Looking for Southern Vital Records

by Tonia Kendrick on September 17, 2010 in Research

These are some of my notes from the presentation “ ‘Wanted Dead or Alive!’ Looking for Southern Vital Records” that I attended at the 2010 Federation of Genealogical Societies Conference.  The lecture was presented by Russell P. Baker.  This is not intended to be a transcript or even a synopsis of the lecture, but rather reflects some of the things that I learned.

I attended this presentation because, as everyone who does research in the South knows, vital records are notoriously difficult to locate.  Not only did we start keeping records late in comparison to some other parts of the country, but also we have been plagued by courthouse fires and other disasters which have destroyed many of our government records.  The introduction for this lecture stated that it would “explore alternate sources for these kinds of records.”

The syllabus included a list of Southern states and the address, website, and phone number for the state vital records office; it also listed the year that record-keeping began in that state.  I’m not including that information here; however, if there is a specific state for which you need information, leave a comment and I will email you that state’s information.

One of Mr. Baker’s first remarks regarded the book: International Vital Records Handbook by Thomas Jay Kemp.  He says this book should be in the library of every serious Southern researcher.

He then suggested that we adopt a “family-oriented research strategy,” which means to widen one’s search beyond the direct line.  I know from my own experience that I’ve often found information for direct ancestors on documents belonging to collateral lines.  For example, I found a birthplace for a 3rd-great-grandfather on his son’s death certificate (the son being the brother of my ancestor).

Following are some strategies for finding “vital record” information:

  • Check existing birth records for every family member.
  • Check for “Delayed of Prior Birth Certificates” – especially for people who filed SS-5’s as they would need proof of birth.
  • Get death certificates for all possible family members and compare the information from all siblings (the comparison refers to parental information on the death certificate).
  • SSDI – look for all siblings and spouses of siblings.
  • Check Railroad Retirement Board records
  • The DAR library is a source for Family Bible records.
  • U. S. Civil War Pensions – U. S. means “Union” records.  Mr. Baker made the point that one shouldn’t assume all Southern soldiers fought for the Confederacy.   (I have an ancestor who served in both armies; I made a note to order his U. S. pension from NARA.)
  • Property records can provide incidental proof of marriage, because the wife had a dower interest in the property, which she was required to sign away in the event of a sale.

Many other potential sources were mentioned during the lecture, but these are the ones that I think will be most useful in my own research.  What other sources have you found useful in finding birth-death-marriage information when no vital record can be located?

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