Family History Episode 25 – Using Civil Birth Records in Family History Research

Listen to the Family History: Genealogy Made Easy podcast by Lisa Louise Cooke. It’s a great series for learning the research ropes and well as refreshing your skills.

Family History: Genealogy Made Easy Podcast
with Lisa Louise Cooke
Republished April 1, 2014

Download the Show Notes for this Episode

Welcome to this step-by-step series for beginning genealogists—and more experienced ones who want to brush up or learn something new. I first ran this series in 2008-09. So many people have asked about it, I’m bringing it back in weekly segments.

Episode 25Using Civil Birth Records in Family History

In our last episode we covered marriage records. We finish up vital records in this episode by going back to the beginning: birth records.

There are two major categories: civil and church records. Today I’m bringing in professional genealogist Arlene H. Eakle, PhD, who will helps us to see the challenges we face and the success we can have locating civil birth records. (In Episode 26, Arlene will join me again to walk us through the world of church birth records.)

Here are some take-away tips from our discussion in this episode:

  • When you start researching in a new area, learn when government birth records began to be kept. Every state and some cities began birth registration at different times. Today, in some states you order records before a certain date from the local government and more recent ones from the state vital records office. Do your research! Start with this Vital Records Chart from Family Tree Magazine.
  • In the U.S., most government birth records were kept by the county, except in New England and independent cities. In the 20th century, the state took buy medication cart over jurisdiction of vital records in most states.
  • Birth records often have the names of parents and child and the place and date of birth. You may also find parents’ birthplaces, marital status of parents and even the date of marriage.
  • A single locale may have logged births in multiple sources, for example, for those who lived in or outside the city limits, or segregated records for blacks.
  • The actual birth record may have been logged as part of a list of names on a columned form. Birth certificates are a modern thing!
  • Some records have been digitized and indexed or microfilmed. Check the Family History Library catalog on FamilySearch.org first. If they have birth records, they’ll tell you whether they’ve been digitized or indexed on their site, or whether they’re available on microfilm.
  • Of course, many birth records are also available on subscription websites like Ancestry.com, FindMyPast.com, MyHeritage.com and more. If you are a subscriber, check their online holdings, too.
  • When ordering a birth record from a government office, they may type up a certificate to send you. That’s nice, but also ask for a photocopy of the original birth entry or record. There’s often more on the original record than the certificate—and you’ll minimize errors by looking at the real record.

Arlene H. Eakle, Ph.D., is the president and founder of The Genealogical Institute, Inc. and a professional genealogist since 1962. She holds both MA and Ph.D. in English History and an Associate degree in Nursing.

Family History Episode 24 – Using Marriage Records in Family History

Family History: Genealogy Made Easy Podcast
with Lisa Louise Cooke
Republished March 25, 2014

family history genealogy made easy podcast

with Lisa Louise Cooke

Download the Show Notes for this Episode

Welcome to this step-by-step series for beginning genealogists—and more experienced ones who want to brush up or learn something new. I first ran this series in 2008-09. So many people have asked about it, I’m bringing it back in weekly segments.

Episode 24: Using Marriage Records in Family History

So far in this podcast series you’ve made a lot of progress. You’ve set up your genealogy database, talked to your relatives, gotten familiar with the Family History Centers and you have your research worksheet to lead you in your investigation backwards in time, through death records and the census.

In today’s episode we’re going to continue working backwards down the records aisle looking for marriage records. Marriage records are a type of vital records, meaning they provide vital statistics for a person’s life. They can be a rich—even vital!—source of genealogical information.

Marriage records, like death and birth records (which we’ll be covering in an upcoming episode) are primary sources. This means that the record was completed at the event or very close to it by someone who was present at the event. That means it’s a pretty reliable source.

There are two types of marriage records: civil records which are recorded with the local government, usually at the county level, and church records, if the marriage took place in a church.

