Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Dear Randy: How Should I Source My Birth Certificate?

I had a question a few weeks ago in email from a reader:

"Dear Randy: I understand the purpose of a source citation is to provide a way for a reader to access specific information that results in a fact or conclusion in my family tree research.  Some information, specifically birth certificates or death certificates, are only available to family members.  When I cite the source of my birth certificate for instance, the New Mexico Department of Health, that information is not available to just anyone.  Why wouldn’t it be better to cite the copy I’m looking at and use my files as the repository?  I can explain in great detail where it is located in New Mexico, but if they can’t access it, what good is the source citation?"

Dear reader:

The birth certificate itself is the source of the record of your birth, and the repository that you obtained it from is the New Mexico Department of Health, not your family files.  The source citation would highlight the provider of the document, when it was obtained, and the specific person whose birth is recorded.  If the only source you had for the event was a family paper or a family Bible, then that would be your source.  So you should cite the source of the document - including where you obtained it, with the repository address.  Just because another person could not obtain your birth certificate from the Department of Health is not a good reason to not cite the birth certificate and the repository that it was obtained from.

Explaining how you obtained it, and limitations on that acquisition, can be part of your source citation, or part of a Source Comment or Citation Comment in your genealogy software program, in a research log, or in a published Footnote or Endnote.  In cases like this, more information is better than less information.

There's nothing that prevents you from transcribing what is on your birth certificate and including it in your software program - either in a Person Note, a Fact Note or a Source Note.  You can note that it can be found in your family files.  You can also scan the birth certificate and attach the image to the Event in your genealogy software program.  If you write a family history book or report you can include the notes and/or the scanned image in the book as evidence to support the Birth Event.  

The source citation for my own birth certificate, crafted in the RootsMagic template for "Vital Records, local certificates" is:

San Diego County, California, birth certificate no. State of California Department of Public Health, Certificate of Life Birth, 43-144396, District 3703, Registrar's No. 867 (registered 30 October 1943), Randall Jeffrey Seaver born 23 October 1943; San Diego County Clerk's Office, San Diego, Calif.

The URL for this post is:

Copyright (c) 2012, Randall J. Seaver


Unknown said...

Great post Randy.

This comes up not just in vitals but in military records as well. I helped my mother fill out the paperwork for her brother's jacket which I was not eligible to receive. She forwarded to me what she received. My source is still the St. Louis Personnel Center rather than my mother’s paper.

I'd love to see Judy over at Legal Genealogist's take on whether we are in any way bound by privacy laws of the issuing state from publishing. That might open a can of worms.

Typo alert. In your citation *Life Birth* should be *Live Birth* I suspect.

Unknown said...

So people are still trying to find their birth certificates. I think they should inform the California vital records and I hope they will find what they are looking for. It is not good to be a citizen without having a record of the birth certificate.

Willis said...