How to Find Your Grandfather’s Birth Records Online

Every day we receive questions from our members regarding their family history searches. We are here to help!

Here’s a genealogy question we just received.

GenealogyBank Member Question:

My grandfather Hugh Cornwell was born in Prairie Grove, AR, 4/6/1883. I have been searching for a birth record for the past 20 years with no luck. Any suggestions?

“Ask the Genealogist” Response:

Arkansas vital records do not begin until 1914.

So, while you can possibly obtain a church baptismal certificate, you won’t be able to find a government birth certificate for your grandfather.

I found your grandfather’s California death certificate, which does give his date of birth along with the family surnames of his father and mother. His death certificate is available online on the FamilySearch website at https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.1.1/VPW3-9Q3.

There is another record for your grandfather in the 1900 census, which also states that he was born in April 1883. His census record is available on FamilySearch.org at https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.1.1/M9PK-R7K.

Here is a third document with genealogical information about your grandfather: his World War II draft registration card, also showing that he was born on April 6, 1883. You can view your grandfather’s military record at https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.1.1/V48Y-54Q.

So, while you cannot get a formal birth certificate—here are three U.S. government documents, created over the past 112 years, that give his date of birth. That should be the evidence you are looking for.

Let’s see how we can help you make progress in your own family history research.

All the best in your genealogy research.

Tracing Genealogy with Pennsylvania Death Certificates

Every day we get interesting genealogy questions from our members via our Ask the Genealogist service. The following is a good example: a member asked for help finding information about a great-grandfather.

Question:

I am looking for more information on my great-grandfather, Edgar Rhue Harner. He was born in Berks Co., PA, in 1860. He married Naomi Sines and they lived in Delaware Co., PA. No one in the family knows what happened to Edgar. I tracked census info and the last one he appears in with his family is the 1910 census, enumerated in Delaware Co, PA. After much research, I found him in the 1920 census in Norristown, PA, as a patient in the “State Hospital for the Insane.” That hospital, Norristown State Hospital, is still in existence, but I haven’t been able to get any info from them. Everything dead-ends at the 1920 census. I can find NO obituary or death record or any other info at all.

Any suggestions?

Answer from our genealogist:

Since there was no obituary published for him, you want to look for his death certificate. The state of Pennsylvania makes that easy to do. They have put up online indexes for all death certificates from 1906 to 1961 here: http://www.portal.state.pa.us/portal/server.pt?open=514&objID=1085804&mode=2

pennsylvania dept. of health public records death indices

Pennsylvania Dept. of Health Public Records: Death Indices

You need to click on each year and then search the index. This indexing system uses the Soundex system familiar to many genealogists; it assigns codes to sounds to track down surnames and their variants. Harner would code out to H-656.

1922 Pennsylvania death index

1922 Pennsylvania death index

And there he is listed in the deaths for 1922.

Here is your great-grandfather’s entry:

H-656:   Edgar Harner, Certificate Number 106302, Norristn (abbreviation for Norristown), died 11/17 (17 November 1922).

Pennsylvania considers death certificates that are over 50 years old public records. So, your next step is to order a copy of his death certificate.

To apply for a non-certified copy of a death certificate from 1906 through 1961: download the death application form here: 

pennsylvania dept. of health death records application

Pennsylvania Department of Health Death Records application

Mail the completed application to:

Division of Vital Records
ATTN:  Public Records
P.O. Box 1528
New Castle, PA  16103

There is a $3 fee for each non-certified copy ordered. Check or money order should be made payable to Vital Records. Mail requests are processed in approximately 4 months.

Search Irish Genealogy Records Online at GenealogyBank!

missing family member ad irish world newspaper Dec. 3, 1904

Irish World (New York, NY), Dec. 3, 1904

GenealogyBank has created a special search page for the Irish American newspapers in our extensive online historical newspaper archives. With this new search page, you can focus your family history research on these eight Irish American newspapers:

Each one of these Irish American newspapers was published in New York City, but their circulation extended around the country and up into Canada.

