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                                                     by Jeffrey A. Bockman

     Experienced         researchers    and      their dates and places of birth,        they had been born. A researcher
     GenWeb volunteers are often asked           and occupations?                        seeks answers to the above ques-
     this question, “Where can I get the       • Who delivered the baby?                 tions, but especially the identity of
     birth certificate for my great-great-                                               the parents.
     grandmother, ‘Jane Doe’?” Unless             If a birth certificate is not avail-       Several years ago, I was looking
     the person asking the question is         able, keep in mind that if there is       for the name of an infant relative
     quite young, the answer is probably,      proof that a person lived, died, and      killed, in 1891, in a train accident
     “I’m sorry, but they did not have         was buried, got married, or had a         near Aspen, Colorado. While
     birth certificates back then.”            family it is a pretty good bet that       looking through the index of birth
         Birth certificates, for most areas,                                             records, at the Pitkin County
     have been in use for only about the                                                 Courthouse, I was happy to see a
     last 100 to 130 years. However,                                                     listing for the Ellis surname. When I
     when they can be obtained they                                                      found the entry for the Return of
     often help answer a number of ques-                                                 Birth, it gave the date and place of
     tions, such as:                                                                     birth, the child’s last name, and the
     • Who were the parents?                                                             sex. The entry also listed the names
     • What was the baby’s name?                                                         of the parents, their ages, their
     • Where did the birth take place?                                                   birthplaces, and even the mother’s
     • When was the date of birth?                                                       maiden name. Unfortunately, it did
     • Where was the family living at the                                                not list the baby’s first name. The
         time?                                                                           father’s name was mistakenly entered
     • What were the physical character-                                                 as Frank L. Lewis, the wife’s maiden
         istics of the baby?                                                             name, instead of Ellis.
     • What was the mother’s maiden                                                          Even though I found the Return
         name?                                                                           of Birth record I still did not know
     • What were the ages of the parents,                                                his first name. I was finally able to

determine his full name, Clarence L.        resources might be needed to deter-      ical entries, different pens or inks,
Ellis, from the tombstone that the          mine the remaining birth informa-        and different styles of handwriting.
Railroad Company had erected for            tion. A number of primary sources        The handwriting would also change
the family in the Aspen Grove               with birth information may have          when the Bible was passed along to
Cemetery, overlooking the town of           been created, as well as a number of     one of the children. If it looks as
Aspen. (A photograph of the stone           secondary sources, which help            though everything had been entered
appeared in Heritage           Quest        answer questions.                        all at once, you will need to question
Magazine, May/June 2002, #99, p. 34.)                                                the source. In the example of Jared
   The recording of a Return of             There’s No                               West’s Family Bible, it appears that
Birth, or any other record by a             Place Like Home                          they started entering information
county or town clerk, provides an           The best place to start looking is at    between 24 August 1809 and 5
opportunity for an error or omission        home. Births were often recorded in      December 1810 (see illus. next page).
to be made. This birth record, like         the Family Bible, diaries, or possibly       A Hospital Birth Certificate is
most records, contains a combina-           even the cookbook, shortly after the     usually given to the parents, and
tion of both primary and secondary          birth or as soon as the person heard     includes at least the child’s name,
information. A male baby—born to            about it. Parents usually kept copies    the parents’ names, and the date and
a mother, on a given date, delivered        of any records created by the            time of birth.
by this attendant, at this specific         hospital or jurisdiction. They may           A jurisdictional Certificate of
place—all constitutes primary infor-        have also kept birth announce-           Birth is usually issued by the county,
mation, since the event was                 ments, cards or letters of congratu-     or state health department. The
witnessed and recorded at, or               lations, and any newspaper               information included will vary
shortly after, the time of the event.       announcements or stories.                greatly by jurisdiction, and is based
Other information such as: the birth-           On the Family Bible “Births”         upon the original information
place, ages of the parents, mother’s        page, parents often documented           submitted by the attendant or
maiden name, and the father’s name          their own births and those of any        hospital. Generally, included are at
are considered to be secondary              children that were already born,         least: the child’s name, date and place
information, since it relates to            when they obtained the Bible.            of birth, the parent’s names and state
events occurring at a prior time, not       Future births were then added in         of their birth, date filed, and the date
                                                                                     issued. It can also include other infor-
                                                                                     mation such as: the parent’s ages, race,
                                                                                     occupations, address, the mother’s
                                                                                     maiden name, the number of other
                                                                                     children born to her, the number still
                                                                                     living, and some even ask, “Was this
                                                                                     one legitimate?”
                                                                                         Delayed birth certificates are
                                                                                     issued well after the birth. My grand-
                                                                                     mother, who was born in 1885, was
                                                                                     issued one in 1942. Home births may
                                                                                     not have been reported immediately,
                                                                                     or until the child needed a birth certifi-
                                                                                     cate to enter school. These certificates
                                                                                     were often issued based upon other
                                                                                     documents or affidavits.
                         Return of Birth for the Ellis baby.                             The quality of the secondary
                                                                                     information is dependent upon the
witnessed by the recorder.                  order. By looking at all of the          accuracy of both the informant and
   Since a birth certificate might          entries and the Bible’s publication      the person recording it. For
not be available, or it might not           date, you can figure out when they       example, a state abbreviation (with
include all of the desired informa-         obtained the Bible or started to         the first letter in common) might be
tion, a combination of other                record entries. Look for chronolog-      changed in the transcription—the

