TIP# 62 - ANOTHER LOOK AT BIRTH AND DEATH RECORDS:
The first vital statistics law in Kentucky was known as Sutton's Law. It was approved January 1852 by the General Assembly. Tax accessors in each county were required to register all vital events in their county with the Auditor's Office. In 1862, because primarily of the Civil War, this law was repealed as it was using funds needed for the war effort. However, in 1874, the law was put back on the books that required birth and death records to be recorded.
During the period of 1852 to 1910, births, deaths and marriages were irreregularly recorded in Kentucky (of course, the year we need always being missing!) In 1910, a new law was passed and regular, regulated registrations of births and deaths were maintained.
If you are lucky enough to be in a Kentucky courthouse that has most if not all of its records intact, you may stumble upon little slips of paper that were filed there on these births and deaths. It appears that they were all completed by physicians and midwives, and then either delivered to the courthouse by the doctors, or picked up by the tax collectors and brought to the courthouse. The handwriting was just as difficult to read then as it is today!
It appears that the early law of 1852 was not very popular with the citizenry - perhaps thought to be an invasion of privacy? The only one the county had that could be responsible for this huge task was the tax collector and one can well imagine that he wasn't all that pleased with an added responsibility. The law spelled out rather clearly that all ministers, physicians or attending personnel (midwives, etc) must comply and keep records of the births, deaths and marriages they had officiated at. Thankfully, the ministers must have most readily complied because their registers are on file with not too many gaps!
The tax assessor was quite busy talking with the head of each family, verify who had been born, had died or had married during the previous year. They then had to turn in the report to the County Clerk no later than May 1st which was attached to their tax lists. Then the County Clerk had to make a handwritten copy of these vital statistics and send copies to the State Auditor of Public Accounts no later than July 1st.
As one can guess, it was a nightmare! Some county officials were more lax in reporting their vital statistics, poor record keeping by the physicians and clerks ... incorrect information given to the tax assessor by the head of the family ... the list of problems was endless. It was what might be called a "hateful" job. To top that off, many county officials didn't even see the need of keeping such a "useless" list. This led to the repeal of the law in 1862.
From 1863 to 1910 (when the Office of Vital Statistics was established), there were random attempts to acquire these vital statistics again. This led to the 1874 law. Thankfully, some vital statistics are available from 1874-1878, but again, poorly regulated. Ministers were dropped off the required list and no longer had to compile lists of the marriages they had performed. Some vital statistics can be found 1893 to 1894 and 1900 to 1904 or 1905.
Louisville, Lexington, Covington and Newport were the exceptions to the rule. They maintained their early records conscientiously beginning in the late 1890's. This is a blessing because - due to the fact that medical facilities were few and far between, many Kentuckians traveled to the larger cities for medical treatment - many died there - and are recorded there. According to Roseann Hogan:
Covington - births 1896-1910 and deaths 1880-1910
Lexington - births 1906-1910 and deaths 1898-1910
Louisville - births 1898-1910 and deaths 1866-1910
Newport - births 1890-1910 and deaths 1884-1910
A great majority of these vital statistics have been microfilmed and are available for order. You may check with your local library who maintain lists for each state and the counties. More than one county may appear on each reel of film depending on the size of the county.
What's shown on the vital statistics?
Births: Separate lists for blacks and whites were started in 1874 - before that time, they were all listed together. Information includes date of birth, the child's name, sex, race, condition (alive or dead), place of birth, name of the father or owner, mother's maiden name, parents' place of residence and remarks. There is NO information for the years 1863-1873, 1880-1892, 1895-1899. The records 1856-1861 and 1874-1877 are based strictly on the physicians/midwives returns taken to the courthouse.
Problems with above:
Date of Birth: Often guessed at. The physician/midwife/attendant didn't write it down and was guessing or the head of household had long ago lost track after the 10th child had arrived!
Name: Many children were unnamed at birth. Sometimes it took a year or more for some of these dear children to have a "real" name! They were called Baby, Sis, etc ... and their names will be shown as "Unnamed".
Sex & race: Again, you will find boys marked as girls and vice versa or the color not filled in. With named like George A - it could be Master George Anderson So and So or Miss George Ann. Francis vs Frances is a problem area as most women's names were spelled as the man's names.
Names & residence of parents. Again, you will find errors. Maiden names can be wrong, places of residences the same.
Deaths: The Tax assessor's records are those from 1852 to 1914 and include name, age, sex, marital status, occupation, residence, birthplace, parents' name or owner's name, place, time, cause of death and remarks. In 1874 additional information was shown - deceased's race and the parents' names and places of birth. There are no records from 1863-1873, 1880-1892 and 1895-1899. As in the problems above, you can easily see the same problems would exist here. Many times the family member couldn't remember where the individual had been born, just a guess at his age. Medical causes of death were rather general. Death dates again were sometimes guessed at.
Marriages: From 1856-1858 and 1874-1876, these were included. They show marriage date, groom's name, residence, age, number of marriages and birthplace. The Bride's information was name, residence, age, number of marriages, birthplace and remarks.
More current vital statistics: Beginning in 1911, it became a lot easier for the Kentucky researcher. It still has its problems, its missing records, but what a help it is! Again, according to Roseann, statistically 3 in 10,000 births and one in 10,000 deaths were not recorded, and about 80% of the marriages have been recorded. These records contain the following information: Births - name of parents, date, place, time of birth, address of parents, possibly single or multiple birth and whether the child lived or died. On deaths - parents' names (including mother's maiden name), parents' places of birth, date and place of birth of the deceased, marital status, occupation, date, time and place of the death, address of the deceased. Medical information is also included, and later on, the Social Security # added.
These records may be obtained from the Department of Human Resources, Office of Vital Statistics, 275 Main St, Frankfort, KY 40601. The rate is always changing and will not include here.
DELAYED BIRTH CERTIFICATES: When a person was born prior to 1911, they could register their birth dates through what is known as a "delayed filed" birth certificate. They have to show proof of age and identification. (Bible records, testimony of friends, school records, etc). Close to 1/2 million of these have been filed in Kentucky. A Delayed birth certificate will show name, gender, legit or illegit, date and place of birth, name of parents, race, place of residence and age at the time of the birth, mother's maiden name. Any affidavits by physicians will be included. These are filed and maintained separately from the regular birth certificates. They are available in the Office of Vital Statistics, Main Street, Frankfort. There are 44 rolls of microfilm containing these delayed birth certificates which can be purchased from the Kentucky State Historical Society's Micrographics Department.
(c) Copyright 26 June 1997, Sandra K. Gorin, All Rights Reserved. firstname.lastname@example.org