Birth Records & Certificates
A birth record, also known as a birth certificate, is considered a "vital record" that documents all pertinent information about an individual's birth. The information detailed on a birth record includes: the child's name; the child's date of birth; the child's gender; the state and town in which the birth took place; and the full names of both the mother and the father of the child.
For genealogists, birth records are extremely valuable because they provide precise and reliable information about individuals in their family trees, as well as their relationships to others in the family. In short, birth records help genealogists fill in the blanks of their family history. Birth records are important historical markers and can tell you many things about your family tree.
Birth records, like other vital records, such as death and marriage certificates, are used for civil registration purposes to protect the rights of individuals by legally recording their status. The accuracy of these documents is highly important, and they therefore serve as a reliable resource for genealogists.
Because each state records, maintains and releases their own vital records, you must be certain of the state in which you are searching and of the approximate date of birth. It is also important to understand that each state carries out its own protocol when it comes to accessing or requesting vital records information, so you may find the process is quite different from one state to the next.
Official and Indexed Birth Records
There are two types of birth records: official and indexed. Depending on the amount of time and money you want to invest, and the accuracy you require for your genealogy research, you will need to carefully select between the two.
Official Birth Records: Official birth records can be obtained (typically for a fee) through the local health department where the individual was born. In addition, they are also available through each state's Department of Health and Vital Records office. Each state has different rules when it comes to accessing official birth certificates. Some states allow only immediate family members to access birth certificates, while others also allow individuals access to birth certificates who have a legal interest in the individuals. Finally, many states consider birth records to be confidential until 100 years have passed, thereby allowing to you to more easily access this information for your distant family members. While most states have online services to obtain birth certificates, other states still require a written request for this information. You may also have to provide key information regarding your request, as well as provide the office with a small fee to cover administrative fees.
Indexed Birth Records: Indexed birth records, because they are not of the "official" variety, can be easily accessed on many websites. Birth records, although not the legal document provided to an individual upon their birth, can be quite useful and provide you with much information when performing your genealogy research. Birth records, like other vital documents, help create a fuller and more interesting portrait of your family history. Whether you are a professional genealogist or just a passionate amateur who wants a peak into your family's past, your genealogical research will be greatly enhanced by finding accurate sources of information about your predecessors. Birth records are just one stepping-stone toward creating a highly-evolved family history.
In fact, accessing vital records, such as birth certificates and birth records, is usually one of the first steps when performing your genealogical research. Once you have assembled as much information as possible regarding your family tree by performing your own research and asking family members for information, the next logical step is to search vital records, including birth and death certificates.
Beware of discrepancies between sources! When you examine data from a number of sources, know that dates and information may not be an exact match, especially when dealing with records that are hundreds of years old. This is because some births are registered late, some individuals may provide incorrect information at the time the vital record was established, and information may get entered incorrectly. In short, it pays to consider all information before assuming your dates and data are correct.
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