                                                                                                              AUGUST 2004     39
     birthplace, Illinois, might be copied
     erroneously as Indiana—the most
     frequent response on that page.

     Going to the Source
     Sometimes it’s possible to obtain
     birth records not found at a family
     member’s home. Some of these
     records, or an index of them, may
     have been published or are available
         The Family Bible may have
     become part of an archive or histor-
     ical society collection. Look for
     online catalogs or collections. The
     Library of Virginia has many old
     Family Bibles in their Online Digital
     Collection at There
     are also individual or family Web
     sites that can contain transcribed
     entries or scanned images. Queries
     can be posted at the county GenWeb
     site, or a Surname site, with the
     possibility of a distant relative
     sending you a scanned image.
     Genealogical        societies         have
     published transcribed Family Bible
     records in their newsletters or quar-
     terlies over the years.
         Hospital records, other than for
     yourself, are probably not going to
     be available due to privacy laws.
     Where a person was born is impor-
     tant since that will determine what
     records were created and where
     they are located. The most conven-                                             Jared West’s family Bible - Births.
     ient hospital may not have been in
     the same county where the family             tion. Due to privacy laws, birth infor-               Check the state and county GenWeb
     lived, so adjacent jurisdictions             mation might not be available until                   sites and the jurisdiction’s Web site
     should be checked when looking for           the person is over 75 years old, or                   to see what is available in a desired
     a birth record.                              there is proof that they are                          area.
         A jurisdictional birth record may        deceased.                                                 The      IGI       (International
     be available, if you know where and              There are a few online sites with                 Genealogical Index) can be
     approximately when the person was            birth records, even though a number                   searched at It
     born. Everton’s Handybook for                of them were removed after                            contains birth records that have
     Genealogists, the county GenWeb              9/11/2001. An index to South Dakota                   been submitted by members of the
     site (via, or the juris-   birth records prior to 1900 is avail-                 LDS church, or extracted from
     diction’s Web site should be                 able at          filmed vital records, including
     checked to see when they began               search.cgi and Utah births from about                 foreign records with a large collec-
     recording births. The availability of        1897/98 to 1905 are available at                      tion from Scotland.
     copies and fees will vary by jurisdic-

