. Even the earliest listed date might not be actual date of death. I changed any later dated deaths to the earliest death date I could find. In the 1900-1909 section of index, Fred created a new entry each day a notice was repeated (with the correct date of death). The original 1910-1919 index did not have a new entry for each repeated day. There was only one entry created for the most complete/correct version of the notice. While preserving a single entry per death, I added notations to show the other days a notice may have appeared.

In the 1890-1899 section, a translated transcript of the death notice had been included. While not a part of the 1900-1909 or 1910-1919 index sections, I have since added them. You should always check out the original notice. For example I grouped together as /sis-in-law both bratowa and szwagierka and that distinction may be important to you as a researcher. I also added entries for other types of records whereas the original index left some out (I'm not sure what criteria were used for selection.)

Like the original 1900-1909 and 1910-1919 sections, when Fred did the 1920-1929 section, he created a main entry for the deceased and an entry for any 'other surnamed' person. I made new entries as 'obit name' entries from the 'mentioned' entries so that these 'other surnamed' people were grouped with the main entry of the deceased when displayed. <-- this paragraph is now obsolete since a condensed 'transcript' includes (and replaces) that information.

For 1900-1919, the 'mentioned' cross references Fred made were retained however typos likely occurred during the computer file creation. Ideally such 'mentioned' references should be redone perhaps by parsing the condensed transcript associated with each deceased person.

For the 1930-1971 section, I included only the name of the deceased and created cross reference entries only for maiden names and aliases. In other words, entries in this section leave out information that might otherwise be in the notice. <-- 1930, 1931, 1932 and 1933 were redone to include the complete condensed 'transcript'.

Death notices typically occurred in the last part of the paper so I routinely started looking for death notices towards the end. If I didn't find a notice there, I then looked through the other pages. This was done to cut down on the time downloading images. Fred did not index most of the Memorial notices in black boxes. Generally, I added any black boxed information related to a death to the index. For the 1910-1919 section, I looked at dates that supposedly had no notices and found that some of them had repeat notices. I did not do the same thing for the 1900-1909 section because I didn't think I needed to-- that might have been a wrong assumption.

As I extracted names and relationships from the death notices, I had an opportunity to see the headlines and what was happening in the world-- for example, the sinking of the Titanic or news about what became known as World War I. At times, the number of death notices increased dramatically. The Eastland disaster in July 1915 took many Polish lives. The 1918 flu pandemic resulted in many more notices in October of that year. As you might expect, the number of memorial notices increased one year later in 1919. If I had time (and I don't!) I thought it would be interesting to create an index of Polish people in published photos. Sometimes there were photos of couples to be married or who celebrated their anniversaries. If I found they had a record in this site's marriage index, I added a notation to their marriage record. There are also unindexed photos of soldiers on leave or who returned from the war. In other words, the Dziennik Chicagoski includes a lot of information about Polish life that has not indexed.

I was most interested in "getting it done" (focusing on the content of death related black boxes) instead of reading every line of every page. But every now and then as I "turned pages" to get to the one with the death notices, I found items related to deaths that were not in the index. I added them. I want to be clear that this occurred on a random basis as I was not looking for those items. There is likely more information on other pages that could have been added to the index.

Special problem: Microfilming is usually done with high contrast film. The digitizing of the newspaper was not done from the original paper newspapers but rather by scanning the already available microfilms. The imaging was likely two tone black and white to keep file sizes minimal. Generally this was adequate but if the threshold levels during scanning were not set properly, you can get images that are "too light" or "too dark" to read. You can make out some letters and can guess at others. I added a comment like "poor" or "bad" digital copy to the record in those instances. The names and relationships in these records may have errors or there may be omissions. I assume you will use the digital versions of the newspaper for look-ups (easiest access) but you may need to try to use the microfilm copies and hope the image is better there (it probably is) if the scan is bad. Scanning problems seemed particularly bad for 1907 and usually at the binding edge. The newspapers for a given time period were often bound together in book form (usually about 3 inches thick). Inadequate light near the bound edge and the curvature of the page there makes that region of the image challenging. Of course it seems that many death notices were printed at the binding edge!

