Finding birth records

Continuing the series on getting started on your family history, this is quite a long post, but I hope it is useful, just give yourself some time to read it.

Well the obvious first step in finding the date of birth for someone is to obtain their birth certificate - and how do you do that when you don't know the date of birth?  This is the dilemma many of us face when trying to track down an ancestor.

Try to narrow down some information before searching:

Full Name
Before searching for an ancestor's birth date or location you will need to know their full name (including maiden name for your female ancestors). Without this information you will find it very difficult to locate records and, even if you locate them, you will find it almost impossible to verify that it is indeed your ancestor.

Approximate Year of Birth
If you do not already know, you will need to find the approximate year in which your ancestor was born. This can be estimated by using his/her age at various events in their life.

Approximate Place of Birth
If you do not already know, you will need to find the approximate location in which your ancestor was born. This can usually be found on records which were generated later in their life or by tracing the movements of relatives (siblings and children) and neighbors.  For some records you need to really narow this down, in Ireland for instance, you need to know the townland before you can do any real research.

Where to look

ASK THE FAMILY.  You may be surprised and find some information from relatives, even if you track down an approximate year it will help.  Many families kept family bibles with birth information in them, or simply a family document listing births - ask around and see what you can find.  I found a list of birth dates on the back of my G grandfathers birth certificate.

LOOK UP INDEXES.  You are trying to track down some vital records.  Remember that indexes often will not have a lot of information, and if you have a common name, it may be difficult to work out which person you are after.  You can usually work out an approximate year of birth by working back from the DOB of any children or sisters/brothers that you do know of.

It is worth knowing about the country of birth, and how births were recorded at this point.  For instance, not every country had civil registration (recording Births by the government).  For a very informative article on English civil registration go to Family Search   or Genealogy in Time and you will find out that many births were recorded only as baptisms for quite some time. You may need to check to see if parish church registers are available online as an index - or go to the church if you can narrow it down.
Many families stayed in the same area - particularly in the 1700's and further back.

On the other hand, recent births will usually not be available at all - as a privacy protection.

In Australia, MOST states have a BDM index online:

A couple of states have some different practices

 I have found quite a few people  on the NSW BDM by searching just with the father and mother's name, and narrowing it down by the place they lived in.  This threw up a couple of miss spellings as well.  Or search for anyone with a particular surname (and any possible variations) within a small timeframe.  You sometimes need some imagination to track an ancestor down!

Places to look for birth indexes include Ancestry, Family Search, Find my Past or Genes Reunited.  Or do a Google search with {COUNTRY BDM} and you should find where the indexes are kept.  For less well documented countries, look up Ancestry and Family Search how to guides for that country for clues.
BIRTH CERTIFICATES.  This may be needed to confirm you have the right person, or obtain information on who their parents were, although marriage certificates are often more useful.  Many English baptism documents are online for viewing at Ancestry and Family Search.

Typically, a birth certificate will have quite a bit of information on it:
  • Name of your ancestor.
  • Birth date of your ancestor.
  • Place of birth of your ancestor.
  • Name of the father of your ancestor.
  • Name of the mother of your ancestor, including her maiden name.
  • Occupation of your ancestor's father.
  • Name of a person present at your ancestor's birth.
  • The child's religion.
Birth certificates are usually expensive, so I personally obtain them very sparingly.  Remember also that there can be transcription errors in vital records, including birth certificates.  For more information take a look at this Article.

In Australia remember there are two types of documents- an EXTRACT which contains most information - here is the extract for my Grandfather:

And a CERTIFICATE, which will contain much more information, is slightly more expensive but worth it (most of the time!) if you are going to purchase evidence. Research just what type of information you will receive BEFORE you pay, is the only advice I can give.  Below is my mother's birth certificate that was purchased from England when she died, it has very limited information. Very disappointing.

Here is a handy list of what you can expect to find in Australian Birth Certificates from Graham Jaunays website

Tip: Research exactly what information will be on any certificate that you purchase, look at all the options before deciding which is best for you.  Many people prefer to purchase marriage certificates and death certificates as they often have more information.  Beware though, that many people lied about their age at the time of marriage, and information on a death certificate is usually given by the family, so any errors are perpetuated.

NON VITAL & NON BIRTH RECORDS -.   Not everything is recorded in a church or government registry, and you may have to think about what that person and their family could have been doing.  You may find some information that points you to at least a year of birth, particularly in census records.

 Here are some other places to look:

Newspaper Notices
Birth announcements, marriage banns, obituaries

Death records
Obituaries, newspaper funeral announcements, wills, probate
Military Records
Service records, pension files, draft registrations, awards, discharge papers.  In Australia, start with the war memorial and national archives sites.

Census Records
Many census and tax records will give the age at the date of the census as well as country/locality of birth. Keep in mind that availability and usefulness of census records varies widely by country.

Cemetery Records
Tombstones, funeral home records, sexton's records,

Immigration/Emigration Records
Citizenship papers, ships passenger lists, port entry/exit records.  Especially useful in Australia, just go to the national archives for more information and searching.  Keep in mind, if migrants have a file it can be digitised for you.

Land Records
Deeds, homestead applications, mortgages and other property records may provide clues as to place of birth.

Probate Records
Wills and estate records will often provide the age at death, from which you can approximate the year of birth

FINALLY   - I had several people in my tree with no DOB, not even a year.  One side of the family is from Ukraine, where records have been completely destroyed in wars.  This was because most records were only in churches.   I found this a bit of a problem, so have tried to put an approximate year in.  There are no exact conventions with this, but I ave used ABT (or about) to signify that, well really, I don't know and it's a guess.  So if you have no idea, give it a guess so that you don't find you have all sorts of errors in your computer. 

And in this Mothers Day, I leave the truely final word to Les Dawson:

I'm not saying my mother didn't like me
but she kept looking for loopholes in my birth certificate! 

I'm not saying my mother didn't like me, but she kept looking for loopholes in my birth certificate
Read more at'm not sa


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