How to Find An Ancestor’s Birth Date (Even If No Birth Record Is Found)
How to find an ancestor’s birth date is a common genealogy question. Use these 8 alternative genealogy records to determine your ancestor was born.
You are diligently researching your ancestor. You know he exists. In fact you know quite a bit about his later life. But you are stuck. You are unable to find a birth record or birth date for him.
No nice formal birth certificate can be found. Not even a delayed birth certificate!
Raise your hand if this has happened to you. I’m raising my mine!
It’s frustrating, but determining the birth date of your ancestor does not have to be an unsolvable genealogy problem. We just have to approach our research from a different angle.
We are familiar with the traditional birth certificate research. We use those for documenting the birth date of an ancestor, their parents’ names, and their location in time. But you do not have to go too far back in your research timeline to a point when formal birth records were not required.
In North Carolina birth certificates were not required until 1913. Even then, compliance with documenting a child’s birth was not consistent until the beginning of the first world war.
The question in your research very quickly becomes…
How do you determine an ancestor’s birth date in the absence of a birth certificate?
Fortunately, other documents can be used to determine an ancestor’s birth date. Before you head off to the archives or start your online research though, set yourself up for success by knowing the background of the area where your ancestor was born (or possibly born if you are not sure).
Do not search for records that do not exist!
You will save yourself a lot of time and frustration if you do preliminary research on the location of your ancestors.
When did birth records began being recorded in the location your ancestor was born? If your ancestor was born in North Carolina in 1910, do not look for a birth certificate. This will save you time from searching for a record that does not exist. No genealogy researcher has time for that.
Did any record losses occur in the are you are researching? Unfortunately, fires and natural disasters have destroyed many of our ancestors’ records. Before you begin research into your ancestor’s birth record (or any record), check to see if the county or state has had any major record loss. If so, make a note for which years. If the record loss corresponds with your time frame, you will know what does and does not exist.
8 Alternative Sources To Find Your Ancestor’s Birth Date
A formal birth record may not be found for your ancestor, but you can deduce the birth year/date or at least narrow down the date by using other records.
Let’s take a look:
1.The Family Bible
Ok, I know….you are thinking “We don’t have a family Bible.” I said the same thing when I started, only it wasn’t true. I discovered a copy of the family Bible in a relative’s possession.
When searching for your own family’s Bible, ASK!
Ask your close relatives.
Ask your distant relatives.
Query Facebook genealogy groups/pages for the area or family you are researching.
No cousin is too distant in relationship or physical distance to have information on your family’s ancestors. (I’m stepping off of my soap box now!)
Another possible source to find family Bibles is your state archives and/or state library. For example, if you have North Carolina ancestors, check the North Carolina Family Records Online.
2.Church and Baptismal Records
Your ancestors often recorded births and baptisms in church records. Seek out the possible churches your ancestor may have attended and determine where (or if) their records exists.
The post 1850 census records are a source for your ancestor’s birth. Some census years provide a month and year and some simply the year or just the age of the individual. From there you can narrow down your ancestor’s birth year. The pre-1850 census records require more in-depth analysis to narrow down a range for the birth date, but are an important source when used with other records. Check out these other posts for more on analyzing census records:
- How to Make Genealogy Sense of Census Records – Census Records Part 1
- How to Make Sense of Those Tick Marks on Pre-1850 Census Records – Census Records Part 2
Death certificates usually provide the birth date (if it is known by the informant). Be careful here, though. Who was the informant for the information on the death certificate? Consider if the individual was someone who knew the deceased well and would have known the birth information with certainty. Or did the informant have a more distant connection?
Is your ancestor named in their parent’s will? If the deceased left minor children, you may find them listed as such in the will. You will not likely find an actual age or birth date, but knowing the individual was a minor in a specific year (i.e. the date the will was written) can help you narrow down his/her birth date.
