Need to verify a birth date? Get a birth certificate! But it's not always that easy. Birth certificates weren't always the way Americans recorded their births. Prior to the early 20th century, the family Bible was the record of choice for births.
But as the 20th century marches on, it becomes important to show proof of age for various activities like registering for school, applying for a marriage certificate, and later applying for Social Security. Bible documentation was ephemeral, as many family historians can understand. Only one person can "own" the Bible and it can be easily destroyed due to catastrophic events.
The Census Bureau and Public Health Departments worked on standardizing birth certificates and solving the problem of documenting a person's birth and relationship to their parents which eventually resulted in everyone having a government issued birth certificate.
So for those whose births were not recorded, how do you "prove" your age? That's where a Delayed Birth Certificate comes in.
Delayed Birth Certificates asked for affidavits from those who knew best when the person was born. Family, an attending physician or midwife, a neighbor or friend provided information about the birth or the age of the person. Other "proofs" given could include government documents, the family Bible, and in the following example, a DAR application.
|Courtesy of Houston County, TN Archives|
|Houston County, TN Archives|
To see more examples of delayed birth certificates or find what's available via FamilySearch, see their Catalog.
In the end, the issuance of birth certificates was vital for identification. "The enormity of the delayed registration problem can be better visualized from the fact that there were in 1940 about 54 million people in the United States without birth certificates on file during the first year of life. Although the pressure on the State bureaus of vital statistics was relived somewhat by WPA aid in the searches of birth certificates, the situation is still critical. It is difficult to determine what effect the disruption of the regular functions of the State vital statistics offices will have on the quality and completeness of national vital statics, or to predict the course of the delayed birth registration problem in the future."*
GenealogyBank Blog - Genealogy 101 #9 Birth Certificate Alternatives
From Family Bibles to Birth Certificates. Young People, Proof of Age, and American Political cultures, 1820-1915 by Shane Landrum in Age in America: The Colonial Era to the Present. Edited by Corinne T. Field and Nicholas L. Syrett. New York: New York University Press (2015).
*Vital Statistics-Special Reports. Oklahoma Summary of Vital Statistics 1940. page 1261. Available via GoogleBooks.