Family researchers will especially want to focus on the “Information Wanted” columns, in which readers took out short classified ads in search of their relatives. America was a big country for arriving Irish immigrants. They used the columns of these Irish American newspapers as a quick way to reach their relatives in Irish American communities around the country.

Another key resource unique to these newspapers is Irish marriage and death records. Irish families in the United States wanted news from Ireland and these newspapers supplied them.

One of the titles in our Irish American newspapers collection is an especially good source for these hard-to-find vital records from the Old Country: the Irish American Weekly, which published thousands of marriage and death records from Ireland between 1849 and 1914.

Discover your family heritage in Irish genealogy records that cannot be found anywhere else online. Learn more about how you can explore these exclusive Irish vital records in our previous blog article entitled GenealogyBank Adds Irish Vital Records to Historical Newspaper Archive.

irish american newspaper article clippings

Irish American newspaper clippings

Gather the family this St. Patrick’s Day and dig in to see what you can find out about your Irish ancestry!

GenealogyBank Adds Irish Vital Records to Historical Newspaper Archive

Wow – I have found something I never noticed before in my genealogy research. A U.S. newspaper, the Irish American (New York City, New York), routinely published thousands of Irish marriage and death records from 1849 to 1914. No, not every Irish marriage and death record, but nonetheless an exceptionally wide coverage of marriages and deaths from across Ireland. This material is extensive enough that genealogists will want to thoroughly review this online newspaper for coverage of their family in Ireland.

Irish American genealogists quickly learn that Irish civil registration of deaths began in 1864. Wow! These Irish death records in the Irish American newspaper start in 1849 – 15 years before the official civil registration started.

Here is an example of deaths published in the 28 October 1849 issue of the Irish American.

Irish civil registration of marriages begins in 1864 for Catholic marriages and in 1845 for Protestant marriages. This collection starts in 1849 for Catholic and Protestant marriages.

Here is a typical example of an Irish marriage record: Thomas Mathews of Dunbar, County Louth, married Bride Somers of Court Brown, Askeaton, County Limerick, on 19 June 1895.

The Irish couple got married at the “Kingstown Catholic Church,” which is pictured in the center right of this 1895 image of Kingstown harbor. Kingstown is in Dublin County, Ireland.

Image credit: Library of Congress, digital ID pmsc.09881.

Reading further in this Irish marriage notice we learn that the bride was the eldest daughter of Michael Somers and the niece of John Fitzgibbon of Castlerea, County Roscommon. Wow – relatives in four counties are named: Louth, Dublin, Limerick, and Roscommon.

This is terrific information to help genealogists trace their Irish ancestry.

I never expected to find this depth of coverage of Irish marriages and deaths in a U.S. newspaper.

You just don’t see Irish vital records like this in American newspapers – but now you do in GenealogyBank.

GenealogyBank.com Celebrates Fourth Anniversary Online — Reports 256% Growth in Family History Records

GenealogyBank has added over 570 million historical newspaper articles, obituaries and other vital records in the past four years – growing 256% – going from 160 million records to over 730 million articles, records & documents.

This is huge. Search GenealogyBank now.

This week GenealogyBank, a leading provider of historical and recent newspapers for family history research, is celebrating its fourth anniversary online. GenealogyBank has added over 570 million historical newspaper articles, recent obituaries and other vital records in the past four years, GenealogyBank is the fastest growing newspaper site for family history research and an ideal resource for exploring the real stories behind the lives of past generations.

“We now have 256% more family history information online today than when we launched and we only plan to continue growing, with new documents digitized every month.”

GenealogyBank‘s 4,600+ newspapers provide a firsthand glimpse into the everyday lives of millions of Americans who lived from 1690 to the present day. In addition to names, dates, places and events, newspapers offer real-life stories of the triumphs, challenges and turning points that formed communities and shaped lives. GenealogyBank‘s exclusive newspaper content — from all 50 states — can help family history researchers dig deeper into their family’s past. “Most importantly,” adds Kemp, “GenealogyBank provides substantial runs from big-city dailies, regional weeklies and small-town papers from across America. There is literally coverage from every day of the week across a 300-year span.”