Update: Many government and church marriage records have found their way into major genealogical databases (www.Ancestry.com, www.FamilySearch.org, www.FindMyPast.org, www.MyHeritage.com, etc). Look for indexed records and—if you’re lucky—digitized versions of the actual record. (If you find only indexed records, use the process below to find copies of the actual record.)

Civil/Government Marriage Records

You need to determine where the marriage took place in order to figure out the proper civil authorities to contact. Usually that’s the clerk in the town, county, district or parish where the happy couple said “I do.” In the U.S., chances are it was at the county level, but if you’re not sure, do a Google search on the name of the county and the phrase “vital records” or “marriage records.” Chances are one of the first search results will be a link to the website for that county and hopefully the specific page that will tell you how to request vital records. There you should find specific instructions about how to make the request and any fees involved.

3 Tips for Obtaining Marriage Records for Genealogy

  • Tip #1: Be sure and follow the instructions to the letter because otherwise you will likely have your request returned to you unfilled and asking for more information which just wastes time.
  • Tip #2: As with Death Records, it isn’t necessary to order a certified copy because you are not using it for legal reasons, just information reasons. Certified copies cost more and usually have more requirements to applying for them.
  • Tips #3 Request a complete photo copy (which is sometimes referred to as a LONG FORM) rather than a SHORT FORM which can be a brief transcription of the record. There may be clues in the original record that may be left out (or mistranscribed) in the SHORT FORM.

If all this sounds cumbersome there is an easier to request marriage records and that is through Vitalcheck.com (see below). While it costs more you can order the records quickly and easily online.

If you’re looking for civil records in England or Wales, those records have been officially recorded by local District Registrars who reported to the General Registrar Office since July 1, 1837. These records are probably easiest to access, particularly if you are not in the UK, through FindMyPast.com, which does charge a fee for each record.

Types of Civil Marriage Records:

  • Marriage application. I can’t guarantee they’re available in every county, but it’s definitely worth asking!
  • Marriage license. This record often holds the most genealogical value. It will include their names, ages, residences as well as perhaps their race, occupation, age, and perhaps their parents’ names.
  • Marriage register record. This confirms the marriage actually took place. This may be just a signature and date from the official who performed the marriage, and may be a small section at the end of the marriage license information. (The latter type of record may also be called a “marriage return” or minister’s return.”
  • Marriage certificate. While this record is part of the process it isn’t available through the vital records office. It would have been kept by the couple and will involve some looking around and asking relatives to see if it still exists.

Tip: A marriage license alone does not prove a marriage. A couple could easily apply for a license but never go through with the big day.

Church Marriage Records

Start looking for these records at the Family History Library (www.familysearch.org).

Other places to look:

  • The church if it still exists. Search for their website. Contact the church office and ask if they have records for the time period you’re looking for. If they no longer have the records ask where they are being archived.
  • Check in with the closest local library and ask to talk to the reference desk.
  • Search the WorldCat catalog (see Links).
  • Check the US Gen Web site for the state and county where the marriage occurred (see Links). These sites are run by volunteers and each county has a different variety of records and resources available. Contact the local genealogy or and historical societies and ask for their help.

Other records to look for:

  • Banns of marriage records. Look for a record of the banns in the church minutes or church bulletins.
  • Newspaper marriage announcements. Tip: Keep in mind when you’re searching a newspaper database and you find a listing for what appears to be the right family in the right area but the date is way off, be sure and check it out because it just may be a republishing of the news you were looking for! (Learn more about newspaper research in my book How to Find Your Family History in Newspapers.)

Links/Updates

FamilySearch. To search for marriage records by place, click on Search, then Catalog, then search by location. You’ll find both government and church marriage records listed here. Look at the county level for U.S. government records; look at the municipal level or under the Church records category for church marriage records.

