Friday, February 4, 2011

It Takes a Thief - To Solve a Birth Record Mystery - Part 2

Photo by Marcin Wichary
After years of searching for an original birth record for my paternal grandparents, Richard and Margaret Roos, and coming up empty handed, I discovered that they had been trying to do the same thing in the early 1960’s! So for all the searching I've done for grandpa's birth certificate, it's beginning to look like maybe there never was one. Or at least that’s the conclusion my grandparents reached.

Now I've always been confused about when people would try to obtain proof of birth. Was it when they were applying for their Social Security card? Or was it when they became old enough to collect Social Security? Judging from what I found in my grandparents letters and the related papers. It would appear that the answer may be the latter (although I'm really not sure so if you have some insight, please speak up).

Here’s what I’ve been able to recreate of the process Richard went through to obtain proof of birth. First a little housekeeping. In order to be succinct, I've bulleted each step and referenced the appropriate "Exhibit". You will find the image for each "Exhibit" at the bottom of the post, if you really want to get into the details.

  • In a letter dated 26 November 1960, Richard wrote the US Census Bureau requesting a transcript of his census record. He gave them the information regarding where he was living in 1910. (See Exhibit 1 below.) He attached a handwritten list of his family's residences on enumeration day from 1900 to 1950 and stated the purpose was "In Lieu of Birth Certificate." (See Exhibit 2.) To me that is a hint that Richard believed he did not have a birth certificate.
  • In a document from the Bureau of the Census, dated 28 December 1960, Richard received an "EXACT COPY" of his 1900 census. (See Exhibit 3 below.)
  • Several years passed...
Part 3 coming soon...

Exhibit 1- Richard Roos 26 November 1960 letter to US Census Bureau

Exhibit 2-Richard's census summary 1900-1950

Exhibit 3-1900 Census entry for Richard Roos

© 2011, copyright Michelle Goodrum


  1. In my experience they looked for the birth certificate WHEN they needed it, some people applied for card/numbers back when the law started, ca 1938.

    Some never applied for the card/numbers till they discovered they might be eligible for payments/benefits.

    Women frequently (in our family) waited till their husband had died to apply, UNLESS they were working.

    All in all, it is rather confusing, isn't it??

    But, for the most part, my experience is that they applied for the Birth cert when they found they needed it for the Social Security app. Delayed birth registrations are full of this sort of thing.

  2. Medicare was started in 1965 IF you were old enough AND had a SSN. Maybe that was the reason. You can trace the changes in the Social Security Act at

    I got my SS card (as most people of my generation did) when I went to work at a 16 yr old in the 50's.
    My children, born in the 60's, applied for their SSN's when they wanted to work. Employers asked for the numbers, but didn't require a visual on the actual card.

  3. Carol and Anonymous, Thanks for your comments. And thanks for the website Anonymous. I was hoping this series would get a bit of a dialogue going on how to solve these kinds of problems. It is very confusing and it seems like one just has to "wing it" a bit in order to learn all of the ins and outs.

    There's more to come as the topic of birth records and Social Security has been nagging at me for a long time...

  4. Enjoying your series very much, waiting for the next post! Being that time in history B/C weren't mandatory, school records may help. I am in the same boat with my maternal grandmother!