“With the easiest to use Social Security Death Index available–as well as government documents, rare books, military records, newspapers and more — GenealogyBank has truly become the ‘go-to’ place for primary source family history information.”

Membership in GenealogyBank includes access to more than 730 million records including an estimated one billion names from all 50 states, each of which can be viewed as a single document and printed.

Millions of additional records are added monthly. Here is a list of just some of the newspapers we are adding in November.
Newspapers Going Live November 2010 – on www.GenealogyBank.com

Breaking News: 200 million census, death records go online

The Family History Library announced today that another 200 million genealogical records have been put online. This pushes their website to over 700 million records online. FamilySearch.org is now the largest international genealogy collection online.

The Family History Library is “focusing on digitizing and publishing online federal and state censuses and state birth, marriage and death records.”

Today’s release included:
TN Death Records 1914-1955
OH Tax Records 1800-1850
IL Death Records 1916-1947
and more collections from around the world.

Click Here to see the complete list of resources

The latest deluge of records includes 53 new or updated collections from the United States and over 100 million new records from Europe, Scandinavia and Mexico. The United States collections include the 1910 U.S. Census and states’ birth, marriage and death records. There are 10 million new records from New Jersey and Michigan, 4 million from Tennessee, an amazing 41 million from Massachusetts, and many more from other states.

TIP: FamilySearch is your best source for free census and vital records. Original digital records – all free.

“Some time ago, FamilySearch committed to creating access to the world’s genealogical records online in a big way. Today’s updates are part of an ongoing effort to make good on those commitments,” said Paul Nauta, FamilySearch public affairs manager. “We have only just begun,” Nauta concluded. In the U.S., FamilySearch is currently focusing on digitizing and publishing online federal and state censuses and state birth, marriage and death records. When complete, the initiative will provide a definitive collection of U.S. genealogical resources for family history researchers.

In addition to the new U.S. collections, over 100 million records were added to FamilySearch’s international collections online — making it most likely the largest international genealogy collection online. The new international databases come from birth, marriage and death records and from municipal records. Go to FamilySearch.org, then click Search Records and then Record Search pilot to see a full list of the free collections. The records will also soon be available at beta.familysearch.org.
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Tell us your success story.

We hear from GenealogyBank researchers all the time about their success in finding their family in historical newspapers and documents.

Do you have an interesting story to tell?
Would you be willing to be interviewed about it?

If so, please contact me directly at: TKemp@NewsBank.com

We want to hear from you.

Here is what others have told us:

Genealogy is my #1 hobby and profession. After hearing about your site, I signed up for a year. I have spent hours at libraries finding and copying obituaries and now some of them I can find just by typing in a name! I’m also finding the less common marriage notices and newspaper articles that I did not even think to search for because I did not know they existed until they came up on my screen!
Michael W. McCormick Adams County, PA, Enduring Legacy Genealogy, LLC

I have never heard of this site before, just saw it on Facebook and decided to check it out. This is my dream come true! In 5 minutes I’ve found more articles about my g-g-g grandfather than I ever thought possible! I’m sold….
Joan Morrison

[....] I found something very valuable on your site, [...] the story of my ggrandparents getting back together after 20 years being apart back in 1901-2 time. I believe it was in one of the TX papers, don’t know why it was in it, because my ggrandfather went out to Wisconsin to seek his fortune after marrying my ggrandmother in Nova Scotia. He left after 2 weeks marriage (she was already pregnant but didn’t know it, with my grandmother) and her parents did not like him, so they kept all his letters from her. He went to Massachusetts to see a friend and he asked about her and was told she lived not too far away, never married. He went to her house, and the rest is history as they say.
Margaret Sessions, Florida

I have been a subscriber since February 2008. I really like your site. I have been able to locate news articles about my ancestors in a matter of minutes. I had been looking for an article on my great grandfather’s death in a train accident for at least twenty years without any luck. I found it in about ten minutes searching GenealogyBank. THANK YOU!
Keith Parrish

Your site…I am delighted I found it. Such a wide variety from major city newspapers I’ve never found anywhere, especially with regard to the period of history in which I am most interested. Keep adding, and thank you, from a very much pleased subscriber.
George B. Parous, Pittsburgh, PA