USGenWeb

WorldCat

VitalChek

BillionGraves Now Accepting Your Documentation

BG Supporting Records iconI’m hearing so much these days about source citation and I love it! Everyone seems to be getting smarter and better at sourcing their research finds. And genealogy websites are making it easier and more collaborative. Here’s just one example, an announcement just made by BillionGraves:

“After months of work in response to hundreds of user requests, BillionGraves has added several new features designed to validate and enhance the headstone records found on BillionGraves.  The Supporting Record feature now allows users to upload evidence-based documents that support the BillionGraves records that have been collected through our mobile Apps. This means that users are now able to upload headstones, birth/death, burial, marriage, cremation, and many other types of records without needing a smart phone.

Thousands of records are being uploaded every day and are breaking down genealogy brick walls and making connections that once seemed impossible. While working closely with our users and genealogists we found that there were many headstones and burials that just couldn’t be accounted for with our current systems; including unmarked graves, cremation scatterings, destroyed stones, and so on. Our Supporting Records features eliminate this problem while maintaining the validity and accuracy of the BillionGraves database.”

Family History Episode 4 – Genealogy Conferences, the SS-5, Delayed Birth Records and Death Records

Family History: Genealogy Made Easy PodcastPublished October 29, 2013

Download the Show Notes for this Episode

by Lisa Louise Cooke

Welcome to this step-by-step series for beginning genealogists—and more experienced ones who want to brush up or learn something new. I first ran this series in 2008. So many people have asked about it, I’m bringing it back in weekly segments.

Episode 4: Attending Genealogy Conferences and Vital Records Requests

In our first segment, our guest is the longtime online news anchorman of genealogy, Dick Eastman, the author of Eastman’s Online Genealogy Newsletter. He talks about the changing industry and the benefits of attending genealogy conferences.

Next, you’ll learn the ins and outs of using some “vital” sources for U.S. birth and death information: delayed birth records, Social Security applications (SS-5s) and death certificates.

Genealogy Conferences Conversation: A Few Updates

  • Dick and I talk about Footnote.com as a relatively small site. Has that ever changed! Footnote.com is now Fold3.com and it’s a go-to site for millions of online American military records.
  • Family History Expos still offers an exciting conference, especially for first-timers. But there are others as well: In the United States, there’s RootsTech, the National Genealogical Society and many state and regional conferences (like one near my home, the Southern California Genealogical Society’s annual Jamboree). Find a nice directory at Cyndi’s List. Many conferences are starting to offer live streaming sessions for people who can’t attend: check websites for details. In addition, Family Tree University offers regular virtual conferences—where sessions and chat are all online! If you live outside the U.S., look for conferences through your own national or regional genealogical societies. If you can get to London, don’t miss Who Do You Think You Are Live.
  • Dick now writes all of his Plus content himself. If you haven’t already checked out Eastman’s Online Genealogy Newsletter, you should! Both his free and Plus newsletters are great insider sources on what’s new and great (or not-so-great) in the family history world.

The SS-5

You can order a copy of the application that your ancestor filled out when they applied for a Social Security Number: the SS-5. I have done this, and they really are neat, but they aren’t cheap. So let’s talk about the facts you’re going to find on them so you can determine if it is worth the expense.

The SS-5 has changed slightly over time, but may include the applicant’s name, full address, birth date and place and BOTH parents’ names (the mother’s maiden name is requested). If your ancestor applied prior to 1947 then you will also very likely find the name and address of the company they worked for listed, and possibly even their position title.

Here’s an example of a Social Security application form:

Osby Johnson SS5

In the 1970s, the Social Security Administration microfilmed all SS-5 application forms, created a computer database of selected information from the forms, and destroyed the originals. So it’s important to order a copy of the microfilmed original, rather than a printout or abstract from the Administration’s database. And luckily now you can request a Social Security Application SS5 Form online under the Freedom of Information Act.

