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Chicago Building Permits Digital Collection 1872-1954

Using the Pre - 1912 Ledger Collection

Ledger Detail: Pre-1912

Before 1912, the building permits were recorded in a format that looks like a spreadsheet, with each permit on its own row. Permits often traveled across two pages to convey all of the permit detail.

Pre-1912 ledgers may include:

  • Permit number, address, date
  • Owners name or construction name
  • Number of stories
  • Feet and lot measurements
  • Additions
  • Remarks from builder


  • Identify key information in your index card to find your ledger
    • Permit Number
    • Date of permit issue
    • Ledger book title and page number, if provided.
  • Select the approximate ledger book according to the key information
  • Scroll through the reel to the correct book, then toward the date of your permit.
  • Use the permit number and address to confirm your permit.

Steps in Detail: Example - 113 S. Aberdeen St


1.) Identify key information in your index card

  • Permit number 2208
  • Date of permit: June 11, 1892
  • Pre-1909 Address: 44 Aberdeen



2.) Go back to the Digital Reel homepage


3.) Select the Chicago Building Permit Ledgers

You will see a list of the ledger book reels.  There is often more than one ledger book per reel. Read the titles carefully, looking for the city section (North, South), and dates.



4.) Select the appropriate ledger book

  • You're looking for a permit that was issued in June 1892, so read the ledger reel titles to find a book that covers that date.
  • The permit should be in Book H, Northwest and Southwest: Jul 21, 1891 - Apr 30, 1894.



5.) Find your permit inside the ledger book

  • There are two ledgers on the reel you've selected. You need the second ledger book
  • The ledger you want goes from July 1891 to April 1894.
  • You want to scroll at least 1/2 way, but not 3/4 of the way through the reel to be near the July 1892 permits.
  • In this case, the permit appears on page 368 of 546 pages on the reel.
Start by navigating the ledger by date, zeroing in on June 11, 1892 as you scroll. For pre-1912 ledgers, the place to look is the upper left hand corner of each two-page image.  That will show the year at the top. The month and day will be listed just below the year, then individual days will be indicated as you scan down the date column.  Not every permit will have its own date.  You need to read up and down the column to find the area where your permit date appears.
The permit numbers will be right next to the date area, and they will usually be in order.  You can see that Permit number 2208 appears here.

6.) Confirm the permit

  • The permit is going to go across the two-page spread of the ledger.  If you want to save or print the permit, you may have to zoom in on multiple areas to record the entire permit.
  • Remember that at the time this permit was issued, the address for this property was 44 Aberdeen, not 113 S. Aberdeen.
  • Confirm that permit number 2208 is for address 44 Aberdeen St.


  • Permit number: 2208
  • Name of owner: A.J. Baxter
  • Number of stories: 1
  • Kind of building: "additional" (addition)
  • Feet front: 24
  • Feet deep: 66
  • Lot: 4
  • Block: 3
  • Addition to Subdivision: N.E. 44 Div 17
  • Street address: Aberdeen
  • No.: 44
  • Amount received for permit: $2.60


The "Addition to Subdivision" area will often use both abbreviations and area designations that are not familiar today.  In this case, "N.E. Div 17" is not an area that we use in Chicago's current neighborhood designations.

While the permit does not show the cost for construction, it does show the cost for the permit: $2.60. You can look at the relative cost for the other permits ($6 for a 3 story dwelling, $1 for a basement) to get a sense of how significant or expensive the construction was.


Printing Pre-1912 Permits

You may need to print a few different enlarged screen images to get a legible full permit from this style of ledger book.  Because the permit travels across two pages, and you can't always see the headings, it can be hard to isolate a single permit with the print large enough to see.  In the following example, the permit for the Auditorium Theater, issued June 25, 1887, has been pasted into image editing software to get the full permit and the page headings.


NEXT: Ledger Detail Post-1912