Was it common in the 1800's not to have a birth or death record?

+8 votes
Looking through records I cannot birth records or death records for family members. What is the best way of going about this? If I can find them on a census then I would think I could find their birth record or death record. I could really use some help, some of this is still confusing to me
in Genealogy Help by Gloria Scott G2G Crew (840 points)
The state of Ohio did not require the filing of Death Records until 1886.   One wonders ...
When Ohio became a State in 1803 there were only 3 counties so registering anything involved traveling a very long way and many could not do that. The current 88 counties were not completely formed until 1888.
The state of WV was one where some places, only had Midwives, who a lot of times did not bother recording the birth. if they were from back in the Mountian Hollers, a lot of Midwives, were related to the woman giving birth, and at that time, it was through the grape vine, that gave the Birth, information. so everyone knew, and never needed recording. which makes it hard on the one doing the research. My mother had no  birth record, her grand mother was a midwife, was not reg.

Lilly Anderson G2G1
Midwives delivered many babies.  There are cases in my own tree, where fire destroyed birth records (Chicago Fire).  There was a midwife in my family.  Midwives tried to get the records registered, but things can happen.
When I searched for wedding certificate in Grayson County, VA for a wedding certificate for Daniel Carter (dob ~1805) and Amelia Anderson (dob 1806) in 1830 the jpg I got back are three lines indicating date, name of groom and bride!  Names of parents, place of birth and birth dates not given for other couples on that page!!  Guess I am spoiled after researching Hungarian-Austrian Parish records from the 1600's to 1800's... house #'s, occupations of groom & bride and names of parents with occupations and resident towns...

8 Answers

+14 votes
Best answer
There a lot of factors to consider. In rural areas there was often no one to look after the record keeping and residents had to travel to the nearest town or city to register a birth or death...not always convenient for them and so some didn't. Some records have been destroyed by accident, fire, flood or purposely. Some jurisdictions make these records available to the public and genealogical organizations others keep them under lock and key and require you to make application and often pay a fee to have a copy. It's the "fun" part of genealogy...here is the mystery, its up to you to find the clues.
by Brett Rutherford G2G6 Pilot (121k points)
selected by Julie Vlaminck
You are right about this being the "fun" part of genealogy I am having fun digging. Some sides of the family are a lot easier than others.
+7 votes
It all depends on where they were born/died, and when in the 1800's. If you're talking about the United States, many states have fewer birth & death records the further back you go.  England, on the other hand, started registrations in 1837 (although I think I've read that it wasn't compulsory immediately).

You can do google searches to find out specifics for the areas in which your ancestors were born & died.
by Nan Starjak G2G6 Pilot (254k points)
+7 votes
Regarding the US, birth was a family matter, but death involved property rights and usually generated a record in the county probate court or a coroner's court.  Check county records for the appropriate jurisdiction.
by Christine Henderson G2G6 Mach 1 (12.0k points)
+9 votes
Yes, it is very common for a family not to register the birth of a child. there was a lack of trust in giving the government information over the years. You will find late birth registrations common as well. It was a more complicated process requiring witness of a high standing person in the community. The turn around was usually as a result of application for a  government pension or benefit. Registration of marriage and death certificates was more controlled and often managed by church officials if not by government officials.
by George Churchill G2G6 Mach 8 (86.4k points)
+5 votes

In England & Wales the registration of Births, Marriages & Deaths was introduced in 1837. It was not compulsory for Births  to be registered until 1875, following the Births & Death Act 1874.

by R W G2G6 Pilot (259k points)
Would this also be the same for Ireland? I have found so far family from England, and Ireland, though I am not sure how to proceed from here to find who I am looking for.
I don't think so. Unfortunately during the Irish Civil War in 1922, a bombardment and fire destroyed the Public Records Office which destroyed many irreplaceable genealogical records.
+5 votes
Look for baptismal and burial records instead. Also try to find online copies of family bibles (I know Ancestry has some). Google the name, look on FamilySearch, etc. It sometimes takes quite a lot of searching.
by Rosemary Jones G2G6 Pilot (232k points)
I have found a few death records using FamilySearch but have found no record of the births and some will not be on the census since they died before the next one came out.
You will have to look for baptismal or christening records. Remember, not everything on FamilySearch is available for searching. There are collections that aren't indexed and these you have to browse page by page.
+2 votes
Virginia did not start keeping birth and death records until 1853.  Late in the 19th century the law lapsed.  Some counties continued for awhile, some didn't.  A new law was passed and beginning in 1912 there are birth and death records.  And yes, some got missed and never recorded.  Cemetery records, estate records, wills, church records, newspaper obituaries can sometimes fill the gap.  The Library of Virginia collects Bible records and is also a good source.
by Daniel Jones G2G Crew (470 points)
+2 votes
Here in Australia the compulsory civil registration of births, marriages, and deaths did not become law until the mid to late 1850’s.  Prior to this the only records were those maintained by churches.  If parents did not have their children baptised then there was typically no other records of their birth.  Even if they were baptised, records were also almost certainly lost at times.

In the state of New South Wales copies of the baptismal records were subsequently transferred to and consolidated by the established civil authority.  I understand that similar processes were adopted in other states.  In some cases the records had also occasionally been already consolidated by church authorities, and this caused duplication of records at the civil level.  I have therefore come across instances before compulsory registration where there are duplicate records of baptism of a child, single records for many, and some where no record is evident.
by Peter Jones G2G6 Mach 2 (23.1k points)

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