The Elusive Birth Record

Why can’t you find a birth / baptism?  You’ve checked birth registries, you’ve checked baptisms, you’ve checked parish records such as bishops transcripts and poor house records and you can’t find your ancestor and you’re very frustrated?  You keep looking and feel like you are going around in circles? :)  You’ve tried different spellings, you’ve tried other names it may sound like, you’ve checked other areas and still nothing!  You’re feeling “beyond” frustrated!

Have you considered that there may not be birth or baptism record?  I know we all want one but sometimes there just isn’t one!  Some did not survive.  Some children weren’t registered or baptized.  And it wasn’t always consistent ie: you may find the family had several kids, some were registered or baptised and some weren’t.  There are a lot of reasons why a birth registrations or baptisms cannot be found or did not occur:-

  • Sometimes they lived were in a country area, they may only see a vicar who travels through every now and then and a registration or baptism not done at the time may have been forgotten later
  • Illegitimacy, hiding the illegitimate child’s origins or vicars refusing to baptize an illegitimate child
  • Prior to a time when registration was required, this can be later than we think
  • Distrust of authorities
  • Informal adoption
  • Cost of Registration or Taxes on Births
  • The religious faith of the family was not accepted in some era’s
  • Records destroyed by disasters eg: fires, floods etc
  • War destroying records or records being destroyed so enemy could not have them
  • Human input eg. theft, malicious intent
  • Damaged records
  • Documents have become unreadable over time

What to do when you can’t find a birth / baptism? Accept there may not be a birth or baptism record but keep an open mind as other records you find may give hints that may assist finding a record.

Then set out to prove the parental relationship in other ways:

  • Check marriage records to see if parents names are listed
  • Check death records to see if parents names are listed
  • Check census documents if available in the area of research to see if family relationships are listed, may have parents names, ages etc.
  • Electoral rolls if available in the are of research to see who is living in the same household, will need to consider the age eligible to be on the rolls, this will vary depending upon country.
  • Birth notices, death notices or obituaries to see if parents are listed or to see if siblings are listed as you may be able to find records for the siblings that show parents names.
  • Newspaper articles to check for any information relating to the family or ancestor you are researching
  • Items passed down in the family such as bibles and birthday books (see image)

It’s important not to become tunnel-visioned on relying on a birth or baptism record to prove parentage.  If it cannot be found for any reason then consider other records that are available.  Lastly it is suggested not to rely on just one record, try to find 2 or more to substantiate your information.

Article courtesy of Judy Purkiss

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