Wednesday, February 2, 2011

It Takes a Thief - To Solve a Birth Record Mystery - Part 1

In my "It Takes a Thief" posting from December, I mentioned how we broke into a safe in my parents’ basement. Today we are going to begin to examine one group of items found in that safe. I don't want to look at it from a show and tell aspect, but rather from the perspective of how these documents may answer a research question I've had for quite some time. I'm still left with some questions of my own, so maybe we can all learn a little from this posting.


Since I began researching my family history, I've been looking for birth records for my paternal grandparents. They were born in the 1890s, before vital records were required to be kept. Yet later in life they would need to present proof of birth in order to collect Social Security. What I discovered in the safe were letters written by both of my Roos grandparents. They were attempting to obtain acceptable proofs of their births for Social Security purposes.

My original research objective was to obtain an original copy of their birth records. The question wasn't so much one of when and where they were born, I wanted an original birth record to back up the information I already had.

Using my grandfather, Richard Roos, as an example, the research process I’ve been through for the past 15+ years looks something like this:

Known Facts:

Numerous sources indicate Richard was born 7 August 1895 in Los Angeles, California. Here is a sampling:
  1. World War I Selective Service System Draft Registration Cards, 1917-1918.
  2. Roos family Bible lists Richard’s DOB as 7 August 1895.
  3. Application for Equalized Compensation-State of Washington [WWI Veteran’s Bonus]. This document is in Richard’s handwriting.
  4. Richard’s death certificate (his wife, my grandmother, was the informant).
Working Hypothesis: Richard Roos was born 7 August 1895 in Los Angeles, California.

Research Steps Taken:
  1. Wrote to Los Angeles County Recorder, in 1994, requesting copy of Richard's birth certificate. Result: Issued a “Certificate of Search” stating they searched from January 1895 to December 1895 and were unable to locate a birth certificate.
  2. Wrote to the Archdiocese of Los Angeles in 1994 and again several years later, requesting a copy of Richard's baptism. Result: I never received a response from them.
  3. Examined FHL Film 1033120, Index to Delayed Certificates of Births, only to discover that all of the surnames beginning with the letter R were missing from the film!
At this point frustration took over and I set the project aside.

Stay tuned for part 2…

© 2011, copyright Michelle Goodrum


  1. Interesting. I'm looking forward to reading part two.

  2. I hope part two is soon, I am intrigued...

  3. Love the presentation method, clear and consice!

  4. In 1895, were all births required to be registered? All of my grandparents were born at home, and the only "proofs" were second hand, written in Bibles.
    They listed their ages on the birth certificates of their children (who were most likely born in hospitals in the 20's and 30's. The census records corresponded, and school records (even one room schoolhouses) would be another proof. Later, marriage licences required proof of some sort. You can probably get within a year + or -.

  5. Grand post! I especially love the title - impossible to ignore and you did not disappoint.

  6. Please have some good news in Part 2.