By T. Paajanen

aatwpbrBirth records are very important documents in a genealogy search, but they are more valuable than just sources for birth dates. Of course, every region (state, county, parish, city) may have its own method or format for recording births and the information isn’t going to be always very consistent, but there are always more facts to be found on a birth record than just someone’s birth date.

A typical birth record (either a birth certificate or birth registration) will have the child’s name, as well as their date and location of birth. The location is usually actual hospital but older records might just have a city or town name for that. There will also be parent’s names, sometimes including a mother’s maiden name. Parent’s ages and occupations might also be part of the record.

Some birth registrations will indicate how many births the mother has already had, as well as which were live or dead. That can lead to additional siblings if you didn’t already know that your relative had other children. Older records can also list the nationality and/or religion of the parents that can help point you in the right direction for further research.

In fact, a birth record can tell you more about a child’s parents than the child itself.

Ironically, at certain points in history (particularly in the USA), it was not typical to record a child’s name with their birth record. This is a bit of a problem for genealogists since you can never really pin down the right record unless you are 100% positive that a certain set of parents only had one child.

When you are in a search for genealogy birth records, you will have varying levels of success depending on what the privacy laws are like in the area. Some states allow anyone to purchase copies of a birth record, regardless of who you are and whether you are related. Other states will only allow this once a record is of a certain age, perhaps 50 or 100 years old. Alternatively, you may only be able to access certain birth records if you are a close relative (and you’ll have to prove it).

Oddly, the one thing that a birth certificate is only partially helpful with is establishing someone’s parents’ names if you don’t already know them. Unless the child in question has a very unique name, you can’t really be sure that the record you’ve found belongs to that person. You need to already have an idea about parents names in order to make sure you have the right record in the first place. If you don’t know a relative’s parents names, you might look for marriage records instead to get those.

Terri has been studying her own family tree for decades and she has learned a lot about the field of genealogy over the years. She shares her huge family tree as well as helpful genealogy articles over at Learn Genealogy.