Finding a Date of Birth for an Ancestor – Part 1

Family Bibles are a very good source of information for finding about your family. They were published from the nineteenth century and included blank pages in which you could record important pieces of information like births, baptisms, marriages, deaths and burials. These were then passed down from generation to generation and subsequent information could then be filled in. Sometimes information may be unreliable in that information was filled in about an ancestor which was not based upon personal knowledge. Imagine then that you were not sure about the birth date entered for an individual, how could you go about finding out if it was true or not. There are of course a variety of other sources of information that you could use, some will give you the exact date whilst others will be able to lead you to the correct year/period in history. I will introduce the sources that you could use that you may well find in family records; give a general background to them and other pieces of information that would be useful in determining the birth date.

It is likely that somewhere in your family there will be some records that hold information about your ancestors. Some families will have large number of these records, perhaps catalogued and held in safekeeping. Certainly others like mine will have few records and trying to find them is sometimes very difficult. Information about my Great Great Grandfather for example seems to have passed down through the eldest son’s line and it was only by luck that I managed to make contact with a descendant who had some family records. So what are you likely to be able to find in your family records that will help you determine the birth date of an elusive ancestor.

Information that is likely to provide you with the most accurate date will be from Birth Certificates. Civil registration of births, deaths and marriages began in 1837 after the Births and Deaths Registration Act and the Marriage Act of 1836. Although it was compulsory not all births were recorded as parents did not always remember to do so. Birth Certificates contain a large amount of information, the name and sex of the child, the name and occupation of the father, the name and previous surname of the mother and the name and address of the informant. Most importantly for our problem it contains the date and place of birth of the child.

So you may well be lucky enough to have a Birth Certificate of an ancestor in your family records but more than likely records of this type are few and far between. Of course if your ancestor was born before 1837 then there will be no such records and you will have to rely on other pieces of information to help you narrow down the birth date.

Marriage and death certificates will also enable you to work out the age of your ancestor although they will not be able to give an exact date. Marriage certificates in particular should be treated with caution as ages could be incorrectly written and sometimes you will just find ‘of full age’ which means that your ancestor was 21 or over and the time of marriage.

Death certificates also contain a number of pieces of information including the age of the deceased although again be wary as the informant of your ancestors death may well not know the exact age of the person.

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