Monday, November 01, 2010

Birth Records as Primary Evidence

Beginning Genealogy Lesson #1(C) 1998, revised 2010.

DearREADERS,  
Welcome to the wonderful world of family history!  They tend to call it that sometimes since "genealogy" sounds so formal. Whatever we decide to call it, we're going to have fun this year learning how to discover your roots. Indeed, Alex Haley stirred up a lot of interest in the subject with his famous television mini-series called  Roots.

One of the first concepts to grasp is the idea of starting with yourself and working backwards in time. This is the opposite of taking your surname (last name at birth) and finding an original immigrant or famous individual with the same surname and trying to trace through his descendants until you connect to your parents. The second choice of action simply is not an option. Your great-great grandparents can have over 1,000 descendants. Complicate that with a surname like Smith or Jones, and you have a real headache brewing.

THIS WEEK:  Your assignment is to get a copy of your birth certificate, proving your relationship to your parents. While you are at it, gather any other family history type documents together as we will discuss and organize them in future lessons.

Obtaining a copy of your birth certificate will work except for cases of adoptions, where the original birth record was altered to reflect the adoptive parents.  Adoptees will have another row to hoe.  You have a perfect right to pursue your adopted line or you may choose to discover your bloodline.

WHERE TO LOOK:



  • FamilySearch Wiki. United States Birth Records. (See also other localities.)
  • Genealogy.com. Resources by State
  • www.USGenWeb.com - Check here for state and county links to vital record offices.
  • www.WorldGenWeb.org - Check here for info on a country's vital record offices
  • www.vitalchek.com  - Vitalchek Network, Inc. provides info for you to contact the US state or county agency that archives the vital records where your ancestors once lived. Alternately, this website will process the order for you for an additional fee.
International Vital Records Handbook. 5th EditionMany reference desks at public libraries have a copy of Thomas Jay Kemp's International Vital Records Handbook. 5th Edition that includes internet and street address contact info courthouses and archives holding birth records in the US, Canada and other countries of the world. Some countries such as England and Scotland have partnered with websites to make older public vital records available for a fee. Using this method, I was able to order paper copies of both birth and marriage records directly from England to my home in Florida in a quick 2-week turn around time. Amazing!

Contrary to popular belief, birth records aren't all available online for free. You'll have to do some searching to discover who is archiving the records for the time period and locality of your birth.

Birth records are considered PRIMARY, first-hand sources of information - a legal document that may provide direct evidence of the relationship between the child and his parents. They generally were created at the time the event happened. Contrast this with a birth announcement in a newspaper that could have all sorts of human errors in it, since those other than the immediate family and physician are involved in creating, typesetting and publishing the article.  Newspaper articles are considered SECONDARY sources of information, since the stories RETELL what people think happened. As competent family historians, we are thankful for the CLUES left in secondary sources, but try to gather as many primary sources as possible to prove our lineages.

YES, "competent" is a word we will use to describe your family tree climbing abilities. -- Next week we'll discuss obtaining a genealogy program to electronically file family history names, dates, places, scanned images of proof documents, transcriptions and notes!


Sample Birth Certificate. Information varies as each governmental jurisdiction has different guidelines. The US didn't require birth records to be kept by the states until 1920, though certainly many kept records on state, county or township levels long before.


1917 Birth Record for Ruth Rachel Knott from the
Delaware State Birth Records, 1861-1922
at FamilySearch.org


Sample Delayed Birth Certificate.Click to view a larger image.




Sample Bible Entry of Birth
Click to view a larger image.




Find out more about birth records by reading:



For Further Reading
  • Cyndi's List - Adoption: http://www.cyndislist.com/adoption.htm  Each US state legislature has different requirements for permitting access to adoption records which were intended to be sealed permanently. With new attitudes about adoptions, often a state-authorized intermediary can communicate those wishing to determine their birth parents.

Happy family tree climbing!
Myrt     :)
DearMYRTLE,
Your friend in genealogy.

5 comments:

  1. Myrt,

    Do you subscribe to the Genealogical Proof Standard as far as terminology? If you do, then you should be using the terms Original or Derivative Sources, Primary or Secondary Information, and Direct or Indirect Evidence.

    I realize that you are revising an older article, but the more we all use the GPS terms, if we agree with them, the lerss confusedo ur readers will be.

    Cheers -- Randy

    ReplyDelete
  2. YEs, Randy -- I thought my comment "Birth records are considered PRIMARY, first-hand sources of information - a legal document that may provide direct evidence of the relationship between the child and his parents.." began that discussion.

    I am working through old lessons, and will add some to provide more detail than I wished to in the first lesson. No point in overwhelming folks. Little by little we'll get there.

    You will be pleased with the overall outcome of the new progression of lessons, I am sure.

    Thanks,
    M

    ReplyDelete
  3. Don't always read your blog, but this was interesting. I know a Bible is considered a kind of secondary primary source. I consider it that because we can't tell who wrote the information, but if it all we have we'll take it!

    ReplyDelete
  4. DearSWE2SEA,
    Sometimes all that has survived in a family bible entry listing someone's birth date. We will be discussing that in a future lesson.

    We'll also tackle the challenge of weighing the reliability of each document or parts of a document.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Thank you for posting these lessons. I've always wanted to delve into my family history but never knew where to begin. You've given me the kick in the butt that I need. I think it's going to be particularly challenging to find my father's ancestors given that he was born in Italy in 1924 and I don't have his birth certificate. Since I travel frequently to Europe, whatever I can't find here I could perhaps find there.

    ReplyDelete