Genealogy Research

How to Analyze Your Ancestor’s Birth Certificate

Learn how to analyze your ancestor’s birth certificate. Find important family history clues to further your genealogy research!

Vital records such as a birth certificate are, well….vital to you as a genealogy researcher.

But I have a question for you.

Are you getting everything you can out of that birth certificate?  Are you finding all of the family clues there?

Sure, you are finding your ancestor’s name and birth date, but let’s take a look at other information you can find or infer from a birth certificate.

In the video below, I’m going to show you exactly how I analyze an ancestor’s birth certificate. You are going to be able to watch over my shoulder my process to make sure that you’re able to successfully uncover all the family history clues on your ancestor’s birth certificate.

How To Get the Most Out of That Birth Certificate

In this blog post and video, I will be using examples of U. S. birth certificates. If you are researching ancestors outside of the U. S., know that the strategies and process I share work on all birth certificates, regardless of what country you are researching it.

[I used as the source for the examples in the video.]

Does That Birth Certificate Exist?

Birth certificates or birth records in general, are actually one of three vital records that we as genealogy research seek out. Obviously the other two are marriage records and death records.

Birth certificates as we know them are actually relatively modern records as far as genealogy records are concerned. Many states did not require registration of birth or the issuance of birth certificates until late 1800s and early 1900s. For instance, in the state of North Carolina birth certificates were not required to be issued until the year 1913.

That means if your ancestor was born in 1905, you would not have expect to find a birth certificate from the state.

To make researching your ancestor’s birth even trickier, remember that just because birth certificates were required beginning in a certain year, oftentimes full compliance across the state was not achieved for several years. For instance, in North Carolina once again, birth certificates were required to be issued starting in 1913, but full compliance across the state did not actually occur until the beginning of the first World War.

James Howard Birth Certificate
1915 Birth Certificate for James Lester Howard (Source:

That means if you are researching an ancestor’s birth certificate, and you do not find it (even though one should have been created), that does not mean you were doing something wrong. It means there’s a possibility it wasn’t created.

The first thing you can do for your research when it comes to looking at birth certificates and analyzing them is actually making sure that one was created.

Are All Birth Certificates Available?

Once you determine one was created, and you find out where it is, you will need to check and see if you actually can get access to that birth certificate. Privacy laws in many states restrict who is able to see that birth certificate at what time.

Many states limit the access to a birth certificate until 100 years after the birth of that child. This is not set in stone. It does vary state to state. You will need to check with the state where you are researching to see what their laws are. If you are unsure if you are allowed access to a birth certificate, the easiest thing to do is visit the Office of Vital Records website for that state. You will find their requirements for who can access to that birth certificate.

Learn how to analyze your ancestor's birth certificate. Glean important information and clues to further your genealogy research!

Peek Over My Shoulder…..

Watch the video above as I walk you through my process for analyzing a birth certificate. I will be looking at one for James Lister Howard who was born in 1915 and Lee County, North Carolina. I will also be showing you a second example for a birth certificate out of Arizona.

Note: The birth certificate analysis starts at the 3:45 minute mark.

The best tip that I can give you as you research any birth certificate, regardless of the state or the country that you find it in, is to take your time in the process.

Do not rush your analysis of that document, and go question by question. Look at each answer and really think through that answer. Ask yourself, does it give you a clue to other records that you could pursue. What other records does that birth certificate point to that then you could add to your genealogy research plan?

Now it’s your turn!

  • Seek out an ancestor’s birth certificate, and analyze it for clues.
  • Also, go back to previously researched birth certificates, and see what new clues and avenues of research you can possibly find.

Did you find some new clues? Share them in the comments below!

Want to learn more about what to add to your genealogy research plan beyond birth certificates? Watch the video below!

Other genealogy posts of interests include:

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