I am a multi-state licensed private investigator that specializes in historical and genealogical research. THIS IS MY FAVORITE WEBSITE! Thanks so much!
DeeDee, Baton Rouge, LA

I subscribed to your site yesterday and forthwith found a very interesting 4th of July article concerning my Revolutionary War patriot ancestor. What a great find!
Nancie Brunk

I’ve been having a ball finding articles about my family. The biggest find for me…was discovering my gr-grandfather’s uncle in Congressional records as well as in newspapers. He had left home as a child and didn’t return home again until after his father died. It was reported in the newspapers that his elderly mother (my gr-gr-gr-grandmother!) almost went into shock after not seeing him for nearly 37 years. GenealogyBank gave me great insight into his life as a fisherman turned world traveler and the names of his children that he had with his Russian wife and his locations in Russia and Japan back in the 1800s! How cool is that??? :) I can’t wait to see what papers you will put up next. Keep up the great work!
Catherine “Casey” Zahn

Genealogybank is a fantastic resource. I literally have pulled 100s of newspaper articles in the past year from the 1780s to the 1920s that have helped me reconstruct families, and much eye opening information. Over this holiday I reconstructed another family using it and am now matching old photos back to these folks from over 100 years ago. Whereas most databases give you the vital records, GenealogyBank fills in the life stories. I have been getting a kick out of the horse trader and express man brothers and their stories that made the paper. They amused (and not so amused) the folks of Springfield, Mass, for several years in the Springfield Republican. Although I have not found photos of them yet, I have now correctly identified their sisters and some nieces and nephews after decades of not knowing for sure who the people were.
Ken Piper, Facebook

I recently learned my early ancestors traveled with a French group called The Ravel Family. They were a circus family but performed in theatres in New York City, Boston, Havana, New Orleans and other U.S. cities and countries. It turns out, The Ravel Family were world famous and had a great reputation. My 2nd great-grandfather, Leon Giavelli (stage name of Javelli) performed high wire acts that no others dared try…I found all of this out just from typing ‘Giavelli’ in your search engine; I have been very busy downloading newspaper articles and advertisements of my family and I owe it all to you!
Jane Laughon

I have never believed in paying for websites, but I finally broke down and subscribed to Genealogybank.com. I was thrilled to have found numerous articles on my family in the Philadelphia Inquirer (PA). Thanks for your great website.
Barbara Turner, Woodbury, NJ

I’m going for a two-year subscription, for the price may never be this good again – and with all the new resources being added, who knows how much more genealogy I will be able to access 18 months from now. Look how much new content went up in just six weeks!

I subscribed immediately. Within a short space of time I found an obit for great uncle John P. McCANNEY. My father’s namesake, he hid from me for years! I also found a news article for Aveline KUNTZMANN, my beloved’s 2nd great grandmother. It always puzzled me because she is not interred with KUNTZMANN family. Wow! She was lost when the LA BOURGOGNE sank in July 1898. I am going to be sleep deprived!
-Mary McCanney Finley

I found a letter written by my third great grandfather – the first thing I’ve ever seen written by the man. This letter was published in the Albany (New York) Argus in February of 1819. Wonderful!
Most of the content found at GenealogyBank is unique, not found on other sites. You may search it for free to see how many records there are for your family. If it looks good, sign-up to see the full records.
Honestly, if you have colonial ancestry, you can’t afford not to use this new resource. For the first time ever, you will be able to access newspapers and documents not previously indexed or in many cases, accessible at all. What makes this collection unique is that much of the data is from the American Antiquarian Society in Worchester, Massachusetts. This organization holds the earliest American printed materials, including newspapers – and now, for the first time, much of this material is accessible to you and I – all in digital format.
-Leland MeitzlerGenealogyBlog.com

Congratulations on a terrific website! I can’t leave it – I found several newspaper items I’ve not before seen and I still have more on the list to view. I’m one of your first subscribers.
Thank you so much for your dedication. It paid off tremendously. I’m going back now.
-Stefani Evans, CG

