Discovering Birth Records

Types of genealogy records that may list a birth date

Many newly minted genealogy researchers are surprised to learn that government issuance of birth certificates is a relatively new development in the United States. For example, in Arizona, statewide birth registration did not begin until 1909 and general compliance did not occur until 1926. There are no birth certificates before 1909 in Arizona. However, birth records are free and searchable for the time period from 1855 to 1939 on the State Department of Health website.

If birth certificates are not available, where do you go next? Well, the answer to that question involves listing almost every type of record available. Generally, the next place to look for birth information is in any record that might have recorded the birth. For birth information, the following types of records may be helpful:

  • Vital records
  • Church records
  • Bible records
  • Cemetery records
  • Obituary records
  • Newspaper records
  • Census records
  • Biographies
  • Naturalization and citizenship records
  • School records

In many cases, the birth date can only be calculated from an age or assumed age in another record. There are a lot of reasons why you may not find a birth record. Here is a list of some of those reasons:

  • The birth took place in an unexpected location. Sometimes babies don't wait around for the mother to be in a convenient place to be born. The mother could have been traveling or visiting relatives and the birth place my be difficult to locate. In some cases, the birth could have been outside of the country or at sea.
  • The jurisdictional boundaries of the birth place may have changed. It is important to research the history of the boundary changes because changes in the jurisdiction of the location can affect where the historical records are located.
  • It is entirely possible that no record of the birth was ever made. In this case, a calculated birth date is all that is available.
  • There could have been a record of the birth, but the index of the record is incorrect or incomplete. The best practice, in the event a record cannot be located with an index, is to search the entire record both for a time period before and after the assumed date.
  • You may be searching for the wrong family. The surname may be wrongly recorded or you have assumed information that is not accurate.
  • The child could have been adopted, a foundling or illegitimate. Any one or more of these circumstances may prevent discovery of the correct birth record.
  • The person may have changed their name later in life and never disclosed their birth name.

Understanding the process of creating birth records will give you a much better chance of finding an appropriate record.

Written by James L. Tanner. Used with permission.

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