Birth records offer lots of valuable information to genealogists, and in many cases, you can find them for free. Knowing where to look can save you money and help you fill in some blanks in your family tree.
Six Free Resources for Birth Records
Birth records can offer a wealth of details about your ancestors and their lives. Information included depends on the era and location of the birth, but you may be able to find out the birth names of the parents, details about the parents' lives, ages of the parents, and the number of other children in the family. Fortunately, there are a few resources for finding this information free of charge.
The information on USGenWeb is maintained by volunteer genealogists all over the country. In many cases, people have transcribed state and county birth records, allowing you to search this information online. There's no guarantee that your family's information will be online, but records are added constantly.
Here's how to perform a search:
- Examine your research to identify the state, and if possible, the county, where your ancestor was born.
- Click on the appropriate state.
- Type in part of all of your ancestor's name.
- Select the county if you know it.
- Select the type of birth record you want. This may include vital records like birth certificates, family Bibles, and newspaper announcements.
FamilySearch.org is a genealogy website maintained by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and it has a great selection of historical records for almost all states. You can browse the records for your ancestor's state or search for a specific record.
Here's how you can search for your ancestor's birth records:
- Click on the state record collection of your choice.
- Enter your ancestor's birth name.
- Click on "birth" as a life event.
- Enter the birthplace and year if you know them and perform the search.
If you're searching for an ancestor born in England or Wales between 1837 and 1983, Free BMD is a great option. This nonprofit organization runs a database of more than 262 million records and is constantly being updated.
Here's how to get the birth record you need:
- Gather up as much information as you can about the individual you'll be finding. It helps to have the district and county, a basic idea of the date, and the parents' names; however, you can still search if you only have some of this information.
- Go to the search form and fill out the requested details.
- Look through the results and save the record that will help you with your family history.
If the ancestor was born before government certificates were issued, you may be able to find a baptism registry in a church. These registries will list the parents' names, the birth date, and the date of baptism. They may also list godparents, which may be a valuable clue for possible family members of the mother or father of the baby.
You can contact the church where you believe the baptism took place and ask for a search of their records. Published copies of church records may also be available through your local library or a genealogy library. There are a few church registries online, such as The Records of the Reformed Dutch Church of Albany, New York, 1683-1809.
Although you'll have to pay to order a copy of a birth record from most states, you can often access these records free of charge if you go in person to search. The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) maintains a list of all the state archives with contact information for each one.
Here's how you can use them to further your research:
- Contact the appropriate person via email or phone to make an appointment. You can find out who to contact by visiting your state's NARA site.
- Compile as much information as possible about your ancestor before going to the state archives. This will make your search easier and help you make the most of your time there.
- Follow the searching procedure outlined by the archives.
- Use a scanner or record information about your ancestor in your genealogy notebook. In some cases, you can also take a digital photo of the record.
State Historical Societies
Many state historical societies keep birth records for the purposes of genealogy and historical preservation. These can be different records than those in the general state archives. The time period and number of records will vary, depending on the state. Many state historical societies keep the records from the time period before the state department of health started collecting this information. To find out if your state keeps these records and how to access them, simply contact the historical society.
Here are a few of the state historical societies that do make this information available:
- State Historical Society of Iowa - Here, you'll find birth records from 1880 to 1904, as well as a few other time periods.
- Kansas Historical Society - Look here for records dating from between 1885 and 1911.
- Wisconsin Historical Society - This is a great place to find up to one million historical birth records dating from before 1907.
- State Historical Society of Missouri - Here, you can find birth records from before 1910.
More Ways to Find Out Birth Information
You can also find birth information indirectly by accessing other types of free genealogy resources. Consider some of these ideas.
Read Death Records
Death records, many of which are available free of charge, can include great information about an individual's birth. Keep in mind that these records often reflect information provided by family members at the time of the person's death, so they are not as reliable as birth certificates and similar documents. However, if you can't find the birth record you need, death records a great place to start.
Although census records usually won't provide an exact birth date for an individual, most do include the place and year of birth. This can give you a starting point. Some census years are available free of charge.
Read Newspaper Archives
Old newspaper archives are another great resource. In some cases, you can find notices of a child's birth in the newspaper. You'll also find information about an individual's birth in his obituary.
Access Military Records
Looking up free military records is another, albeit indirect, way to find out information about an ancestor's birth. If your family member served in the military, his service record should include a birth date.
Add a Generation to Your Tree
No matter how you decide to search for birth records, you'll be amazed by the wealth of information contained in these documents. Use the details you find to add one more generation to your family tree or fill in the blanks about your family's history.