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Tuesday, Sep 19, 2017
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Take time to check out birth records

Genealogists know that being suspicious is a good thing. It's important to question everything — and I do mean EVERYTHING. A recent project led me to reexamine several birth certificates. We usually don't question the validity of these official documents, which contain primary (firsthand) information on the live birth of a child. Our problems arise when we accept as gospel other information relative to the birth. On my birth certificate, I saw both the parents that I knew to be mine. My father signed the document. His distinctive signature told me that he claimed me. On my husband's certificate, his mother was listed as the "informant." But there was no signature, and nothing on the form required her to swear to detail truthfulness or accuracy.
There is no family lore that makes any of us suspicious of the information on my husband's or my birth records. But remember, we're paranoid genealogists – being suspicious is a part of our "job." This all got me to thinking. In today's society, we can't walk into a medical facility and get treatment without showing a photo identification. But I doubt in the early and mid-20th century whether a pregnant woman going into a hospital emergency room had to show proof of identification. It would have been easy to give a false name and concoct a story about where the father was and why he was absent. My husband's mother (Ann) was almost 30 years old before she discovered her mother's name was incorrect on her birth certificate. The certificate listed Ann's mother as "Lavenia Whiddon." In fact, Ann's mother was Sara Emaline Whiddon. Lavenia Whiddon was Ann's grandmother. The certificate does not show who provided the information. Ann rightfully wanted it corrected. So she filed an "Affidavit to Amend a Record of Birth." The original certificate stands as it was initially filed, and the amendment is attached. A glance at the 1927 birth certificate of Emory Tillman Moody Jr. should raise suspicion. Many information blocks are blank. The parents are shown as Emory Tillman Moody Sr. and Emma Beatrice Odom. But blocks asking the name of the hospital and length of the mother's stay before the child's birth were blank. Questions about how many live births or living children the mother had also were blank. Was it a sloppy registration, or did the blanks offer clues of family secrets? The Tennessee document shows that Emory and Beatrice lived in Dothan, Ala. Why were they so far from home when "their" child was born? I ordered that document because we knew that Emory Tillman Moody Jr. was not the natural child of Emory Tillman Moody Sr. I had hoped his birth certificate would give us a hint as to the suspected identity of the blood parents. In essence, a false document was created to show Emory and Beatrice as the parents. Questions relative to the birth and birth mother were left blank to protect the privacy of the adoption. Details such as the names of the parents relate to the birth, but that information is not primary, even though we tend to treat it as if it were. A birth certificate is an original government-issued document confirming one thing: the live birth of the child. Perhaps this is a good time to ask yourself whether you've been suspicious enough when you looked at birth certificates. Examine it like a paranoid genealogist questioning your heritage.

Sharon Tate Moody is a board-certified genealogist. Send your genealogy questions and event announcements to her in care of Baylife, The Tampa Tribune, 200 S. Parker St., Tampa, FL 33606 or stmoody0720@mac.com. She regrets she is unable to assist with personal research and cannot respond to requests for locating or researching specific individuals.
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