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From the Ancestry Daily News
  Michael John Neill --  7/20/2005

Searching For a Birth Record and Alternate Sources

In a previous Beyond the Index column, "Separating Delayed Twins" birth certificates for three of a couple's four children were located. This week we look at options for locating information on the missing child, Anna Apgar, and also consider the chance that no record of her 1913 birth was ever recorded.

Did They Move Temporarily?
A move might have caused the birth to have been recorded in a jurisdiction outside the Cook County, Illinois, area. Families did move (sometimes very regularly) and it is possible that the Apgars were outside the Chicago area at the time of Anna's birth in 1913. In this case, there is no family tradition indicating a temporary move out of the Chicago area and no records located indicate that the family lived anywhere else during the 1912-1914 time period. However, the potential of a record outside Chicago should not be completely eliminated at this point.

Is There a Birth Record at All?
Regular readers of this column will remember that Anna's two older sisters both had delayed birth certificates created nearly twenty years after their births. The article theorizes why Anna might not have had such a record herself. It would not be unusual for Anna to not have birth certificate after civil registration was begun in a certain area. The "gaps" are more likely in the early years of registration, precisely when Anna's birth took place. The only child of Anna's parents that has a contemporary birth record is the youngest child Louis. For this reason, I shouldn't assume that Anna has to have a birth certificate.

There Might be Other Records
The search needs to expand to consider other sources that might mention the birth. If Anna had been born in less urban area, I would have looked in nearby weekly newspapers for a mention of the event. In a rural area, if these items are included in the newspaper, they likely are mentioned in the "gossip" or correspondents' columns. The earlier one researches, the less likely one is to find such references however. Before 1880 such notices were not the norm, but had Anna's 1913 birth been in a rural area, I certainly would have looked for such a reference.

School or other records might help me to prove Anna's age, but they will not be as contemporary a source as a birth certificate or a notice in a newspaper. Still, if additional records are not fruitful this option will need to be explored further. The additional difficulty will be in finding where she attended school if the family's residences during her school age years cannot be determined.

One additional source of birth information that should be included in this search is a baptismal record. These records are most useful for ancestors whose denominations practiced infant baptism as the religious ceremony took place shortly after the child's birth, usually within a few weeks. Fortunately in this case there is good reason to believe the mother was of the Catholic faith. However, the denomination is not always known.

Determining the Denomination and the Church
The fortunate genealogist already knows the denomination of his ancestors. The rest of us have to figure it out. Here are some general guidelines:

  • Other records may suggest the affiliation
    Look at the minister on the marriage record of your ancestor. Can you determine his denomination from city directories, county histories, or similar materials? Your ancestor's death notice or obituary may mention the minister who officiated at the ceremony or may even name the church from which the body was taken to the cemetery. And if your ancestor was buried in a Catholic or Lutheran burial ground that is a big clue in and of itself.
  • Ethnic background may help
    Some ethnic groups tend to be members of a specific denomination, especially in the first few generations after the immigrant. Germans frequently are Catholic or Lutheran, Swedes are generally Lutheran, and French-Canadians tend to be Catholic. There are other tendencies for different groups as well. While there are always exceptions to every rule, determine what denominations members of your ancestor's ethnic group tended to be affiliated with. Use that denomination as a place to start.
  • What was close and nearby?
    Your German family may have been Lutheran for generations and suddenly your great-great-grandparents have converted. Did they change denominations because the village where they settled had two churches? One was a Catholic Church with an Irish priest and the other was a Presbyterian church with a German minister. It does not take a great deal of analysis to see which church they were more likely to attend.

Back to Anna and Locating the Church
Anna's mother was a French-Canadian Roman Catholic and it was known that the children were raised in that faith. I was hoping to find a baptismal record for Anna, even though family members did not think such a record existed. While I knew the denomination, I did not know what specific church the family attended. There are numerous Roman Catholic churches in the Chicagoland area, so the question was where to start.

Given the large number of Catholic churches in Chicago, the family likely attended one near to their residence. Census and other records were used to determine the general area the family lived in during the time the children were born. Maps and a posting to the Cook County, Illinois, mailing list at RootsWeb helped me narrow my search to four churches the family most likely attended. A month later, I had located the record.

I got off very easy. The baptism took place at the church closest to where the family lived, Holy Rosary on 113th Street. By mail I obtained a typed certificate of baptism for Anna Apgar. It fortunately contained the same date of birth Anna gave on her SS-5 form (the SS-5 form is the application for a Social Security Number--available from the Social Security Administration. In this case, Anna's death certificate was not considered highly reliable for information on her birth). Oddly enough Anna was baptized in April of 1922 at the age of nine--not quite the age I expected. The other details all dovetailed and I was certain I had the correct record.

The sponsors were listed as Esther McCasland and Theodore Hoontes. Names of baptismal sponsors are always of interest to the genealogist and they were particularly interesting in this situation. The analysis in this instance needed to be done carefully as I was viewing a typed transcription of the record, not an actual copy of the record itself. The reference to Esther McCasland most likely was intended to mean Elsie McCasland, an aunt of Anna Apgar (a sister of Anna's mother Marie). The reference to Theodore Hoontes was more difficult to determine. In a future column we will learn more about Mr. Hoontes and see how that reference initially created a great deal of confusion.

In Summary
When a birth record cannot be located, consider:

  • Whether or not the family moved
  • That no record might have been created at all
  • That a delayed record might have been created, perhaps where the person was living at the time the delayed record was recorded
  • Other records that might provide the same information

When trying to determine your ancestor's denomination, consider:

  • Where your ancestor lived
  • Your ancestor's ethnic group
  • Records that might hint at your ancestor's religious affiliation

Michael John Neill is the Course I Coordinator at the Genealogical Institute of Mid America (GIMA) held annually in Springfield, Illinois, and is also on the faculty of Carl Sandburg College in Galesburg, Illinois. Michael is currently a member of the board of the Federation of Genealogical Societies (FGS) www.fgs.org. He conducts seminars and lectures nationally on a wide variety of genealogical and computer topics and contributes to several genealogical publications, including Ancestry Magazine and Genealogical Computing. You can e-mail him at mjnrootdig@myfamily.com or visit his website at www.rootdig.com, but he regrets that he is unable to assist with personal research.

Copyright 2005, MyFamily.com.

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Other Genealogy articles by Michael John Neill