Family Tree Friday: Vital Statistics in Federal Records

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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.

George Koehler small

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?

9 comments

  1. My grandmother was born in the 1890’s and her birth date was written in her bible. Is this considered legal. Also, I believe she was a slave. She is 100 % Cherokee Indian.
    Her name was Julia Belton. She died around 1959-1962.

    1. Hi Inge,

      I’m sorry we missed your comment in February!

      It’s possible that your grandmother never had a birth certificate issued. That happened a lot until well into the twentieth century. Family Bibles are not considered legal proof of birth these days, but we see a lot of pages from family bibles in Civil War pensions, so it’s clear that they were accepted as proof at one time. If you need legal proof of your grandmother’s birth, you could look for her in the 1900 census – that’s the first census that she should show up in.

      If you’re interested in researching her Cherokee heritage, you should take a look at our Native American resources on our website. They’ll give you some tips. If your grandmother identified herself as Cherokee, you should be able to find something.

      – Katherine

  2. Father in law Everett Arnold Turner born 2/26/13 in Portsmouth, Ohio. Cannot find a birth certificate for him. Any advice. Wrote to city of Portsmouth, but they said there was nothing on record.

    1. Hi Alfrida,

      Birth records in Ohio from 1908 on should be at the Ohio Department of Health. Have you contacted them? If you haven’t, I’d give that a try. If your father in law ever applied for a passport, it’s possible that there is a birth record in the file. A lot of times you’ll just see a notation that a birth record was seen – the State Department returned most of the supporting documentation. But it’s worth a shot. You can view the records online at Ancestry.com in the “US Immigration Collection.” The records go up to March 31, 1925. Later records are still at the State Department.

      I hope this helps you with your research.

      – Katherine

  3. My great grandma was born in 1892 in Massachusetts, I am looking for birth records and she was indian and wanted to find out more on that. Can’t find birth record only her marriage record in Rhode Island. Looked on Ancestry .com also.

  4. hi! my mom was born in a US army hospital back 1958 at okinawa, japan. she’s trying to get a copy of her birth certificate for passport purposes. who do you think she should contact for that? thanks!

    1. Hi Aiko,

      Records of overseas births are kept by the State Department, even if she was born on a military base. Here are some resources that might be able to help your mom obtain her birth certificate:

      Documentation of U.S. Citizens Born Abroad: http://travel.state.gov/law/family_issues/birth/birth_593.html
      How to Apply for a Certified Copy of a Consular Report of Birth Abroad: http://travel.state.gov/passport/get/first/first_825.html

      There may also be proof of her birth in her dependent medical folder or her parent’s military service records.
      Dependent Medical Folders (DMFs): http://www.archives.gov/st-louis/military-personnel/other-medical-records.html
      Veterans and their Families: http://www.archives.gov/veterans/

      Best of luck with your research,
      Meredith

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