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Understanding 'Delayed' Birth Certificates

Even if your ancestors were born before vital records were kept, they may have applied for a "delayed" birth certificate later in life.


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Resource: GenWeekly
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One of the best genealogical records is a birth certificate—it is not only a primary source for a person's name, birth date and birthplace, but also gives the names and birthplaces of parents. Unfortunately, most states didn't start requiring vital records such as births to be kept until the late 1800s or early 1900s. Many researchers mistakenly believe that if their ancestor was born in 1902 and birth records began in 1905, they are out of luck. That may not be the case!

Beginning in the mid-twentieth century many people who didn't have birth certificates (because they were born prior to record-keeping or born outside a hospital) applied for delayed birth certificates. After the Social Security Act was passed in 1936, people needed proof of their birth when they submitted their Social Security account application. Many of the applicants were born before vital records were kept, so they had no birth certificate. As a result, they applied for delayed birth certificates. These certificates were also issued so the individual could apply for another form of identification, such as a passport or to enlist in the military.

To obtain a delayed birth certificate, an individual usually needed to submit multiple sources of information to prove their birth date. These may have included a family Bible entry, church christening record, or a written affidavit by someone who was present, such as a family member or doctor. Delayed birth certificates were filed for persons born as early as the 1860s, in some cases. However, not all persons who lived into the middle and late 1900s needed a birth certificate or ever applied for one. But you won't know if your ancestor did apply unless you look!

Delayed birth certificates are usually kept by the same governmental entity as regular birth certificates, usually the State Department of Vital Records or Bureau of Vital Statistics. However, you need to specifically request a search of delayed birth certificates; otherwise the searchers will usually not look outside their regular files.

Some delayed birth certificates are available through other repositories. For example, the Tennessee State Library and Archives has "delayed" birth certificates for persons born 1869 to 1899. You can e-mail them at with a person's name, date of birth (or approximate), and county of birth and parents names (if known). They ask that you limit requests to a single name at a time.

In Oregon, the applications for delayed birth certificates are in custody of the Oregon State Archives. An index to births that are more than 100 years old is available online at

A few other tips to search for delayed birth certificates:

  • They should have been filed in the person's state of birth, not their current state of residence.
  • Women's certificates may be filed under their maiden name, married name, or both.
  • A good source for a person's basic birth information is the 1900 census, which should list their month, year and place of birth. You can then search for their birth certificate.

To find out if any of your ancestors (or their siblings) applied for a delayed birth certificate, you can begin by looking online. Use a search engine such as Google to conduct a search for "delayed birth certificates" and the state you want information on. As with the Tennessee and Oregon examples above, you may be able to search the index without paying a fee. You can also contact the state vital records department; most of these departments have websites with current fees and downloadable forms.

Although a delayed birth certificate is a secondary source because it was not recorded at the time of the event, it can be extremely useful and is worth searching for!

Source Information: GenWeekly, New Providence, NJ, USA: Genealogy Today LLC, 2005.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Genealogy Today LLC.

*Effective May 2010, GenWeekly articles that are more than five years old no longer require a subscription for full access.

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