…they are the kind of resources that help you to not only use source documents to learn more about your ancestry, but they also help you to put ‘meat on the bones’ of your genealogy as you work to create a family history. Now, individuals have access to a wide array of great resources, which are centralized and available through a single subscription service. GenealogyBank is quickly becoming a major player in the field.
Internet Genealogy, January 2007

Your GenealogyBank is WONDERFUL. It’s a must for researching genealogists. I ran into info that I had searched and searched for years ago in libraries. And here it is now right at my fingertips! Amazing. It is well worth the price. Thank you for giving us all this information.
-Diana K. Bennett

I had a chance to ‘test drive’ the new individual GenealogyBank and was much impressed…. My best finds were in the Historical Documents collection – the American State Papers and the U.S. Serial Set. They yielded the most interesting and amazing information. I learned my 3rd great-grandfather, Solomon Dunagan was a constable, and testified at a voter fraud trial at Wayne County, Ky. Feb. 9, 1860. Solomon’s son, Thomas J. Dunagan testified at the same trial as a witness for the prosecution.
-Carllene Marek AncestreeSeekers, Chico (CA) Enterprise-Record

I almost fell off my chair last week, and not because I’m naturally clumsy. I was trying out the new GenealogyBank database … and saw a headline ‘Boy From Holy Land Working Way Through University of Texas.’ I clicked, and there was a picture of my grandfather. The slightly melodramatic 1924 Dallas Morning News article told how my Lebanese ancestor – who lived in an orphanage – respected his elders, studied into the wee hours and worked in a dairy all summer to earn money for college. Despite ‘lacking in dash and brilliance’ (in the reporter’s opinion), he was in the band, played football and won a debate contest.
I never met my grandfather, but he sounds a lot like my dad (except my dad is brilliant). It was a totally unexpected discovery, and just goes to show you can find information in surprising places.
-Diane Haddad, Newsletter Editor

Right off the bat, you’ll notice the servers respond quickly to return hits. In my first two searches I found 2 relevant entries for my ancestors. I expect this new website will be on my ‘must visit regularly’ lists.
-MyrtleDearMYRTLE.com

I subscribed today and have only stopped twice – once to eat a quick dinner and now for this note to thank you for this wonderful site. Already I have found 30 newspaper references in 1700-1800 for my ancestor in New York. I can’t thank you enough for putting this out there for us. What an accomplishment! I’m so glad it came along while I’m still here. I turned 87 this September. The program sent me hurrying along to finish my family history!
-Alice H. Williams

It has a lot more and to me it has been worth the money. You can take it a month at a time. I have already found so much info on one of my surnames and it will take me days to go through it all. I love the site.
-Barbara Nichols

GenealogyBank is the most customer-oriented genealogy website I’ve ever had the pleasure to use. Its constantly-expanding content is remarkably varied, immensely useful, and delightfully out-of-the-ordinary. A vast number of the documents included in ‘America’s Government Documents’ and ‘America’s Historical Books’ are not found in the genealogy databases I’ve seen. GenealogyBank’s features are easy to understand and use. The Help section is comprehensive and well-written. GenealogyBank clearly was created and structured with the needs of genealogists at all levels of research in mind.
-Joy Rich, M.L.S., Editor, Dorot: The Journal of the Jewish Genealogical Society (New York)

I have never believed in paying for websites, but I finally broke down and subscribed to Genealogybank.com. I was thrilled to have found numerous articles on my family in the Philadelphia (PA) Inquirer. Thanks for your great website.
-Barbara Turner Woodbury, NJ

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I found one of my ancestors in the 1881 Canadian census. What do I do now?

I found one of my ancestors in the 1881 Canadian census on http://www.familysearch.org/What do I do now?

Good work.

FamilySearch.org is a terrific free site – with helpful indexes like the 1881 Canadian census index.

You may see the original census page at a website put up by the The Library & Archives of Canada. It has the 1881 (and other) census records online – free.

New Brunswick Vital Records are online – free.

I copied out the index citations for Ella’s brother Charles and sisters: Agnes and Elizabeth.