These may be found in the parent’s estate records and/or in court records. (These are some of my favorite records!) First, you must know the laws surrounding guardianship in the state you are researching. Your state archive librarians are great resources here. Under what age was a child considered a minor? Most commonly for males, it was 21 years of age. Females could be 16 or 18. Guardianship papers may state the age of the child or simply imply the age.
If you find a guardian named for your ancestor, your next step is to search out the guardian account records. Each year the guardian was required to make an account of what spent to take care to the minor child. Records should indicate, too, when the guardianship ended indicating the child was then of legal age. If 21 was the age of legality, then you can simply subtract 21 from the year guardianship ended and determine the birth year.
Do you know where your ancestor(s) was buried? Is there a gravestone or is the stone no longer readable? Worse, does the stone only list the name and no dates? Check the cemetery records/sexton records. If the cemetery is large enough to have its own office, call and inquire. I have encountered some of the most helpful people doing this. If the cemetery is small, you may need to contact the local town management to determine who is in charge of the cemetery and where those particular records are kept.
Yes, you can narrow down an individual’s birth year using tax records.
The key here is to know the tax laws for the time period your ancestor lived. Learn who was taxed and what they were taxed on. For example, in 1784 in North Carolina, freeman and male servants over 21 years were taxed. Under 21 they were not taxed. Tax laws came and went, so be sure you understand why he is (or is not) appearing in the record. Follow your ancestor through the tax records and determine when he appears and disappears in the tax records.
Just because your ancestor did not have a birth certificate, does not mean you can not determine their date of birth. Sometimes you may only be able to determine a date range by a preponderance of evidence.
In the process you will have learned more about your ancestor, who he/she associated with and the community in which they lived. You will have also gained new skills and insights for future research projects on your family.
Have an Ancestor’s Birth Certificate Already?
You are one of the lucky ones and found an actual birth certificate for your ancestor. Make sure you are not missing any potential family history clues it holds.
🤔Stuck trying to find an elusive ancestor? Ready to stop the aimless search of the genealogy databases that leaves you frustrated and still NO results?
Check out the VIP Genealogy Intensive Day where we focus on getting your genealogy research back on track with a day dedicated just to Y-O-U. 😊
Other Genealogy Posts of Interest!
- Genealogy For Beginners – Start Finding Your Ancestors!
- How to Analyze Your Ancestor’s Birth Certificate
- 5 Things to Be Learned From a Delayed Birth Certificate
Thanks for an interesting and informative article. Another good source of birth date and place information is draft registration cards.
You are absolutely correct, Ronald. Thanks for adding to our list!
I’m would like to find the birth and death info on my 2nd Greatgrand parents. they are from Ireland. I don’t know where they are from in Ireland and anyone who knew them has passed. I know where they died and where they are buried. I’ve checked with the church who takes care of the cemetery but they don’t have any records. I’ve also checked the state historical society and the county register of deeds with no luck. How do I find anything about them and their families in Ireland, their journey to the states and their lives in the states…….thank you
Colleen, you are correct to be searching the records of their lives here in America. Search the census records and analyze them well. Notice who else lived close and associated with your GG grandparents. These could be relatives. Often people migrated in with others. Use the census records to narrow down their immigration date and then you can begin research into the immigration records.
I actually have a question so my great grandma passed but there are no records of it and I have no idea wear she is from ,what can I do to find her death certificate .
Depending on when she died, it’s possible death certificates were not required. Seek our her children’s death certificates. They usually list the parents and the birth places. That can give you a starting point. Also, research her in the census records to see where she lived. Start your search for the death records in those locations.
I know the name of my GGG g.father, William Rose, but not his birth & death dates. There are lots of William Roses!
I do not know the name of his wife. I do know they had at least 2 sons (born in 1819 & 1825). All of these people were born in Preston, Lanca, Eng. The sons came to U.S. alone as adults. One married in U.S., one married in Eng., both sons lived, had businesses & died in U.S. I have not found any evidence that their parents ever came to U.S.
I need to find info about their mother.
