Publisher of Quality Genealogy Materials
Volume 9, Number 2 Mountain Press, P.O. Box 400, Signal Mountain, Tennessee 37377, 1-423-886-6369 February 1, 2017
Publisher's Notes In this article we discuss finding those birth records. Sometimes it is not easy to find them and often I find conflicting dates across various sources. Just be careful when you are researching!
As always, we enjoy your comments after the articles.
James L. Douthat
BORN WHERE ???? WHEN ??? One of the key items in our genealogical research is to locate where and when a certain ancestor was born. This sounds so easy today with our modern systems of records, but it has not always been that way. At various times in our past, the records have been kept in a variety of places, if at all. In Europe, the most common place to look is in the church records. This is true for many locations in America in the early days. However, as our ancestors began to move west, the churches were not the central point in the life of the pioneers. It is not that they were not religious, but the churches did not keep up with the movement west. In fact, our ancestors quite often were the ones to bring the church with them or pull them along later.
In my early days as a minister in a county seat town, I received a letter from the I.R.S. seeking information on the birth of someone who was born and raised in that town. Even after 1900, sometimes the records are not as complete as they should have been. As one historian told me, “We were too busy making history to record it.” In a couple of cases, I found the person in a Sunday School Class record, but it did not list the birthdays. In searching out the other members of the class, I could respond to the I.R.S. they were between the ages of X and Y. The individual was trying to establish a birth date in order to qualify for Social Security. I never found out if they qualified or not, but it definitely shows the importance of birth records.
If you are an immigrant from the Commonwealths of the nation, you will notice that their records are better than some others. In Virginia, which means Kentucky and West Virginia as well, you will find that they started keeping birth records as early as 1853 on a voluntary basis in the beginning. In some of these records, you will find that slaves are mentioned with the owner listed as the father. In those days, this was unfortunately done primarily to establish ownership. In transcribing a number of birth records for Virginia, West Virginia, and Kentucky, I have found that the information is a “gold mine” of details. It will sometimes give the mother and state “father unknown”. If the person signing the statement is the “grandparent”, you then have more than one generation.
If you are looking at dates earlier than this time, then you have to rely on other sources. The major source prior to this time are Bible Records. The real trick here is to find the Bibles. Don’t ever give up on this search. I had one of mine appear by accident one day in an e-mail from an unknown source in New England, where our family had never lived. I had a copy of the pages from the very beginning of my research, but had never seen the actual pages until the bible appeared. Remember the dates and names are just the best memory of those writing the information. If this is done by a parent, well and good, but sometimes others record in the Bibles and they might not be quite as accurate.
In some families, even the mother cannot be counted on to give an exact date for the birth of a child. One family I am very familiar with records that a couple of the eighteen children were born while mother was out in the field planting or gathering crops. The child just came and that was all there was to the matter.
If you are not certain, compare other records to get a consensus of opinions on the matter. You can look into the church records or even pension records, especially those for in military service. In many cases, the individual had to submit the actual record to prove the facts and the individual lost control of those marriage records, Bible records, etc. For example, when Lyman Draper was collecting his catalog of Revolutionary War soldiers, he collected all manner of material that is not housed in the Wisconsin Historical Society collection. Many of the primary sources are there to this day.
Another great source of information will be found in diaries and correspondence between family members. These are hard to find when you want them, but when find them be sure and make copies to be studied later. It is amazing when I go back into my family file cabinets and reread some of the letters I received 50-65 years ago when I first started my work. I always discover new facts that I have wanted for years. When I first received these letters, I did not know all I needed to know about the family. What I needed was there all the time, I just did not know I needed those facts. This is why I encourage you to go back and review the information you have collected periodically.
If we can get an approximate date and place, sometimes this is the best we can do for birth records. Even these are not absolute either. My own grandmother admitted to changing her birth date due to the fact that she was two years older than grandfather and in that era, this was not socially acceptable. Be careful is all I can say.
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