Birth and Baptismal Records
Because of privacy laws, birth records are generally the most difficult vital records to obtain and often cannot be found online for individuals born during or after the twentieth century. In fact, as with death records, official birth records were not even kept in many states until that time. For these more recent birth records it is usually best to start with your living family members. Because a birth certificate is often required as proof of identity, many people have a copy of their birth certificate among their papers.
Just because fewer birth records are available online than other vital records doesn't mean that you should discount finding them.
Can I record the date of baptism in lieu of a birth date?
A baptism may have taken place days or years after the actual birth. For this reason it is important to record the date as a baptismal date, not a birth date. Most genealogy software programs include a special field for entering baptism or christening dates. In the birth field, just record the birth date as occurring before the date of baptism since that is all you truly know for sure, as in “bef. 13 April 1769.”
Many state governments offer birth indexes and even certificate images online as well. Missouri, for example, offers a database of pre-1910 births (
Older baptism and christening records are becoming increasingly easy to find online in countries such as England, Scotland, and France. In the United States, however, church records are much more scattered and few baptisms and christenings have been transcribed and placed online. See Chapter 8 for more on researching in church records.