As I began working with the 1900 death notices, the newspaper was often only 4 pages long with death notices usually appearing on page 2. The Saturday edition was usually longer at 8 pages with death notices appearing on page 5. As time went on, there were a few more 8 page editions on other days. By the end of 1904, all days were 8 pages with death notices now usually occurring on page 7. The actual page number varied as time went on-- even varying from day to day. In 1913, a Sunday supplement was added to the Saturday edition. The supplement usually featured longer articles about churches and neighborhood institutions. Many editions from 1914 (pretty much January-March is missing) were not filmed and therefore not indexed. **

Let's talk about three types of notices. The first of these are lists of deaths headed by Zmarli or Umarli. These are not always easy to find in the newspaper (particularly when they use some other word at the start of the list).* Sometimes these lists came from church records. At other times the list appear to be from civil sources because names are misspelled. The editors probably chose people whose names could pass for Polish but that is no guarantee they actually were. And how did they know that unidentified bodies (listed but not indexed) were Polish? The lists usually only include the name, the date of death, the age of the deceased, and their address. You might want to check if the deceased had a more detailed notice elsewhere. The second type of notice are those that are more like news articles. These articles are perhaps for more prominent people or more often notices of thanks. The index did not include all of these notices perhaps because they had limited genealogical value or the person did not have Chicago connections. For example, it may be a biography of a priest and his service to the church but doesn't say anything about his family. The third type of notice is easy to find because they are enclosed in thick black lined boxes and may have a religious cross. These are usually the most valuable to the genealogist. Among these boxed notices, there are memorial notices, usually near a person's anniversary of death. Another of these boxed notice are what I have called mov(e) notices. I infer that these notice announce the date a person was reinterred or finally buried. As many of these occurred in the spring following a winter death, could it have been they had to wait for the ground to thaw to dig the grave? In the case of a re-interment, the family may have purchased a family lot and moved the body from a term grave. Another boxed notices are society or res(olution) notices placed by a group the deceased belonged to. These do not have family relationships but may be useful for establishing the group.

The typical death notice will start with the name of the deceased, the date of death, and their age. Funeral details usually follow including where visitation will take place, the church where the mass will take place and the name of the cemetery. In the early years (say pre-1940), it was customary to have visitation in the home of the deceased so the notice includes their address. Again in the early years (pre-1910), the most common cemetery was St. Adalbert Cemetery in Niles, IL. Different churches had sections within the cemetery for their parishioners so an early notice saying someone would be buried in St. Stanislaus Cemetery meant St. Stanislaus Section of St. Adalbert Cemetery. A notice saying burial would be in the Czesko-Polski Cemetery is again a reference to St. Adalbert Cemetery. The bottom section of the death notice is where relatives are named and their relationships given. The index generally lists names in the same order given in the notice but not always.

* In one instance the list of deaths was attached to the list of marriages which made it a challenge to find them. In a couple of other instances the death lists were titled as marriages. (Was this a Freudian commentary on a relationship between death and marriage?)

** One might ask if the paper was published for the times missing in the 1914 run. The serial numbers on the masthead of the paper are not continuous telling us that while the paper was published, there was no surviving copy for filming. The paper was printed on cheap highly acidic paper which disintegrated into "crumbs" over time. In the late 1980s, Ed Peckwas told me that the publishers of the Dziennik Chicagoski had an outstanding debt with the Polish Roman Catholic Union of America (PRCUA). The PRCUA foreclosed on the debt so the paper ceased publication. The paper's assets were assumed by the PRCUA. One of these assets was an incomplete run of the newspaper. Some years or parts of years had already been bound in book form and stored on shelves in the PRCUA basement. Some of the runs were basically piles of "crumbs" and one of the piles was probably from 1914. I don't know the current status of the surviving books. The last time I saw them was in about 2014. It would be great if these books could be imaged. Why? The previously microfilmed copies have had missing or damaged pages.
The newspaper run used to make the microfilm likely was collected through the mail as a subscription service. The paper was folded in order to mail it and the creases affected the quality of the photography/imaging. So imaging good quality pages from the book is preferable.

The second asset was what looked like an old fashioned card catalog cabinet with drawers containing a newspaper index on cards. The index focused on the clergy and Polish-American communities so it was not comprehensive. The index had been maintained by Father Książek and was used by John Parot as he researched his Polish Catholics in Chicago book. Ed Peckwas realized its value and brought the index into the Polish Museum of America Archives. A couple of drawers were missing. I had used the index once to locate an article about the Polish-American community of Florian in Minnesota for Ed. When I had some free time, I thought I might digitize the index to make it more widely available and free up space taken by the cabinet. Other artifacts were placed on top of and around the cabinet making it inaccessible. A few years later when I asked about the cabinet, the then archivist didn't know anything about it. I asked about the Książek Index (as Prof. Parot referred to it). I received confused looks because she interpreted Książek as 'book' instead of someone's name. I got nowhere. So I don't know if the index exists or was discarded because they didn't know what it was.