How to Use Birth Records

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To obtain a birth record for an ancestor, you need a birth date. This date could come from a family story, a family bible, an obituary, a cemetery listing or headstone, a birth index, a death index, or indirectly from census records. The accuracy of a birth date could vary. A family story, an obituary, cemetery listing/headstone, or a death index could have an incorrect date. The date in a family bible or a birth index should be more accurate. Most census records can give only an approximate date since they usually contain the age of the person. When that is the case, the birth year could vary by a year.

If you do not have a family story, a family bible, or an obiturary, then the next best place to look is in a birth index, cemetery listing, or a death index.

Online birth indexes:

  • Ancestry.com
  • FamilySearch.org (also includes death indexes in the search results)

Online cemetery listings:

  • Find A Grave

Online death indexes:

  • Ancestry.com
  • Social Security Death Index

Once you have a birth date, you need to obtain the birth record or certificate. Whether you should contact the county or state depends on the when the state started keeping this information at the state level. If you do not know the exact year your ancestor died, most government agencies will search only a ten-year period for each request. So it would be good to narrow the time period at much as possible before requesting a search.

  • Vitalrec.com has dates for when birth records were kept by state or county.

Also see:

If you are not sure that searching for a birth record is the next best option for your research, consider using the advice feature of this site. This will help you pick your next best steps in your research. Go to the Free Search Advisor.