It will help to have your relative’s Social Security Number (SSN) when you apply for a copy of their SS-5. First, it gives you greater confidence that their SS-5 exists. Second, it’s cheaper to order the SS-5 when you have their SSN. Third, the Social Security Death Index, in which you’ll find their SSN, usually has death data that makes your application for their SS-5 stronger. Privacy concerns have caused some genealogy websites to pull the SSDI, but you can still search it (in many instances for free) at the links provided in Episode 3.

Finally, here’s a little background on the Social Security Number itself. The nine-digit SSN is made up of three parts:

The first set of three digits is called the Area Number. This number was assigned geographically. Generally, numbers were assigned beginning in the Northeast and moving westward. So people whose cards were issued in the East Coast states have the lowest numbers and those on the West Coast have the highest numbers.

Prior to 1972, cards were issued in local Social Security offices around the country and the Area Number represented the state in which the card was issued. This wasn’t necessarily the state where the applicant lived, since you could apply for a card at any Social Security office.

Since 1972, when the SSA began assigning social security numbers and issuing cards centrally from Baltimore, Maryland, the area number assigned has been based on the ZIP code of the mailing address provided on the application for the card. And of course, the applicant’s mailing address doesn’t have to be the same as their place of residence. But in general the area number does give you a good lead as where to look for an ancestor.

The next two digits in the number are called the Group Number, and were used to track fraudulent numbers.

The last set of four digits is the Serial Number, and these were randomly assigned.

UPDATE: The website for ordering Social Security applications (SS-5s) has changed since the podcast first aired. For current ordering instructions, including online ordering, click here. The cost is still $27 to order a deceased relative’s SS-5 if you know the Social Security number and $29 if you don’t know it.

Delayed Birth Certificates

After 1937 folks who qualified to apply for social security had to have proof of their age. If they were born prior to official birth certificates being kept in their state, they applied for a delayed birth certificate.

Anytime someone needs a birth certificate for any reason, they have to contact the state—and often the county—in which the birth occurred. If a birth certificate exists, they can simply purchase a certified copy. But if there were no birth certificates issued at the time of the person’s birth, they could have a “delayed birth certificate” issued by that state or county.

In order to obtain a delayed certificate, they had to provide several pieces of evidence of their age. If these are considered satisfactory, the government would issue the certificate and it would be accepted as legal proof of birth by all U.S. government agencies.

Originally people turned to the census for proof of age. But eventually the Social Security Administration began to ask for birth certificates. For folks like my great grandmother who was born at a time and place where birth certificates were not issued, that meant they had to locate documents that could prove their age and allow them to obtain a delayed birth certificate. Delayed just meaning it was issued after the time of the birth.

Delayed birth certificates are not primary sources. (Remember we talked about Primary Sources in Episode 2. Since the delayed certificate was based on other documents, and not issued at the time of the event by an authority, such as the attending physician, then it is not a primary source. This means that while it’s great background information, it is more prone to error. In order to do the most accurate genealogical research you would want to try to find a primary source if possible. Chances are your ancestor used another primary source, such as an entry in the family bible, to obtain the delayed birth certificate.

The process for ordering a delayed birth certificate is likely going to be the same as ordering a regular birth certificate. You would start with the checking with the county courthouse, and then the Department of health for the state you’re looking in. Let them know that the birth record is a delayed birth certificate. Also the Family History Library card catalogue would be a place to look as many were microfilmed. Go to www.familysearch.org and search for delayed birth records by clicking on Search from the home page. Then click Catalog and do the keyword search just as the episode instructs, using “delayed birth” as your keyword. (Within that search, you can also add parameters for the place name.)

So the lesson here is that even though your ancestor may have been born at a time or in a location where births were not officially recorded by the state, they may very well have a delayed birth certificate on file.

Ordering Death Certificates

The Social Security Death Index is just one resource for getting death information. But in the end you’re going to want the primary source for your ancestor’s death, and that’s the death certificate. While many of your ancestor’s born in the 1800s may not have a birth certificate, there is a much better chance that they have a death certificate since they may have died in the 20th century. Each state in the U.S. began mandating death certificates at a different time, so you have to find out the laws in the state, and probably the county, since death certificates were filed at the county level.

