Sunday, November 13, 2011

About Obama's Birth Certificate


With all of the Donald Trump controversy about Obama's birth certificate, there are certain facts which the genealogist should be aware of when seeking copies. First of all, to apply for a copy you need to be a relative.  I have had no difficulty stating that I was the granddaughter or even great-granddaughter and receiving a copy of the original Birth Certificate.  They are obtained from the Bureau of Vital Statistics in Atlanta (or for Honolulu, you would obtain it from the local health department or Bureau of Vital Statistics). Since most States did not make the filing of a birth certificate mandatory until rather late, the 20th century, you do not travel very far back into the lineage.  It is desirable to provide the full names of the parents and as much accurate data as possible.
In Georgia, if you do not know the exact date, they will search several years for an additional fee.  Be sure and phone ahead to obtain the application, and the current application fee.  Notably, the issurance of a birth certificate is a State function because "the issuance is determined by citizenship".The U. S. National Center for Health Statistics creates the standard form to be used, however, States are free to create their own forms. These forms are completed by the attendant at birth or a hospital administrator, and are then forwarded to the local or State registrar, who stores the record and issues certified copies (when requested).  That is, it is mandatorily delivered to the Bureau of Vital Statistics, or health department, as it is referred to in Hawaii.  At different times in our lives, we need to obtain a certified copy for passport, school registration or other purposes. The copy issued our parents was not certified and is not accepted.  It is really easy to acquire a certified copy of your own birth certificate because you can complete all of the blanks on the application.  Remember, these are State workers and they are not going to provide an extensive search beyond the information on the form. Since it is mandatory to file the Certificate of Live Birth, if Obama was born in Hawaii, the certificate will be on record.  Period.  Let us say that you are curious and would like to have this information.  Because you are not related (and because of his high profile), you would not obtain it.  But there are other methods.  Genealogists are detectives. If he were my ancestor and the bureau did not find a record, I would visit the local hospitals and see if they maintained copies.  This is the computer-age, and some hospitals might have the information stored just as some public cemeteries.  Everybody keeps old records for a certain number of years.  I have been in more court houses than you can imagine.  Their old policies included bundling up old records, storing them in basements, and even separate buildings.  You are not going to find original documents (like wills) any more.  However, I have found copies of birth certificates and death certificates in the probate court of a number of court houses around Georgia. There are filing cabinets inside the record room, generally unavailable to the public.  Apparently, this is where the clerk of the probate court has to file some records because of space.  They used to have old original wills, deeds and marriages inside the record room.  Luckily, during the 1950's these documents were placed on microfilm by the joint effort of the State of Georgia and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.  The church maintains more than 50 volunteers in the field to film documents. This is how they get preserved in modern times.  We all know the story of the burned court houses. Another source which I would search would be newspapers for that time period.  Bill O'Reilly stated on his program that he found the notice of Obama's birth in the Honolulu papers. But let us consider how this information is reported.  It can come from a number of sources.  First, from the hospital, which would announce the hospital, date and parents.  You have to know that relatives provide announcements for the newspapers.  You could say "Mr. and Mrs. Obama of Honolulu had a baby boy born to them on such date...." Compare this information in the newspaper of the time period.  What style did they use?  If a reporter was assigned to report live births, he would have gotten it from the hospital. If someone else phoned it in, the notice could say anything.  Being "of Honolulu", for example, does not necessarily mean that the parents resided there.  I have extracted the Georgia newspapers from 1740 to ca 1935  (these abstracts are in a database on, and I have to tell you that births (and deaths) are spread throughout the newspaper for days at a time.  They are found in local Community News, New Arrivals, Society News, and so on.  You simply have to read every page.  If I wanted to zero in on this Obama birth, I would search the newspapers 30 days before and after his birth.  The reason: there is so much discovery there, from gossip, to fact, news of travelling to places, visitors to homes, and so on.  Obama's parents did not have to be residents for a relative to report the news. They could have easily been residents of Kenya at the time of his birth, and later returned to Honolulu.  There are all kind of variables.  This is why searching for details in the newspapers are so important.  Genealogists, this is what we do!  It is a cumbersome job, tedious and tiring.  But we do it because any tidbit of information is a clue.  So,  Bill O'Reilly, your data is incomplete.  And, Donald Trump, they won't let you have access to the birth record, but they cannot stop you from researching the newspapers.  Look for the microfilm in regional libraries and archives.

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