As I mentioned in last week’s post, the information provided on census records is not always entirely accurate. Spelling and dates can vary based on the census taker and/or the family member he or she spoke with. One of the most commonly misrepresented facts is a person’s date of birth. It is not uncommon for our ancestors to have different dates of birth listed in different censuses. Because of this, it’s always a good idea to verify this information using another source, and the most reliable source of birth information is a government-issued birth record.
As with most historical data, the availability of these records varies greatly from state to state and even county to county. This article will focus on birth records for the state of Indiana. For more information about finding birth records in other states, contact that state’s Department of Health.
About Birth Records in Indiana
Indiana law did not require births to be reported to the State Department of Health until 1907. Before that, births were recorded only with the local health department in the county where the birth occurred, if they were recorded at all. The majority of births prior to 1882 were not officially recorded by any governing body.
Accessing Birth Records
To obtain a certified copy of a birth record, Indiana law requires that you meet certain restrictions based on your relationship to the person whose record you are requesting. More information regarding these restrictions can be found on the ISDH website.
Birth records after 1907 can be requested through the Indiana State Department of Health’s Vital Records Office via mail or phone (they no longer offer walk-in service). Records prior to 1907 must be requested through the applicable county office (see a list of contact information for all county offices). Fees range usually range from $5.00 to $15.00 per record.
Keep in mind that although plenty of websites offer vital records services at an array of price points, in nearly every case you’ll get more reliable and less expensive service by contacting the above mentioned offices directly.
What You’ll Find
Birth records offer more information than just our ancestor’s date and place of birth. Often, though not always, you will also find the following information about the individual’s parents:
- their full names (including the mother’s maiden name)
- their ages at the time of the birth
- their birthplaces
- their occupations
- the number of children the mother has had, and the number of those children living at the time
Using a Birth Index
While obtaining a government-issued birth record may be the preferred route, it is not always a viable option. When this is the case, you may find a birth index to be a helpful tool.
Birth indices have been used by genealogists for decades. They provide a much more accessible source of birth information and often consolidate data from multiple original sources.
However, there are a few downsides to using indices. Because they are another step removed from the original document, there is more room for human error. Also, they rarely contain as much information as the original documents. For instance, while an official birth record may contain all the information mentioned above, an index listing that same birth may only have the birth dates and the parents’ names.
There are two main indices of Indiana births. The first was created by the Works Projects Administration and compiles county birth records ranging from 1880-1920. Unfortunately, the agency was abolished before the indexing project was completed, so only 68 counties are indexed. The index can be accessed in print at the Indiana State Library. Part of the index has been digitized and can be accessed at Ancestry.com (available for free at several area libraries). Follow the link to see a list of counties available online.
The second large-scale indexing project that was done for the state of Indiana, is Pre-1882 Indiana Births from Secondary Sources, Vols. I & II. This index was compiled by Dawne Slater-Putt, CG, in 1999 and includes information from a variety of secondary sources. You can access the index by visiting the William H. Smith Memorial Library at the Indiana Historical Society, the Indiana State Library, or any of the many other libraries in the state that hold a copy.
In addition to these two large indices, many counties have created smaller-scale indices of the births that occurred in or around their county. To find out if an index exists for the county you are researching, contact the local library or simply search their catalog.
Discovering birth information is not always easy, but it is often the only way to move forward with your family history. So use one of the methods discussed above and see what information you can discover!