As I said before, the death certificate is going to be able to provide you with a wealth of information. Of course you’ll find the name, date of death and place of death, and possibly their age at death and the cause and exact time of death, place of burial, funeral home, name of physician or medical examiner and any witnesses who were present. The certificate is a primary source for this information.

You may also find information such as their date and place of birth, current residence, occupation, parent’s names and birthplaces, spouse’s name, and marriage status. But because this information is provided by someone other than the ancestor themselves it is really hearsay, and the certificate is considered a secondary source for that information.

And lastly you may find a name in the box that says Informant. This is the person who reported the death to officials. Informants are often spouses, children, and sometimes, depending on the person’s circumstances, just a friend or neighbor. But the informant is almost always someone that you want to investigate further because they obviously were close to your ancestor.

Once you think you know the location where your ancestor died, and the approximate if not exact death date, you’re ready to order a certificate. If the person died in the last 50 years you’ll probably have really good luck at the county courthouse Department of Vital Records. The older the record, the more likely it may have been shipped off by the county records department to the state Department of Health. Look for helpful links to death records at Cyndi’s List Death Records.

Here are some tips that will ensure that you don’t get bogged down in bureaucratic red tape:

  1. Get the appropriate request form – this is usually available online.
  1. Print neatly and clearly – if they can’t read it, they will send it back to be redone.
  1. Provide as much information as you have.
  1. Provide a self addressed stamped envelope.
  1. Make one request per envelope.
  1. Include a photocopy of your driver’s license to prove your identity.
  1. Be sure to include your check for the exact amount required.
  1. Make a copy of the request form for your records and follow up.
  1. Lastly, keep in mind that county offices have limited personnel and are often swamped with paper work. So my best advice is that the more courteous and thorough you are the more success you’ll have.

Online Death Indexes

In the case of very old death certificates, as well as birth certificates, some state agencies have opted to hand them over to state Archives and Historical Societies, or at least make them available for digitizing.

And there you have it, lots of different avenues for tracking down your ancestor’s death records providing you with key information for climbing your family tree.

Digital Family History Books at Your Fingertips

Do you sometimes wish you had your own enormous library of family history reference books? Or do you dream of how nice it would be to live near a major research library? Or do you ever wish the family history book in your hand had been better indexed so you could turn exactly to the page you need?

Digital books essentially make these dreams come true by putting books at your virtual fingertips with fully-searchable text (no indexes needed!). And FamilySearch’s digitizing project (a partnership with Allen County Public Library and other major research libraries) now has 100,000 titles scanned, more than 80% of which are online.

If you haven’t used the free Family History Books section at FamilySearch.org, you should go browse it right away. According to a press release, “The majority of the books online are family histories, with a smaller portion made up of cemetery records, local and county histories, genealogy magazines, and how-to-books, gazetteers, and medieval histories and pedigrees.”

Your family may be hidden in one of these books – and they’re now searchable with just a few keystrokes. What keywords should you try? Of course, your ancestor’s surnames, including variant spellings. Also search for other words associated with their lives: the name of their hometown, church, school, employer or industry, ethnic group and even surnames of friends or associates.

You can contribute to FamilySearch’s digital books library, too. If  you are attending the Federation of Genealogical Societies conference next weekend in Fort Wayne, Indiana, you are invited to bring your own titles for scanning by FamilySearch and Allen County. They are most interested in autobiographies and biographies containing genealogical material; family histories with genealogical information; indexes to records; local and county histories; and yearbooks.

To contribute a digital book, FamilySearch says: “Permission must be obtained from the author or copyright holder before copyrighted books or photos can be scanned. (Most books that were published before 1923 are in the public domain and do not require permission.) There is no limitation on the size of a book for scanning, but photos should not be larger than 8.5 x 11 inches.”

Pin It on Pinterest

MENU