Back to Genealogy Basics – Birth Records
Birth records are important records in our genealogy research and come in many forms. Birth certificates, family Bibles, and church records are common sources of your ancestor’s birth. As with all genealogy records, understanding what is available for the time and location of your ancestors is crucial.
Using North Carolina as an example, let’s take a closer look at birth certificates. Birth certificates were no required to be recorded until 1913. Full compliance with this regulation was not achieved for several years. If you ancestor was born prior to 1913, do not waste time looking for an official birth certificate.
What if you cannot find the North Carolina birth certificate for your ancestor born in 1915? What happened? There is one possible and simple explanation. In the early years of birth certificates, if a child was born to a family is a very rural area and/or lived a distance from the court house, registering a child’s birth was not a high priority. The birth may have been registered at a later date if at all. In these cases, delayed birth certificates may have been filed years later when the need for a birth certificate arose.
Tip: Understand the events surrounding your ancestors lives to fully understand what records they did or did not generate.
Where to Find a Birth Certificate
If you know where your ancestor was born, check with the register of deeds or the appropriate county office. I have found in smaller, less populated counties, the turn around time is quick. I have actually called and received needed documents within minutes by email!
If you know the state, but not the county, you can request a search by the North Carolina Vital Records office.
Let’s Take a Detailed Look at a Birth Certificate
Note: Information found on a birth certificate will vary from state to state, but the basics are the same.
- Name: James Lester Howard —> Full name is learned.
- Place of Birth —-> Cape Fear Township, Lee County, NC – This may or may not be the child’s home. This location will give clues where to start looking for other family as well.
- Multiple birth/birth order —–> The researcher can learn of other children that may not have survived.
- Are the parents married? —–> Yes. This narrows down a marriage record date for the parents. In this case, the parents of James Lester Howard were married prior to 23 Apr 1915.
- Father’s information —–> Connie Howard: Father’s name, address, color, age at last birthday gives birth year of 1891 for father. Birthplace of Moore County, NC gives location, His occupation is a farmer.
- Mother information —-> Mattie Maddox: Mother’s name including maiden name, address, color, age at last birthday gives birth year for mother as 1882. Birthplace is Chatham County, NC which gives a location to start looking for her family. Her occupation is housewife.
- Number of children born to this mother, including present birth: 1 —-> This is a good place to discover the existence of previously unknown children. If the number of children exceeds what you expect by much, look for a previous marriage.
- Number of children of this mother now living: 1 —-> Again, this is a place to discover previously unknown children.
- Physician’s signature and address —>Leon Watson. Local historical societies occasionally have physician records in their archives. Keep this information in the back of your mind. In future research, physician records may hold clues to other family members as well.
Other Sources of Birth Records
- Family Bibles – A family bible if it exists is one of the best resources for family information.
- Church Records – Look for baptism records in the family’s church.
- Newspapers – This is a more modern custom and even then more likely found in smaller local newspapers.
Remember: When you are analyzing a birth record, ask yourself what other records about this individual/family does the birth record point to. For example, this birth cerificate states Connie Howard and Mattie Maddox were married as of Lester’s Lee County, North Carolina 23 April 1915 birth. This should prompt a search for their marriage certificate in Lee and surrounding counties.