How to Find Birth Information in the United StatesEdit This Page
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Records with Birth Information
Do not confuse "Birth Information" with the concept of a "Birth Record" usually referred to as a "Birth Certificate." The term "Birth Record" is most commonly used in the context of a birth certificate issued by civil governments as a proof of citizenship or for other legal reasons. Depending on the part of country and the time frame, birth certificates did not generally become a part of the record system until quite recently. Many records may contain birth information, such as home bible records, town records, school registration records, and many others, that are not at all considered to be birth records. Never limit your search for birth information to just records categorized as birth records. Almost all kinds of records have the potential to contain birth information.
Information about the birth of an individual may be an important element in that individual's identification and differentiating the individual from others with the same or similar names. For example, it not unusual in Western European naming traditions, when a child or infant died, to name the next born child of the same gender with the name of the deceased child. Absent accurate birth information, the second and sometimes succeeding named children may simply be skipped over as duplicates, rather than subsequent births.
Birth information may also be an important element in identifying and individual's parents or other relatives.
Scope of this Article
This article is intended to give you an overview of the types of U.S. records that may contain birth information but the information in this article is, by no means, exhaustive. You should always look to the "Vital Records" topics in each of the states for further information. Many records containing potential birth information also exist on a county, municipality, city, town, or even a village level. You should search all possible levels of available documents.
See also United States, How to Use Birth Records
Please note the links to other Wiki articles about using birth information at top of this page. Finding birth information for periods of time before the formation of the United States is included in this article, as it pertains to that portion of the North American Continent presently occupied by the United States.
What do you need to get started finding birth information?
Identification of any individual by genealogical research requires three pieces of information; a name, a date and a place. If you are missing any one of the three, you need to center your investigation one generation closer to the present. This means that instead of searching records for information about the target ancestor, you begin your search by looking for information about the ancestor's children. You look in the first generation for which you can find positive, verifiable information on at least one individual concerning the three necessary pieces of information.
Types of Records Containing Birth Information
The approximate date of birth of an individual can be calculated from his or her age at the time of a given event. For example, a note that a groom was 24 years of age in a marriage record, gives an approximate birth year calculated from the date of the marriage. It is entirely possible that the age of a particular individual may be mentioned in conjunction with a totally unrelated event, such as a news story mentioning the person's involvement in the incident reported.
The following sections list some of the types of records you might consider reviewing for birth information. In each case, be sure to look at not only the sections on U.S. records, but also the same categories of records at the state, county and local levels.
Searching your own and family records is always the first place to start your genealogical research. Look for birthday cards, wedding announcements, birth notices, certificates and public documents such as driver's licenses.
Depending on the time frame of your search, you may be able to search official government records. The date at which any particular jurisdiction began recording birth, death or marriage information depends on local customs and laws. See United States Vital Records
For specific information see:
- Eichholz, Alice. Red Book: American State, County and Town Sources. Provo, Utah: Ancestry, 2004. WorldCat 55947869
- The Handybook for Genealogists: United States of America. Logan, Utah: Everton Publishers, 2006. WorldCat 62744825
- VitalRec.com This site contains links to state vital records repositories. There may be a fee involved in obtaining the records. $
- Center for Disease Control; Where to write for Vital Records.
Probate records seldom give the date of birth or at least, the age of the deceased at death. See United States Probate Records. Some of the probate files are extensive and it is necessary to read through the entire file to make sure the information you are looking for is or is not present in the file. You cannot assume that the information in the first few pages of the file are typical of the entire court file.
It is possible, but not common, to find birth information in land and property records. Sometimes the records have affidavits attached that give personal information about the grantor (person giving or selling the property) and the grantee (person receiving the property). See United States Land and Property.
Immigration and Emigration Records
Immigration and emigration records can be very complete, with information that includes both the place and time of birth or they can be very simple and only useful for other purposes, such as establishing residency in a certain place at a certain time. Like all records, they need to be examined carefully for information that will help establish the birth or give clues where to look for more information. See United States Emigration and Immigration.
Military records can be extremely valuable in establishing both the birth date and place of the soldier or even of dependents. The fact that a person lived during the time of a war is enough of a reason to search for military records. See United States Military Records.
Both the gravemarkers (headstones) and the written records of the cemetery may have information on the date and place of birth of the deceased. See United States Cemeteries.
Although commonly overlooked, newspapers are one of the most valuable sources of information. See United States Newspapers
From the earliest times, churches have been recording births, marriages and deaths.
See United States Church Records