Birth Certificates

Having official birth certificates is a fairly new concept. Years ago, writing in the date and name of a baby born to the family was done in the family Bible on a special page.

As government forms and requirements increase an official document of one’s birth became necessary. This was especially true as ‘child labor’ laws came about – proof that a person was not underage to work. But other things needed proof such as serving in the military. Many a person gave the wrong date of birth just so they could join the military. Other reasons for birth certificates were to vote in elections, marry, drive a vehicle and receive welfare benefits.

It was estimated that ½ to ¾ of all births in the U.S. from the 1880s to 1910s were unregistered. Many states started at different times requiring the registering in the state of all births – so you could have an ancestor with a birth certificate during this time, depending on when the state they were born in started requiring the certificate.

Also, plenty of adults didn’t know the date of their own birth: “when asked to verify their own age at the polling place, few nineteenth-century Americans could do so with any precision.”

One source you would think that could be used today was the US Federal Census of 1900. Here each person in the household, their date month and year of birth had to be recorded. Well, remember it depends on who was providing the information. Even a mother might not know the exact month or even year. Yes, there were errors on the 1900 census for birth month and year.

Over the years 1910 to 1940 it became more uniform in all states with a new federalization of standard birth certificates. But there was also retroactive birth registration allowed – delayed birth certificates, again stating a person was born on a certain date which could be mistaken. It has even been known that a doctor who delivered a baby wrote the wrong date done for the birth.

If you do not have a copy of a birth certificate for an ancestor, and they were born from 1900 forward, contact the state of birth and see if a copy of the birth certificate is available. But don’t be surprised if there is none – especially in the early years.

Photo: Birth Certificates

Related Blogs:

Finding Birth Records

Birth Order

Early Cheap Births at Hospitals

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