    Early New England town vital
records were originally created by
the town’s Congregational Church.
Many of these have been published.
They may include family records as
well as lists of births, marriages, and
deaths. The entry for Jared West’s
birth and family is shown in an
example from the records for Lee,
Massachusetts (right).
    Church records may include
family listings, including birth dates,
or the date of a baptism or chris-
tening. You will need to know at
what age this was usually done in
that particular denomination. To
locate a church, start with the
closest assembly for a known reli-
gion or language, then start working
    The detailed newspaper birth
announcements that are common
today are a fairly recent practice. It
is still a good idea to review local
newspapers for a week or so before
and after a known birth date. There
could be news or society articles
about family members coming to
town to help the mother, or care for
the family, especially if she was
confined to bed rest before or after
                                                    Cover page for Lee, MA and page 30 showing the Jonathan West family.
the birth, or if she died as a result of
giving birth.
                                           the parents of a person, be sure to         history records not only Granville’s
Alternative Sources                        look for information on the parents         parents names, but also gives the
Fortunately, there are a number of         of any known siblings. Sometimes,           maternal grandparents, Henry H. and
other records that can help to iden-       one family member may have left             Mary, including her maiden name.
tify the parents, the state or place of    more clues than the others. Suppose            You’re on a roll! The name
birth, and the year, month, or             that you descend from Granville             Dunteman, a distant cousin known
possibly even the date of birth.           Johnson of Illinois, but know little        to be from the same area, comes to
These may provide enough informa-          about his parents, when you find his        mind. In a 1906 county history, Past
tion, or narrow the date range, so         1896 biographical sketch in The             & Present of Bureau County, IL,
that a primary source record can be        Biographical Record of Bureau,              the entry for Ernest Dunteman is
obtained. Having a birth date and          Marshall, and Putnum Counties. It           found. It states that on “22 June 1876
location will make it easier to find       states that his father, Henry M.            [Ernest] married Amanda Hall
any available records especially if        Johnson “went to Xenia, Greene              widow of Ransom Hall. Her father
the records are not indexed. It will       County, Ohio. . . . There he wedded         Henry J. Long was born in
also help to narrow the selection of       Miss Margaret Long, a native of             Rockingham County, VA in 1800.
potential parents in the area, if they     Greene county, in January, 1841. She        When about 10 years of age removed
are unknown to you.                        was the daughter of Henry H. and            to Green County OH and there
    If you are having trouble finding      Mary (Walden) Long.” This county            married Mary Walden who was born