I cannot find any documents with her maiden name. How can I find the parent’s b., m. & death records from England? Lots of ROSES. How do I know that I have the right Rose family? I love your articles. Thank you!
Somehow, I thought having my husband’s grandparents living in Philadelphia, PA, it would be easy to get birth and death records on them. Surely, a city that has been established for so long would have an abundance of records! Not so!!! His grandmother seemed to change her birth date at whim – anywhere from 1866 (from the 1870 census) – which I am guessing would be fairly accurate. Her death cert., with info. from her daughter listed 1875 as her birth date. If 1875 was accurate, she wouldn’t have been on the 1870 census, she would have been 9 years old when she was married (church marriage info shows 1884) , and 10 when her first child died. As for my husband’s grandfather – 1900 census says he was born July 1862 but I have been unable to find any further info. 1910 census lists as 45 y.o. which would be 1865. Wife was listed as 39 (which would have made her born about 1871.) Grandmother lists herself as a widow in 1912, but no records for grandfather’s death or burial in family plot or anywhere else! It’s been my thickest brick wall for 45 years!!!
Phyllis – There are several things to keep in mind by way of forgiveness to your ancestors for the imprecision of those Census birth dates.
1. Either I come from a line of people with short-term memory problems or were are mitigating circumstances. How often do we have to provide our birth dates or produce our birth certificate? A multitude of times! Wedding licenses, current Census collections, death certificates, school registrations, driver’s licenses, military records, bank accounts, as ID for medical records, Social Security applications, membership applications, passport applications, nuring home applications, on and on and on. But how often did the 18th and 19th century relatives have to provide their birth date? A couple of times to none. Little wonder that they were foggy about dates and places.
2. When the Census enumerators came around for data, it is my understanding that they took it from whomever was home, be it the “head” of the family, another adult, a child, or even from a neighbor if nobody was at hand. Little wonder that the data varied.
I am trying to find my 2x grandfather’s parents. His name was David Green The surname is Green is a very common name. The 1850 Census lists his birthplace as Washington, NY in 1792. This county exchanged borders with Vermont three times, so Vermont is included in my searches for possible parents. Many online resources do not allow the “not” operator or exact words. Green is a common word and includes reference to things like the Green Mountain State and many towns with Green as part of their names such as Green Bay and Greenwich. I have waded through all of these. There is a town in Dutchess County NY called Washington that has been eliminated. Through county searches I have made a list of all the Greens that lived in Washington County NY during a time to be his parents. My sources for this include census records, newspapers, church records, military records and cemeteries. I have looked at online family trees in three online databases for these people to no avail, but was able to eliminate some. Now I am checking wills and tax records. I have also checked every book at the Family History Library for clues. Contact was made with the Washington County Historical Society to no avail, but the director was very helpful. New ideas would be greatly appreciated. At some point I joined the NY Genealogical Society to gain access to its online resources. This group also publishes a telephone directory size guidebook that is one of the best I have seen.
I have found that the 2x great grandfather moved to Ohio while possibly a teen. He was married in Ohio to a woman from Nova Scotia so i am not ruling out a loyalist connection in the family through which they might have met. Her ancestors in Canada are equally puzzled by her marriage. He later migrated to IL where he died in a town on the far side of the state from where other ancestors had not gone. He only lived there for three years, but I found his probate records. By searching his descendants, I found three sons went with him to IL but left shortly after his death.
My grandparents had a great family Bible with family information, but a relative made off with it at my grandfather’s funeral. The descendants of this relative first questioned where I got such information and now they won’t answer emails although two of them are into genealogy research.
In addition I have researched all the Ross County Ohio records that are online, gone through Family History Library resources (in person) and purchased several books. Through PERSI I have one promising article that I will obtain while visiting aft Wayne for FGS.
Ann, you have certainly been thorough in your research. So sad the circumstances surrounding the loss of the family Bible. I’m glad you are using PERSI. It is an underutilized resource and can help the researcher move forward.
