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Volume 7, Number 3 Mountain Press, P.O. Box 400, Signal Mountain, Tennessee 37377, 1-423-886-6369 February 12, 2015
In this article we discuss the importance of the birth records. Many times you will find various dates for the birth records. I would just suggest that you always record your source if you need to go back later to verify. Also, try to find the date from multiple sources if possible.
James L. Douthat
Having just finished transcribing the birth records for a Virginia county, I am reminded how many of us researching our ancestors need this information as accurate as possible. There are a number of places that this is recorded and when you compare them, there can be a great deal of difference. This difference is due mainly from someone not being too careful when they write down the information. It is so easy to transpose numbers, especially when you are dealing with a large number of them. Then there is the problem in reading the numbers and you have to ask yourself is that a 5 or a 3? Or is that a 6 or an 8? Did the “A” indicate April or August? Lots of errors can creep into the records.
The family Bible is one of the major sources for this information in most of the areas where we are working. Even if you get the information fifty years later, it is extremely important. Most state archives have collections of family Bibles and their data, but you have to know where to look to find them. Many societies have made efforts to collect these for their area of interest. In Tennessee, the D.A.R. collected these statewide a couple of years back and have thousands on file and a CD that goes with their published index that is several inches thick. Any of the chapters in Tennessee should have a copy as does the National D.A.R. Library in Washington, D.C.
Be careful since sometimes the dates in the family bible are incorrect and you may not be able to verify the information if many of the older generation have since passed away. I had my Grandmother Painter’s Bible out one day and was copying the information recorded there. When I finished, she casually said that her birth date was wrong. She had changed it when they were married to make it appear she was older than she was at the time. Now that their fiftieth anniversary had passed, it did not seem as important now. I don’t know if she ever changed it back, but I recorded it as she told me. Her tombstone had it right, thank goodness. Normally, I say to trust the family Bible above all the others, but then I remember my grandmother and even that now is held in question. The family Bible is a great place to start. If they are off by two years, you can see the difference when you collect a number of them with the sources.
Then there are the tombstones with their dates. Here again the information is important, but sometimes filled with errors. Remember who puts the dates on them. It is not always the spouse as it might be a child or even a grandchild. Heaven forbid it is just a neighbor or a friend. Keep in mind the person engraving the tombstone might transpose the numbers as well.
There are other sources for the birth records as well. There are military records for the men. Also, there are school records and many other sources of information that you might find. Make sure that you record each and make note on the source. This will prove valuable later on in your research.
In some states, we are lucky that they followed another route. States like Pennsylvania, Virginia, West Virginia and Kentucky all started early to collect the birth records on a somewhat systematic fashion. I am most familiar with the latter three as I have transcribed many of the records from these three states, all stemming from the mother ship - Virginia. In 1853, the State of Virginia requested, not mandatory, that each clerk of the counties in the state have a book to record the births and deaths. They already collected the marriages and other documents. Citizens of the county were requested to come in and record the birth of a child. They wanted the date of birth, location of birth, name if given, parent’s name, father’s occupation, health of the child and the child’s sex/race. There was one more request and this is where it gets interesting. They also asked the name of the person giving the information. The informant would give their name and their relationship to the couple. In the vast majority of the time, it was one of the parents giving the information. Then there might be a sibling, Uncle, Aunt, and in some cases a grandparent. By the surname, you are most likely to identify which parent thus expanding your chart by a generation. If this happens to be a grandmother with a different last name, don’t jump up and yell. The clerks don’t like the noise to disturb their quiet time. Just do a little dance inside your head!
Of course in these records, some are listed as “slaves” and the “father” is usually the owner or mistress if a female. There are illegitimate children recorded also. In some records they are listed as “base child”, “woods colt” or even “bastard”. We don’t get into this as much anymore.
Most of the states began collecting this data into the 20th century and so these are easier to find. It is the older ones that are so important to most of us in our research. Look everywhere and compare the data and note the source of each. Don’t pin all of your research on one source, but verify as much as you can from various sources. Just remember, not everyone is as careful as are you.
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