Saturday, May 1, 2010

RESEARCH TIP: Birth Records

Indiana law required counties to keep records of births beginning in 1882. In the 1930's, the Works Progress Administration (WPA) indexed Hendricks County's birth records for 1882 through 1920.  That WPA birth index (pictured here) has been converted into a searchable database, available at the Hendricks County site for the USGenWeb Project (see the Data section).

Indiana law specified that birth records were kept by the counties' respective health departments. The Hendricks County Health Department is located on the ground floor of the Hendricks County Government Center in Danville (pictured here).

The Hendricks County Health Department will issue you a copy of the birth information, which was typed onto a card (pictured is a birth record from 1912).

Beginning in October 1907, the counties also sent a copy of their birth information to the Indiana State Department of Health in Indianapolis. Pictured is their record for the same 1912 Hendricks County birth as above. The ISDH version of the birth record contains a few more items of information, including the time of the birth, the parents' occupations, the number of births and how many of those children were still living.

Even though the law was passed in 1882, the recording of births was still not commonplace in Indiana by the 1900's, particularly with most births occurring at home instead of at a hospital. By the 1940's, there were a growing number of people who did not have a record of their birth, yet needed to supply some proof of their age--for example, to apply for Social Security, or to get a marriage license.

So in 1941, Indiana's General Assembly passed a law allowing Indiana residents without birth records to bring a petition before their county's circuit court. After being presented with evidence, the court would issue a legal decree stating the time and place of their birth (which could have happened several decades earlier, and in a place outside of the county or even the state of Indiana). This decree (often referred to as a "delayed birth record") included some of the same pieces of information that are found on an ISDH birth record. Pictured is an example of a decree for an 1896 birth, which was filed in Hendricks County Circuit Court in 1941.

Hendricks County has petitions for delayed birth records that were filed from 1941 through 1979 (though very scattered in the later years) and these records have been microfilmed.That microfilm is available at the Family History Library, the Indiana State Library and also at the >Plainfield library. The records have also been indexed at the Hendricks County site for the USGenWeb Project (see the Data section).

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