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Volume 2, Number 2 Mountain Press, P.O. Box 400, Signal Mountain, Tennessee 37377, 1-423-886-6369 Feb 10
Second Edition of 2010 - Genealogy Gazette
After discussing Marriage Records last month, we move to Birth Records this month. We hope you find some useful information in this article that can be used in your genealogy search. If you have any comments or suggestions, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
James L. Douthat
The old saying that genealogist want to “hatch, match and dispatch” everyone in their families seems true. Everyone wants the dates of birth, marriage and death for each of the entries in their charts. Of all of these dates, the birth date is the hardest to locate in most of the periods of history. There are a number of reasons for this dilemna. Let’s examine some of them and see if there is not a way to slip around that “brick wall”.
First, during a long period of our history, the birth of a child was not always celebrated with joy. In families with 10-15 average number of children, a birth could be seen as just one more mouth to feed on a very meager income and supplies. In fact, many times a child is not even named for the first five or so years as the parents wait to see if the child is going to survive those trying years of disease and illnesses. Families did not have the ability to ward off many of the diseases of their day. Children were often very weak in nature due to diet and supplies. A friend of mine always introduced herself as “the throw away baby”. She was the oldest of twins and when born in the home, the midwife told the friends gathered to just toss this one aside as she would not survive and then proceeded to work on the mother to deliver the younger sister. The grandmother took the oldest one, wrapped her up and kept her near the cook stove. This kept her warm and with plenty of nourishment, she survived. At 92, she would laugh and say she out lived all seven of her brothers and sisters.
Second, county records were not kept on births for most areas until the mid-nineteenth century. Virginia, including West Virginia, and Kentucky were among the first in the nation to collect birth records. In 1853, a volunteer program was started in each county in Virginia to record in the courthouse the births and deaths within each year. Residents would come in and register the births/deaths that happened in their home for the year with the Clerk. The 1853 book was kept open until about mid-year of 1854 to give everyone time to record the event. The birth records give the name of the child, sex/race, date of birth, parents, occupation and the informant. Many times, both the birth and death would be recorded on the same day. Owners of slaves would record the birth of the slave and the mother's name with the owner listed as the “father”. In fact, many times the owner would be the father, but they would also be listed as the “owner”. Often it was not the parents who gave the information to the clerk but it might be another relative - especially a grandparent. Most of the states in the Union started after 1900 to collect birth records and most states have these available for a small fee.
Third, other records such as church records, diaries, letters and newspapers are more difficult to find. For example, church records are very scattered and there is no consistency even within the same denomination as to how the records are kept. Most churches now have archives for various geographic regions. This is usually the first place to look as most of them collect local histories of each of the churches in their area. Other sources are diaries, letters, and newspapers. Many families do not have diaries in their immediate hands, but there are many that have been published for the local area. A local historical/genealogical society would have a listing of these and sometimes there is a relative that has kept a diary that was published and there may be facts you may not have seen before. If you can find a newspaper for your area, it may not even include birth notices. They do record marriages and deaths, but seldom births. However, many church newspapers do record the births and most of these are for a region and not just a local congregation. Check on these when you go to the archives of the denomination of interest.
The most important record for births is the family Bible, if one exists. If you think there is one somewhere in the family, it is worth the effort to try to locate a copy of the pages if you are not able to see the original book. Most families are very protective of these books and will not let them out of their hands. If this is your case, ask for a copy and don’t believe them when they say copying will destroy the pages. I’ve had technicians tell me that if you make 10,000 copies per day for ten years you might see some of the quality of the print diminish, but not much.
In 2008, the DAR chapters of Tennessee collected Bible Records as a preservation source. There were thousands of Bibles brought in to be scanned for inclusion. There is a 903 page printed index as well as a DVD with the actual images of each page of data in the Bibles. This is one of the most complete records available for research.
Finding those birth records is not the brick wall we all want to make of it. It is just another curtain that hides the truth from us. Somewhere the date is known, you just have to keep searching. I know that from my own research. My wife’s mother was one of 18 children and the birth dates were not written down until I became interested in the research. Most of the children were still alive and we gathered their birth dates directly, but their grandchildren did not know until we made the list available. Most of them now have access to the information. This was a family where most of the 18 could not agree on their grandmother’s name! I have about six to seven different names for her, but when we finally found the proof of the name, it was settled. The census was no help in this either as she was listed in four census, each differently.
Remember this is a giant jigsaw puzzle. Each piece is important and in time, it will all fit. Happy hunting!
BARBOUR COUNTY, VIRGINIA [now West Virginia]
BIRTH RECORDS 1854-1859
105 pages, Soft Cover, Full Name Index, 8.5" X 11", 2010
In 1853, the Virginia State Legislature authorized each county to collect the birth and death records for their county. Each entry was on a volunteer basis and included the name/date of birth or death/parents and some other information. These records for Barbour County contains over 6800 names indexed from the 105 pages taken from the original records in the Virginia State Archives. Most of the West Virginia Counties collected on their own after separating from Virginia early in the Civil War era.
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CALHOUN COUNTY, VIRGINIA [now West Virginia]
BIRTH RECORDS 1855-1860 AND DEATH RECORDS 1855-1859
54 pages, 8.5 x 11 inches, Soft Cover, Full Name Index, 2010
Calhoun County, VA was part of Gilmer County until March 5, 1856 when the Virignia State Legislature created the county of Calhoun from the territory of Gilmer County. These birth-death records are part of the Virginia system of volunteer collection of the data within each county at the time of creation. Virginia began collecting this data in 1853 state wide. In these are the name/date/sex/parents and other information. In Calhoun County there were 1739 names indexed for these records.
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Monroe County, Kentucky Birth Records
Compiled by Frances T. Ingmire; Published by Ingmire Publications, 1983, 191 Pages, 8.5"x11", Index, Soft Cover, FI-0540, $20.00
With over 1,300 surnames indexed, this publication contains Monroe County, Kentucky birth records for the years 1852 through 1860, 1874 through 1876, 1878, 1894, and 1907. Each entry includes [** when provided]:
- Name of Child
- Date of Birth
- Sex of Child [Male/Female]
- Race of Child [Black/White]
- Live or Stillborn
- Name of Father **
- [If Child Illegitimate, So Noted]
- Name of Mother
[Including Maiden Name **]
- County of Residence
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