                                                                                                                   AUGUST 2004   41
     in the same county as her husband         contains limited family information.     departed this life on or about the
     in 1801. Mr Long was a cabinet-           It has the couple’s names, their ages,   first of October last, that before and
     maker and joiner. But mostly              and the witnesses, who may have          at the time of his death he was an
     farmed.” Another entry found is for       included a parent or other relative. A   inhabitant of the town of Jackson in
     Henry Dunteman stating “married           parent’s consent was needed if a         said county, leaving a widow, named
     Almeda Long, born Green County            person getting married was a minor.      Sarah, and children him surviving to
     Ohio 15 Nov. 1929. She is the             A father may be listed if he posted a    wit, Mary wife of William Robertson,
     daughter of Henry H. Long                 bond or was a witness. A marriage        Jane wife of William Stevenson Jr.,
     (deceased)       [See      Mrs.      E.   application or the Return of the         Phebe wife of Malcom McNaughton,
     Dunteman].”                               Marriage License, if available, may      Eliza wife of Ludwig Eamon, and
         From these three brief sketches       include other useful information.        your petitioner, . . .”
     we begin to piece together an earlier     The 1912 Marriage License, returned          This probate file petition is very
     generation of Granville’s maternal        to Kane County, Illinois, for John       helpful, since it identifies everyone
     line, with his grandmother as one of      Stevenson and Viola Johnson              in the family, and gives the
     three sisters, whose parents, Henry       included their places of birth, the      husband’s name for each of the
     Long and wife Mary Walden, came           names of their parents, and even         daughters. Some wills may not give
     to Ohio from Rockingham County,           their fathers’ signatures, as            names, stating only, “my wife and
     Virginia.                                 witnesses.                               children.”
         A number of records that are              Wills and probate records can            Census records are very handy,
     created when a person dies can be         often document a parent-child rela-      especially if you can find the person
     helpful in finding birth information.     tionship. While trying to find the       as a child in his parents’ household.
     Death certificates often give the         correct last name of a ‘Jane’ who        Then discover him as an adult with a
     parents’ names and the deceased’s         was married to William Stevenson         parent or in-law in his household, or
     date of birth. This is secondary          (1805-1860), in Cambridge, New           nearby.
     information and really depends            York, the Washington County                  Census records between 1850
     upon the accuracy of the informant.       archivist quickly located the 1840       and 1870 will show the names of
     The Social Security Death Index           probate file for a John McDoual,         possible children listed in the
     includes the person’s birth date. An      which included the following:            parents’ household. Confirmation is
     obituary may contain their age and            “The petition of Samuel McDoual      still needed because the census
     possibly the number of years,             wherewith, that John McDoual             taker was not required to ask about
     months, and days that they lived.
     From that information you can
     figure out their birth date. Old obitu-
     aries rarely contained information
     on deceased parents, but may have
     given notice that the funeral service
     was to be held at the home of a
     living parent, sibling, or child. This
     can help to connect family members             Bible Records
     together, appropriately. Tombstones            Birth Certificates (Original or Index)
     may also have the birth date or
     “years, months, days” lived.
                                                    Church Records (births, christening, baptisms, family records)
     Cemetery office records vary                   Hospital Certificate
     greatly, but some have the date of             Newspaper announcements
     birth and a few may even list the
     parents. A person might be buried
                                                    Cemetery and Burial Records
     next to a parent that does not have a          Census Records (1850 and 1870)
     tombstone. Be sure to check any                Children are listed under parent (Confirmation is needed)
     cemetery records to see who owned              Older parent or in-law living in child’s household or nearby
     the plot, and to find everyone that is
     buried there.
                                                    Census Records (1870-1920) – Relationships are listed.
         A marriage license usually                 Death Certificate (may list parents)
                                                    Funeral Home Records
                                                                         relationship. The Census Records
                                                                         from 1880 to 1930 show a person’s
                                                                         relationship to the head of the
                                                                         household. If the person was alive in
                                                                         1900, look up the census record to
                                                                         obtain the stated “Date of Birth—
                                                                         Month, Year.” Be sure to check it
                                                                         against other sources. Sylvester
                                                                         Lewis’ entry from Columbus, Ohio,
                                                                         gave his birth month and year as
                                                                         February 1871 and his age as 29, and
                                                                         birthplace as Ohio. However, over
                                                                         the next three census records his
                                                                         age is given as 38, 46, and 62, none of
                                                                         which suggest a common birth date.
                                                                         In looking for him as a child in the
                                                                         1880 U.S. Census every-name index
                                                                         on, there was no
                                                                         Sylvester listed as born in 1871.
                                                                             Immigration records may include
                                                                         a number of helpful clues, especially
                                                                         if your relative entered the U.S.
                                                                         through a port such as Ellis Island.
                                                                         This record gives their age in years;
                                                                         the “name and address of nearest
                                                                         relative or friend in country whence
                                                                         alien came”—this was often the
                                                                         father; “whether going to join a rela-
                                                                         tive or friend”—often a brother,
                                                                         sister, brother-in-law, aunt, uncle, or
                                                                         even a parent who had come over
                   Marriage Return for John Stevenson & Viola Johnson.   earlier. Look up the records for
                                                                         those relatives if they are available.
                                                                             Naturalization records contain
                                                                         the Petition for Citizenship, which
 IGI Computer – look up by person or parents, place, and date range     includes a person’s birth date and
 IGI fiche (by State, Last Name, Child’s name or look for parents)      their place of birth along with the
 Immigration Records                                                    names, birth dates and places for
                                                                         their spouse and children.
 Land Records – a portion or all of the property may have been passed       You can try to narrow a person’s
   or sold to children.                                                  birth date range by using their ages
 Marriage Application – more information than on Certificate            at various events. Create a timeline
 Marriage Record – parent may have given consent, posted bond           chart from their records such as:
   or been a witness                                                     marriage certificate, children’s birth
 Naturalization Records – Names and birth dates and places              certificates, death or burial records,
                                                                         and all of the census entries. Note
   including husband and children
                                                                         both the actual date and enumeration
 School or Military Records may show parents                            dates, along with any other record
 Wills & Probate of Parent                                              that includes a date and their age.
 County Histories (MUG Book) check all people with the same                 Charting the dates and ages
   last names and known siblings.
 Published/Original Genealogies/Family
   Histories – check/verify                                                                      AUGUST 2004   43
                                                                             Caption needed here.

