Thursday, December 10, 2009

Civil Registration In The US & Canada

From the earliest time, most of the key events of our ancestors were kept in parish registers until civil registration of births, marriages and deaths was introduced. In the United States and Canada, civil registration was not a federal responsibility but that of each state, province or territory, so there is no uniform date when these records began to be kept. Most areas began keeping a record of the births, marriages and deaths that occurred within their borders and those records remain the backbone of most modern genealogical research. The problem is going back beyond the start of the modern records keeping in the geographical area that you are studying.

If you are relatively new to genealogy and haven't pushed back too many generations in your family tree, you will need to understand how to use civil registration to further your research.

In the United States and Canada, each state or province began collecting records of the births, marriages and deaths at different times and they had varying degrees of what was required to be included in the information about the event. There are some records that were kept showing only the name of a child born, with the parents information missing or lost, or just stating where and what date two people married, or just a name of someone who died. Other times you will find much fuller descriptions of the birth, marriage or death providing names, dates, ages, occupations and addresses of those involved in these events.

Most of what you will find is accurate, but always keep an eye on what information was provided and by whom. If you found the death certificate of an elderly person you were researching, you would want to know who provided the information about his or her parents names and the place of birth of the deceased. If a spouse or child is shown as the person giving information, you should be able to accept the accuracy of the information, but what if a much younger person such as a son-in-law or daughter-in-law or a landlord or neighbor provided the details? Be aware of whether someone who they may actually have had little knowledge about the individual provided the details.

Basically, the further back the event from when the record was being made, the easier it is for an error to occur. The birth information for a child should be relatively correct as usually the mother or father would be present (hopefully the mother at least would be present for the birth of her child!) and able will provide the required information to the registrar. He or she should have some knowledge about maiden names and ages, but if someone died at an advanced age in some distant land, how much of what is reported about the person can be verified?

If you know the names and the approximate date and location of your ancestors' birth, marriage or death, finding the relevant certificates is somewhat easy to do. You can check to see if there is any kind of an index, but if the event you are interested in is recent, the details will be kept private from the general public and will not be online. Most repositories do not release certificates unless a certain period of time has passed, such as 100 years for births or 75 years for marriages or deaths that occurred within their jurisdiction.

Just about every state or province will have different requirements for issuance of a certificate and you will need to find out if the event you are interested in seeing was registered and the record kept in the area you are researching.

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