Most researchers know that they need to contact the appropriate state or county to get birth certificates or other vital records. Because these are not federal records, they are not in NARA’s holdings. So why can you sometimes find copies of official state-issued vital statistics in our records?
Think about it – when you contact the federal government today, you have to provide proof that you are who you say you are. Since most states didn’t issue official birth certificates during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, people used to submit affidavits from family members or neighbors. You will sometimes see letters stating that the witness was present at the individual’s birth. When states started issuing birth records to a greater extent, people began submitting copies of these records as proof of identity. Sometimes, however, it proved impossible to locate the official birth record.
In 1915, George Koehler applied for a passport. He contacted the New York City Department of Health to obtain a copy of his birth certificate. The Department of Health was unable to locate the record, so Mr. Koehler still had to submit an affidavit to prove his identity. Since a birth certificate was the preferred method of identification, he submitted this letter from the Department of Health indicating a negative search.
Every record is different, and you won’t always find copies of vital statistics. But who knows? You might get lucky and find one.
Has anyone found a copy of a birth or death record in federal records?