     taken from the few available                             located her Ellis Island record, so                    an event timeline to try to determine
     records, I tried to determine the                        didn’t really expect that her natural-                 more closely the birth date and age of
     birth date of my elusive grandfather,                    ization papers would give much                         your elusive ancestor. Perhaps you,
     Alvar Bockman.                                           additional information. One very                       too, will find previously undiscovered
                                                              pleasant surprise turned up in her                     information. I
        With the 1920 census, only an age                     Declaration of Intention, filed on 25
     of 28 would have given Alvar a birth                     September 1930. She listed 25
                                                                                                                      Jeffrey A. Bockman, MBA, was a three-term
     date within the range of the others.                     January 1891 as the birth date of her                   president of the DuPage County (IL)
     Taking the highest Low Birth Date                        husband,      Alvar,   residing    at                   Genealogical Society and a four-term vice-
     and lowest High Birth Date gives a                       “Unknown.” This document also                           president of the Illinois State Genealogical
     range of January 2nd to February                         gave the names, birth date, and place                   Society. He has been doing genealogical
                                                                                                                      research since 1987, and has been active in
                                                                                                                      societies, teaching classes, and lecturing since
     Using Event Dates and Ages to Narrow the Birth Date Range                                                        1994. He has lectured at several FGS and
     Event           Date         Alvar’s Age     Low Birth Date     High Birth Date       Comments                   other conferences, and has had numerous
     Wedding       5/13/1917      26              5/14/1890          5/13/1891                                        articles published in the FGS Forum,
     Birth Child 1 6/17/1918      27              6/18/1890          6/17/1891                                        Heritage Quest Magazine, UK Family Tree
     1920 Census 1/1/1920         27              1/2/1892           1/1/1893              Obvious Error              Magazine, and in the Internet publication,
                                                                                           corrected 28 1/2/1891      Missing Links. He is the Webmaster for the
                                                                                           1/1/1892 Had to be 28      DuPage County, ILGenWeb Project. E-mail:
     Birth Child 2   2/25/1920    29              2/26/1890          2/25/1891                               Web Page:
     Birth Child 4   5/21/1925    34              5/22/1890          5/21/1891
     Low Birth Date assumes that the birthday will be tomorrow, and the age will increase. High Birth Date assumes
     that today was their birthday, and the age just changed.

     25th of 1891 for Alvar’s birth date.                     of birth for all of her children.
     The more you can narrow the date                         Knowing from family sources that
     range, the easier it may be to find a                    Alvar Bockmann was born in
     jurisdictional or church record,                         Nicaragua, I am hoping that with an
     especially if they are not indexed.                      exact date for his birth, the church
        Often, looking for a record that                      records in Bluefields, Nicaragua,
     you don’t think you really need, can                     might be able to provide informa-
     yield surprising results. I had found                    tion on his parents.
     my grandmother’s church records                             For help in finding birth infor-
     noting her parents, at her birth, and                    mation, refer to the “Helpful Hints”
     also upon emigrating from Slovenia                       sidebar, a checklist of sources. Use
     for Calumet, Michigan. I had also                        the dates and ages you find to create


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