Skip to content

Vital Records: A Case Study in Error

Posted in Primary Sources: Letters, Documents, Diaries, Histories

My grandfather Udell Cunningham is fond of telling the story about how his birth was erroneously recorded, causing a great deal of trouble for him later on.

My grandfather was born 3 May 1925 in Tulia, Swisher County, Texas.  The Texas Birth Index, 1903-1997 (available on lists his birthday as 3 March 1925. The way my grandfather tells the story, the clerk in charge of recording births on the ledger was “too lazy” to turn the page to May. His memory is that he was recorded with an April birthdate; however, the record says March.

At some point, it became necessary for him to have the error corrected, but making the change proved to be difficult, as vital records employees refused to make the change without evidence. Ultimately, my grandfather had to bring his parents to the record office to swear as to the date of his birth before he was able to get a corrected birth certificate. The date in the Texas Birth Index is still incorrect.

While vital records are excellent proof, and genealogists should always cite sources, we should always remember that even vital records can be incorrect. It’s better, if you can, to check information against several sources. Worse errors than birthdate mistranscription have occurred, and we can save ourselves a lot of time in correcting erroneous files if we use multiple sources.

This post was written in response to the Geneabloggers Weekly Genealogy Blogging Prompt.

Related Posts with Thumbnails


  1. Amen. Multiple sources are absolutely necessary. I own a company that presents Family History Expos throughout the United States and the topic of using multiple sources is always popular. Thanks for helping us spread the word.

    April 22, 2009
  2. Angelo

    I am currently going through an experience with the NYC Department of health Vital records group. I requested my birth certificate for the purpose of getting a passport. The NYC vital records computer system said I died at birth. The NYC agent could find no death certificate or other document to support this conclusion. Nonetheless, I am being forced to prove I am alive. I am 74 years of age (alive and well); all kinds or records exist of my life history–school records–immunization–babtism–miltary service etc. I am spending hours on end on hold on the telephone and locating and scanning documents. Very frustrating!

    May 15, 2009

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.