But, now look carefully at these records. In the census – the mother’s name is: Mary and in these vital records it is given as Annie Stewart.

So, you need to determine – if these records are for the same family or not.

Questions you might ask:
1. Are Annie & Mary the same person?
Perhaps one name is her first name and the other her middle name OR perhaps Annie died and Stephen remarried a person named Mary before the 1881 census was taken.

2. Are these two different families with similar names?

The oldest child listed in the census – William – was born in 1862. So you want to search the Church registers from 1850 on to check for the parent’s marriage record and the records for each of the children.

Like the birth records from the New Brunswick Archives – the Church records should give the mother’s maiden name.

Notice too – that Stephen Jackson was born in England – in 1881 he gave his age as 45 – that would make his birth year as approximately 1836. Let’s hope that he rounded his age – since British birth, marriage and death records were started on July 1, 1837.

3. Your next critical question is: When did they leave Canada and emigrate to the United States? If they are in the US by 1900 – you will want to look for them in the 1900 Census.
If they are still in Canada in 1901 – then you want to search for them in the 1901 Census.

You may use the 1900 Census – free at FamilySearchLabs

You may search the 1901 Canadian Census at the Library & Archives of Canada.

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Fred Q. Bowman (1916-2009) Genealogist, Author

Fred Q. Bowman (1916-2009)
Frederick Quimby Bowman, 93, passed away in Albany, NY earlier this week. Well known genealogist and author – Fred was a relied upon source of early New York vital records. He was a genealogist who made a lasting difference.

Obituary: Times Union (Albany, NY) – November 9, 2009
See: http://bit.ly/5gmzM7

He is survived by his wife, Eleanor (Wickham) Bowman; a son, Ronald Bowman (Janice); daughter-in-law, Yvonne and her daughter Arlene; two grandchildren, Lisa Wilson (David) and Michael Bowman (Jill Tierney); four great-grandchildren, Kayley and Brenna, Cody and Kyle; also several nieces and nephews. He was predeceased by two sons, Raymond W. and Kenneth Bowman; a granddaughter, Brenda Bowman; a sister, Martha Schmidt; and a brother, William Bowman. Condolences may be sent to them c/o the A.J. Cunningham Funeral Home; 4898 SR81; Greenville, NY 12083.

He was the author of:
7,000 Hudson-Mohawk Valley (NY) vital records, 1808-1850
Index to 7,000 Hudson-Mohawk Valley New York vital records, 1808-1850

10,000 vital records of eastern New York, 1777-1834
Index to 10,000 vital records of eastern New York, 1774-1834
8,000 more vital records of eastern New York State, 1804-1850

10,000 vital records of central New York, 1813-1850
Index to 10,000 vital records of central New York, 1813-1850

10,000 vital records of western New York, 1809-1850
Index to 10,000 vital records of western New York, 1809-1850

Landholders of northeastern New York, 1739-1802
Directory to collections of New York vital records, 1726-1989, with rare gazetteer
New York’s detailed census of 1855 : Greene County

The pull of family history … family is more than names

What motivates people to do family history?
Family history is more than names – we are drawn to the stories of their lives. We dig their names and dates out of vital records or the census and we dig deeper into newspapers and family letters to find the stories of their lives.

When I was teaching a genealogy class for the Darien Historical Society (CT) back in the early 1970s I asked my class – why were they interested in their family history?

One elderly man said – My sister was the kindest person he ever knew. She never married. I knew that if I didn’t write our family history that no one would remember her. That always stuck with me.

In today’s Denver Post Tina Griego wrote:

“Usually it starts with a family story. Grandma was tracking the family and they ended up with a box full of her papers. Or they heard someone in the family fought in the Revolutionary War. Or ‘My ancestors came from Spain and settled in Mexico and I want to find that branch of the family.’ “
What is it, I ask her, that draws people to their family histories? What is it they hope to learn? Why does it matter?
As I ask, I am aware that these questions are as much professional as they are personal.

Tina Griego, columnist for the Denver Post writes about the pull of genealogy in today’s paper.

Click here to read her entire column.
Family History is more than Names. 14 April 2009. Denver Post.