Birth Certificates

by Christine Sievers

Since we are working backwards, the birth certificate is the last vital record for your ancestor. After having sharpened your skills on death and marriage records, the search will become easier. You are now familiar with vital record archives, and have traced you ancestor's locality from death to marriage.

As with the previous records, states began to keep these records systematically by the late 1800 or early 1900's. In most states, records were kept earlier at the county and city level. As you go further back in time with other ancestors, you will begin to rely more on those resources.

To find the birth certificate, you will need to know two important facts. First, the date of birth. Second, the place of birth. This may be a part of your own personal information or that of a relative. While you are asking around, you may discover that someone has in their possession a copy of the very birth certificate you are searching for. Other helpful items to ask them about are birth entries in a family bible, announcements, and old letters mentioning the birth.

Whenever you obtain a bit of documentation from a relative, including things they remember, note who it came from. Every additional fact, even a small one, will add further clues to your research. Sometimes you will get conflicting information; and it will be important for you to know the source. You will find that building bridges with your relatives is becoming an important step in your research.

Next, reexamine the documents that you already have- death and marriage records. There may be a clues on these documents. Also, knowing the death date will enable you to use a number of useful online tools to find the birth date.

First, if your ancestor had a social security number, the Social Security Death Index Interactive Search at will give you a birth date. At this site, you can download the form for the actual application your ancestor filled out to get his Social Security number. This is listed under "tools" as SS-5 Letter. Most applications included residence, employment, and that very important maiden name of his mother. However, it does cost twenty-seven dollars for a copy of this record.

Another tool is the Bruckner's Birthdate Calculator which calculates the birth date by entering the death date and the age at death. Death and cemetery records, and tombstones may note the years, months and days the deceased was at time of death. Because the age at death may not have been accurately written down, or the days left off, it should not be used as an exact birth date.

Another handy online tool is the site By entering a person's name, you might be able to find a birth date. But, make sure it is the right person, not someone with the same name. It can be a bit overwhelming if yo ur ancestor has a common name. Also, I have found it slow to retrieve this information.

Once you have the date and place of birth, you are ready to begin your search for the birth certificate at the state level. There are two important bits of information that you will need to find out. First, where is this record kept- at the state or county level. Second, to whom will they release this document (some states have privacy laws that limit access to these documents). The Handy Book for Genealogists and Ancestry's Red Book will have this information. (See my article on Genealogist's Essential Reference Books) Two online resources UsGenWeb and United States Vital Records Information (which you are already familiar with from your search for death and marriage records ) will also provide this information.

Some states will do a search for you if you do not have an exact date. This always costs more. The final step is to send ou t your request, and wait for that moment when that document arrives. Any document you send for can sometimes take a very long time to arrive.

When you have a record of the death, marriage and birth of your ancestor, you will want to fill in his life. If you were unable to get one of these records for lack of information, this step may give you the clues you need

This is when the really fun part starts. There are tons of places on line that you can learn more about your ancestor. We will begin exploring these in my next article.

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