I am trying to find my paternal grandmother’s birth certificate. I know she was born 10/4/1897 in Port Chester, NY. Is there any way to locate these records without paying a fee. Are there places to go to locate birth, death and marriage records without always paying.
Chris, check to see if birth certificates in NY for that time period were even created. Many states did not start using birth certificates until later. If you are researching from a distance, it can be difficult to find a vital record without at least a small ordering fee. You can find BMD dates by using other records such as census records and wills/estate records and even gravestones.
I am trying to find records for my great, great, great grandfather. Unfortunately i have no details regarding birth date, death date or birth location. He could of been born in uk or america and then migrated to australia.
I have located son on family tree website but apart from name, nothing else is listed.
I have been trying to find information about my great great grandmother, Anna Louisa Whitcraft. Census records indicate she was born in 1850 or 1851…a few of them list her place of birth as New Jersey, but there are a couple that say she was born “at sea”. I am perplexed about how to dig up more concrete information. Any advice you have would be much appreciated!
I’m trying to find my great grandmother. I don’t really know much about my family because only the prior generation to me emigrated from Cuba and they had to leave all their personal belongings because of the revolution. I do, however, know that my great grandmother was born in Puerto Rico and when my grandmother was a toddler, she abandoned her to join an acting troupe/caravan and was never heard from again. I also know her first and last name. What do I do? I very well cant ask the Cuban government for official documents. I’m at a loss.
Cuban genealogy is tough and not an area I am well versed in. Try reaching out to the Cuban Genealogy Club of Miami. I’m sure they will have some suggestions to help move your research forward.
JOSEPHINE D MARTINEZ
I’m try to find out where one of my grandparents baby daugher is buried. She was only 6 months old and she won’t be in any census. I have dates that she may have been born between 1920 to 1936 in San Miguel County, New Mexico. I don’t know where to look cuz I’m not even sure if the name they gave me is correct. I found the death certificates for 2 of there other children that died but I can’t not locate this baby.
Once you have the census record and family bible records then what do you do to get a birth record , I have any and all documents I need but still no birth ecord for my dad
You can request a birth records from the state or county (if known). You will need to make sure they were actually recording formal birth records/certificates at the time of your ancestor’s birth.
My mom had a daughter between 1940 -1945.
I am researching to find her. She was adopted out. I know it can be done because my sister found it. She has has passed and I don’t know where she had it. So is there anything I can do to find it.
That can be difficult for sure. I haven’t had much experience researching adoption. I recommend reaching out to genealogy groups on FB to get their best suggestions.
This is a valuable transcript and a wide-ranging thread with good comments. I am researching and writing a family history of my Grant lineage in southwestern Nova Scotia, beginning about 1755. We tended to stick to four of the five counties of that region. Then, beginning in the 1840s or so, we spread out to New England, mainly to Essex, Suffolk, Middlesex, Norfolk, and a few other counties of eastern Massachusetts. I have found our Nova Scotia and New Brunswick archives to be very helpful in finding birth records for many, if not most of my ancestors. Sometimes the answer is not there because there was no law requiring it, or the relative just did not report the birth, even into the 20th century. Census records are useful, especially our 1901 census that recorded a specific date of birth and the 1911 census that gave month and year. I have found few family Bibles, but have recorded several references to them for future research. County histories have sometimes provided a list of names and births for a certain area. Local newspapers, when available, can be a good source of birth announcements. I have found the New England records as shared by Ancestry and FamilySearch to be valuable (of course). I also belong to three genealogical associations that have been great helps. The key, as you say, is to keep digging. Finally, I have found that the level of literacy can be an impediment to understanding provincial/state legal requirements, especially for birth records. Then, the distance between birth and a census can stump even a Mom who might remember the year and month but not the day, or have the latter two numbers but get the year wrong.
Did anyone mentions wedding registrations? I’ve rambled so long that I forget. And let’s not leave out naturalization documents!
Thank you for your friendly, accessible and professional approach to genealogy.