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Lifestyle Stories

Unsung birthdays created lack of records

Special correspondent
Published:   |   Updated: March 22, 2013 at 12:30 AM

Today it seems impossible to forget one's own birthday.Annual celebrations are routine for modern American children. From backyard barbecues to parties at the local pizza parlor, children expect special attention and gifts to mark "their" day each year.

Adults who don't look forward to those milestones so eagerly are often reminded anyway - every time they fill out a credit card application, apply for a driver's license, or undertake any of dozens of tasks that require providing name, address and birth date.

Our ancestors generally didn't celebrate these events and often simply guessed in the rare instance a date was required. Most states didn't require birth records until the 20th century; some not until the 1920s.

Two things happened from 1935 to 1945 that suddenly made proof of birth a national issue, and a problem for those born prior to registration.

In 1935, legislation authorizing Social Security benefits for aging citizens brought with it a required proof of age. For those without birth certificates, state governments created them as they applied for their Social Security numbers. Problem solved.

But as war efforts revved up around the country, a real crisis arose. In the early 1940s, Americans who sought work in defense industry plants were angered when they discovered the law required them to prove their citizenship.

Someone in government apparently thought that would be easy with birth certificates. But no one considered the majority of states didn't require birth registration until just 20 or 30 years earlier.

Georgia, for example, didn't require it until 1919. A 22-year old Georgia man or woman who applied in 1940 to work in an aircraft assembly plant likely did not have a birth certificate.

Sleepy little local birth record offices around the country suddenly were overrun with requests for delayed certificates. In Georgia, one office that handled 3,000 requests in 1939 found itself juggling 60,000 applications in 1942. The government and the public were faced with the reality that 43 million Americans - about a third of the country - couldn't prove their status as citizens.

In 1942, the War Manpower Commission averted further crisis by allowing potential defense plant workers to swear to their citizenship under oath.

One of the first steps for a genealogist approaching a state's vital records office is to determine when that particular state began keeping birth, marriage and death records. This can be done with an Internet search on "[state] vital records."

A researcher seeking proof for an ancestor born in 1915 might simply walk away when told the state didn't keep records until 1919. Suppose that ancestor was a young man who left the farm when he got his first real job in 1938. He would need his Social Security number and may have applied for a delayed birth certificate.

When that man's descendant goes to the local or state vital records office, he must specifically ask for a check of the delayed birth certificates - they're filed separately from those issued at the actual time of birth.

Of course the vital records office didn't take a person's word for his date of birth. He had to offer proof. Here are some documents a person could have produced to get the delayed birth certificate:•Page of the U. S. Federal Census showing age or year of birth•Baptismal certificate from the church where the ceremony was performed•Family Bible entries•Discharge from military service•Life insurance policy•Elementary school records •Passport•Medical records, including immunizations or prenatal treatment of the mother•Marriage license or certificate from local court•Affidavit of birth from the mother or person of a certain age (this varies by state) who had knowledge of the event

Keep in mind that when a person applied for a delayed birth certificate he had to do so in the state in which he was born, but not necessarily in the county in which he was born.


Sharon Tate Moody is a board-certified genealogist. Send your genealogy questions and event announcements to her in care of Getaway, The Tampa Tribune, 200 S. Parker St., Tampa FL 33606 or stmoody0720@mac.com. She regrets that she is unable to assist wit

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