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From the Green Valley News, Wednesday 25 October 2006, page B7

Genealogy Today, by Betty Malesky

In the Beginning was a Birth RecordóMaybe

In an ideal world, the family researcher has a birth record for each person on the family tree. Today we take it for granted that everyone has a birth certificate. Mandatory birth registration is actually less than 100 years old, having gone into effect in the early 1900s when states had to begin reporting birth/death statistics to the Department of Public Health in Washington, DC.

As with marriage records, you need to know laws of the jurisdiction involved. Birth records may be filed in a town/city hall, county courthouse, state health department or state archives. Very early records may have been donated to a library or university.

Historically, state and local entities began recording birth information at their discretion. New England is at the forefront of birth registration. Most towns in Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island have birth data from the 1600s. Even so, not every birth was recorded.

Many times a father would go to the town hall and register all his childrenís births at one time although the births had occurred over a period of 10 or even 20 years. If other children were born after his visit, he might never get around to entering them into the town records. In some cases, when the family moved he reported all the childrenís births again in the new location causing confusion as to the correct birth place.

The greater the distance from the east coast the less likely the chance of finding official birth records prior to 1900. As settlers moved west, recording births and deaths was less important than recording land entries, clearing land, planting crops, building houses and other details of daily life on the frontier.

Fortunately, substitutes for birth records often exist. Churches that practiced infant baptism generally did so when the baby was a few days or weeks old. Baptism and christening records are suitable alternatives to birth records but should be indicated as such.

Most families prior to the 20th century kept an enormous family Bible in which births, marriages, and deaths were entered. A Bible record is an acceptable substitute for an official record particularly if the entry was made when the event occurred. If the Bible contains a list of entries in the same handwriting and same ink, the data may not be as reliable.

Check the title page in the Bible for the date of publication. Newlyweds often purchased a Bible or received one as a gift and immediately entered their parentsí and their own vital record information. If dates occur before the Bible was printed, they were entered after the fact and dependant on the penmanís memory. A Google search may find Bible entries for your family.

Sometimes the only clue that a birth had taken place is found in court records; for instance when a couple was charged with fornication, i.e., the woman was already pregnant when they married, or when an unmarried woman filed a paternity suit seeking support for her child. The mention of a child in a relativeís estate papers can also substantiate an approximate birth date.

Donít overlook family mementos including correspondence, scrapbooks, journals, baby books, and birth announcements for birth evidence in the absence of a publicly filed birth record.

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